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.

Book Description:

Science fiction icon Connie Willis brilliantly mixes a speculative plot, the wit of Nora Ephron, and the comedic flair of P. G. Wodehouse in Crosstalk a genre-bending novel that pushes social media, smartphone technology, and twenty-four-hour availability to hilarious and chilling extremes as one young woman abruptly finds herself with way more connectivity than she ever desired.

In the not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. And Briddey Flannigan is delighted when her boyfriend, Trent, suggests undergoing the operation prior to a marriage proposal to enjoy better emotional connection and a perfect relationship with complete communication and understanding. But things don’t quite work out as planned, and Briddey finds herself connected to someone else entirely in a way far beyond what she signed up for.

It is almost more than she can handle especially when the stress of managing her all-too-eager-to-communicate-at-all-times family is already burdening her brain. But that’s only the beginning. As things go from bad to worse, she begins to see the dark side of too much information, and to realize that love and communication are far more complicated than she ever imagined.

Crosstalk, the latest novel by seven-time Nebula winner and eleven-time Hugo winner Connie Willis, is a romantic comedy/near future science fiction novel focused on communication and telepathy. It’s also a novel I’ve been struggling to review since my feelings about it are…complicated.

On the one hand, I absolutely loved reading it and quite literally had difficulty putting it down even though I read it during a time when I usually struggle to focus on reading. On the other hand, there’s a part of me that’s giving that other part the side-eye and wondering how due to its many problems. The “It was so much fun!” side was winning while I was reading it and shortly after I finished it, but now that more time has passed, the “But…it had issues!” side is carrying more weight than it did.

Crosstalk kept me reading because of the dialogue and chemistry between some of the characters—and because I wanted to see how they got out of the predicaments they ended up in! Almost all the characters are lying to the others and hiding secrets, and much of it is revolves around Briddey trying to keep the truth about what happened after her operation (an EED) from her boyfriend Trent and family (the latter of whom she didn’t even want to know that she had the EED in the first place since they tried to talk her out of it). The only person she really talks to about what’s happening is her coworker C. B., a tech geek who mainly keeps to himself and hides in the company basement, and he has secrets of his own.

Briddey’s conversations with C. B. and her precocious niece Maeve were often delightful, but the characterization is actually quite poor. Most of the characters have one primary trait that makes them rather one note—the helicopter mom, the dating-obsessed sister, the eccentric aunt, and so forth—and Briddey herself has the least personality of all. Until closer to the end, she mainly runs around reacting to situations and I didn’t get a very firm idea of her character at all other than that she was kindhearted.

It especially bothered me that I was repeatedly told that Briddey was smart but rarely shown that she was smart. She kept completely missing the obvious (or being very slow to figure out the obvious). In some cases, this could have been attributed to other factors such as still being affected by anesthesia or being bombarded with so much at once that she didn’t have time to think straight, but when it kept happening over and over again she just came across as not at all bright. I don’t think this was supposed to be the case—I believe Briddey was actually supposed to be as intelligent as the other characters seemed to think she was—but it actually started to seem condescending when C. B. would comment on how of course she was so smart to figure that out because it would have been hard for her not to put two and two together.

Like the characters, the speculative aspects of the novel seemed underdeveloped. The impact of EEDs on society was glossed over, and the problems with telepathy were standard and predictable. These aspects of the book were mainly relevant as vehicles for creating amusing situations, and logic and characterization came second to getting Briddey into deep water.

I’m completely torn about Crosstalk and had the most difficult time putting together some thoughts on it for that reason. Since I primarily read fiction for entertainment, I don’t want to discount the fact that I did have a wonderful time reading it and can even see myself rereading it when I want a diverting book, but I also think that there are many improvements that could have made it a much stronger novel.

My Rating: 6/10 – A compromise between the “It was fun side!” (which would be much higher) and the “It had issues!” side (which would be much lower)

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt (Click the link below the cover image)

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought two books I’m very excited about since I’ve been wanting to read the first one in this series.

It’s been kind of quiet here lately since I seem to be going through a reading slump and have also been having difficulty concentrating on writing reviews, but I’m hoping to finish the review I’m working on this week. Then it’s time to start on the review of this month’s Patreon selection, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (which is fun)!

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1) by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings, the first novel by Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning writer Ken Liu, was released last year. It received the Locus Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for the 2015 Nebula Award.

Tor.com has an excerpt from The Grace of Kings.


Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

The Wall of Storms (Dandelion Dynasty #2) by Ken Liu

The second Dandelion Dynasty novel was released earlier this month (hardcover, audiobook, ebook).

io9 has a brief interview with the author and an excerpt from The Wall of Storms.


In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.

Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.

But Emperor Kuni cannot go and lead his kingdom against the threat himself with his recently healed empire fraying at the seams, so he sends the only people he trusts to be Dara’s savvy and cunning hopes against the invincible invaders: his children, now grown and ready to make their mark on history.

Additional Books:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

There were a couple of slow mail weeks, which is why there hasn’t been one of these posts lately, but this week there are some intriguing books to feature including one recent purchase!

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1) by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire was just released in August (mass market paperback/ebook/audiobook), and I’ve wanted to read it ever since I first heard about it via a review on Angieville. It sounded like fun, and it sounded particularly intriguing given the comparison to the banter of the Kate Daniels series and the inclusion of Greek mythology (and, of course, because Angie has fantastic taste in books and has been influential in my discovery of some particularly good ones!).

Heroes and Heartbreakers has an excerpt from A Promise of Fire.


Catalia “Cat” Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice…

Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to coax her…even if that means falling in love with her.

Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Breath of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #2) by Amanda Bouchet

The second book in the Kingmaker Chronicles trilogy will be released on January 3, 2017 (mass market paperback/ebook).


“Cat” Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat’s tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what’s a girl to do when she knows it’s her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.

Griffin knows Cat is destined to change the world-for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin must embrace their fate together. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom…or not at all.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo

The first book in this duology, Six of Crows, will be reviewed later this month since it is this month’s Patreon selection. Shortly after finishing it, I purchased the next book, which was just released toward the end of last month (hardcover/ebook).

The Six of Crows duology page on the Grishaverse website has excerpts from both books.


Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

The Immortal Throne by Stella Gemmell

The Immortal Throne (The City #2) by Stella Gemmell

This sequel to The City will be released December 6 (hardcover/ebook).


No one is safe, and no one is to be trusted as the bloody war that began in Stella Gemmell’s The City continues…

The dreaded emperor is dead. The successor to the throne is his nemesis, Archange. Many hope her reign will usher in a new era of freedom and stability. Soon however, word arises of a massive army gathering in the shadows of the north. They are eager to lay waste to the City and annihilate anyone—man, woman, or child—within it.

Yet just as the swords clang in fields wet with the blood of warriors, family feuds, ancient rivalries, and political battles rage on within the cold stone walls of the City. A hero must rise up and restore the peace before anything left to fight for is consumed by the madness.

Additional Books:

October’s Patreon poll theme is young adult speculative fiction (I know, it seems like it should have been Halloween/horror themed, but I couldn’t find many books on my shelves that seemed applicable!). The choices were as follows:

The October book is…

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

The hardcover is a beautiful book, and I’ve heard such good things about this!

November’s theme will be science fiction due to it being Sci-Fi Month hosted by Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow!

Tooth and Claw
by Jo Walton
336pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.1/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.92/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.84/5

Tooth and Claw, one of Jo Walton’s earlier novels, won the 2004 World Fantasy Award. Though it is often compared to Jane Austen’s work, the author cites Victorian novels in general and Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage in particular as inspirations in her Dedication, Thanks, and Notes, adding “this novel is the result of wondering what a world would be like…if the axioms of the sentimental Victorian novel were inescapable laws of biology.” She imagined this by populating Tooth and Claw with dragons who literally grow stronger by eating the flesh of weak or deceased dragons—yet are very aware of propriety—and the result is surprisingly delightful!

As the Dignified Bon Agornin lies near death, his family gathers to observe the rituals: his son Penn, a parson, will attend him through the final moments of his life, and after his passing the entire family will distribute his wealth according to his will and devour his body. Since Penn and his sister Berend are already established, it’s Bon’s wish that they each take one memorial piece of gold and divide the rest among their three siblings who are not yet settled. Penn reassures his father that this will be so and that these three will also receive the greater portion of his corpse since they need his strength most.

However, the traditional feast does not go according to plan. Berend’s husband Illustrious Daverak believes the allotment of Bon’s wealth does not include his remains and refuses to stop gorging when he’s told he’s already had his share. The local parson supports Illustrious Daverak’s assumption unless Penn divulges the entirety of his conversation with his dying father—which he cannot do without bringing shame upon himself since he allowed Bon to make a confession as practiced by the old religion. Penn has no choice but to step aside since he cannot fight the other dragon either, and Illustrious Daverak, Berend, and his dragonets leave less than half the body for those who were supposed to consume most of it.

The three yet-to-be-established siblings feel robbed of their inheritance, and Avan decides to take Illustrious Daverak to court even though his two equally wronged sisters cannot contribute funds, being dependent on the gold for their dowries—and each is being sent to the household of one of their established siblings until a suitable marriage can be arranged, meaning one of them is also dependent on the goodwill of Illustrious Daverak.

Though I’ve often heard that Tooth and Claw is wonderful, I was still a little skeptical about its premise. It seemed like it would be difficult to imagine dragons in a world of “politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses,” as described on the back of the book. I was also doubtful because dragons literally eating the weak and deceased to gain strength also sounded like it may be full of not-so-subtle social commentary. Having now read it, I can say that both of these are true—it is not at all easy to visualize large dragons riding trains and carriages, writing letters, or donning fashionable hats and it is full of rather literal social commentary—and yet Jo Walton somehow makes it all work beautifully. Tooth and Claw is a charming story of family, courtship, and survival as seen through the eyes of flesh-eating (but often very proper!) dragons.

It took two or three chapters for it to hook me, but I soon found it a quite immersive book that I didn’t want to put down. The narration is delightful and occasionally entertainingly self aware, and the social order and characters are quite interesting to read about. The stories of all three sisters highlight the problems they face because they are female dragons, as does the disparity between their treatment and concerns and those of their brothers. Selendra’s emphasizes the double standards of sexism and how easily a female dragon’s reputation can be destroyed while the male’s stays intact for similar indiscretions. In Tooth and Claw, female dragons actually turn pink when too close to a male so all can see an unmarried dragon is no maiden. Selendra encounters this when a suitor leans on her as she’s turning down his proposal, and though she finds a cure, she has to worry that it will work too well and she won’t blush if she does want to become betrothed later.

Selendra’s story is most prominent, but Haner also has some time in the spotlight as she confronts apprehension about her dowry, marriage prospects, and Illustrious Daverak. Seeing how her brother-in-law treats his household makes her realize just how wrong an institution she’s taken for granted throughout her entire life truly is: that of servitude. Haner seeks to discover others who share her views and who have radical ideas about the wrongness of binding the wings of those who do not choose to be bound.

Although I enjoyed reading about both Haner and Selendra, Berend (whose story is the most heartbreaking) was the most interesting character of the three. After overhearing Penn and her husband arguing about the portioning of her father’s body, she impresses Penn by taking “a most diplomatic bite” (pp. 29) that should satisfy both sides of the argument: a single chunk of flesh encompassing much of the chest. During a later conversation with Haner, it becomes quite clear that Berend thoughtfully analyzes her situation and tries to make the best of the unfairness in the world.

The two brothers also have obstacles, with Penn worrying about honoring his father’s wish for confession and Avan with taking his brother-in-law to court and trying to keep his position in his office. There are also a host of other wonderful characters, especially Sher. He’s the son of the Exalt, an older dragon who is quite snobbish about social class, but he’s carefree and not at all like his mother—and he sets his sights on Selendra despite her meager dowry and the fact that the Exalt does not think her father’s origins are fit to be discussed in polite company.

Tooth and Claw is utterly enchanting despite taking a little bit of time to become engaging. Though its explorations of gender and class are not subtle—and are, in fact, about as literal as possible—they fit with the story and world, shedding a bright light on the wrongness of how some are treated. It’s also a thoroughly entertaining Victorian-esque tale with delightful narration and an endearing cast of dragons, and I recommend it highly.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is September’s selection from a poll on Patreon.