Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is the first half of a young adult fantasy duology set in the same world as her Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising), although I did not find it at all difficult to follow without having read any of the other books. The second half of this story focusing on a ragtag team of rogues, Crooked Kingdom, was recently released, and I have already purchased it—Six of Crows wasn’t quite as wonderful as I’d hoped, but I did enjoy it and wanted to find out what happened next, especially since some characters were left in precarious situations!
Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason. Those were the words whispered on the streets of Ketterdam, in the taverns and coffeehouses, in the dark and bleeding alleys of the pleasure district known as the Barrel. The boy they called Dirtyhands didn’t need a reason any more than he needed permission—to break a leg, sever an alliance, or change a man’s fortunes with the turn of a card.
Of course they were wrong, Inej considered…Every act of violence was deliberate, and every favor came with enough strings attached to stage a puppet show. Kaz always had his reasons. Inej could just never be sure they were good ones.
— pp. 14
Kaz Brekker is known to be dangerous and ruthless even though he’s managed to slip past authorities for the last three years. His penchant for not getting caught brings him to the attention of a wealthy merchant who has a job for someone with this particular skill.
A foreign scientist has developed a drug enhancing the powers of the Grisha to an extraordinary degree, making them capable of feats thought to be inconceivable: turning lead to gold, walking through walls, and even mind control. Fearing his government’s plans for his creation, the inventor contacted the Kerch Merchant Council requesting asylum. His request was granted but he was captured on his way to the meeting place and imprisoned in the Ice Court, a fortress that has always proven impenetrable—and the Council needs someone to break in and get him out.
At first, Kaz declines to be involved in what he considers to be a suicide mission, but the merchant is desperate and willing to pay a price Kaz finds too tempting to refuse. In the end, he agrees to the deal and pulls together a team he believes may be capable of the impossible…
It was with great excitement that I cracked open Six of Crows: a fantasy about a band of scoundrels coming together to attempt to pull off an improbable heist sounded right up my alley. However, I found the first quarter difficult to get through even though there were some fun lines of dialogue and a couple of characters I found intriguing, Kaz and Inej. It wasn’t until the entire crew was assembled and starting on their mission that it started to engage me, and even then, it didn’t wow me even though it was entertaining.
The story is primarily told through the viewpoints of five of the six members of the gang Kaz puts together:
- Kaz himself, who always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else
- Inej, a spy so silent and sneaky she’s earned the nickname “The Wraith”
- Jesper, a sharpshooter with a gambling problem
- Nina, a Heartrender (Grisha with power to control the body but an affinity for hurting rather than healing)
- Matthias, a former Grisha hunter who has a history with Nina
- Wylan, a runaway with demolitions experience (and the only character without a viewpoint)
From the very beginning, the two I found most appealing were Kaz and Inej. Kaz is exactly the sort of character I tend to really like—the competent, ruthless leader who always has a backup plan—and though I did indeed like him, Inej was my favorite overall. She gathers and guards Kaz’s secrets and is the only person he trusts to any extent at all, and she’s tough, determined, loyal to her team, and no-nonsense. By the end, I was almost as fond of Nina as these two: she’s brash, outspoken, and brave, and the camaraderie between her and Inej was great. These three are also the ones who get the most backstory since Mathias’ is only told in detail when it intersects with Nina’s.
While I found the characters likable, there weren’t any I felt had a lot of depth since even with backstories they seemed like rather stock character types. The relationships between characters can be formulaic as well, especially Nina and Matthias—the two enemies who are attracted to each other. In fact, the whole book seemed a little too carefully choreographed between this and the way the characters hide key information during their own chapters until the time is right. The characters’ backgrounds, though interesting, are revealed through infodumps, and as delightful as the dialogue can be, the characters do tend to sound much the same. The book is very obviously structured and due to this it doesn’t live and breathe with a naturally flowing narrative.
There is more focus on the characters and their devious ways than the fantasy elements. The main speculative aspects are that it’s set in a different world and some of the people, like Nina, have powers. The world didn’t seem particularly fleshed out, although I’ve not read the Grisha Trilogy so it’s possible that more of that was handled in those books. The somewhat generic world didn’t especially bother me since I primarily read for characters anyway, but more extensive worldbuilding could perhaps have taken it to another level since the characters were decent but not extraordinary.
Six of Crows was a solid book once it got going, but I merely liked it instead of loving it. Though there are likable protagonists and some gems in the dialogue, it seemed methodically composed to create a certain effect and it didn’t impress me as much as my favorite books centered on thieves. However, it was strong enough to make me want to read the next book and find out how it all turns out!
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.
This book is October’s selection from a poll on Patreon.