Published: 29th September 2015
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Violence, drugs, references to sexual exploitation
Just in time for the Netflix series that has recently premiered, I have finally read Six Of Crows, which is probably (in my experience at least) the most talked about book on Book Twitter, so much so that I had already heard so much about it before picking it up! Read on to discover my thoughts…
Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker 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.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist.
Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.
Coming at you with the full force of a rampaging weather front, this is a whirlwind of an adventure containing the ultimate all-star cast. The action takes place on an extraordinary scale where the world building is impeccably detailed and the story is awash with twists and sub-plots, but it is the beguiling, multi-dimensional characters who represent the shiniest jewel in the crown.
It is the quintessential heist novel that expands the Grishaverse and its many elements to such an extent that what we encountered in the Shadow and Bone trilogy is made to seem a mere microcosm in comparison. There is an impressive array of ideas and cultures at play throughout as it combines a thrilling series of events, occasional humour, and an excellent depth of storytelling.
Kaz Brekker is a member of the Dregs, a gang of thieves who operate in the Ravkan city of Ketterdam. After masterminding the destruction of rival group The Black Tips, he is kidnapped by councillor Jan van Eck, who enlists him for a seemingly impossible quest in exchange for an irresistible sum of thirty million kruge.
The task is to break into the almost impenetrable Ice Court of Fjerda to rescue the scientist Bo Yul-Bayur and bring him back to Ketterdam. Yul-Bayur is the creator of jurda parem, a stimulant which enhances the power of Grisha – those who practice the Small Science and have magical abilities – while severely weakening them in the process.
In order to try and pull off the heist, Kaz is joined by fellow Dregs Jesper and Inej; also recruiting Grisha Heartrender Nina and van Eck’s son Wylan. The first priority is to break former Druskelle (soldiers who hunt Grisha) Matthias Helvar out of Hellgate prison, for his knowledge of the Ice Court is valuable to the mission. As they progress towards finding Yul-Bayur, all six of them risk being held back by their riot of emotions or the events of the past.
The execution of the central plot was close to faultless. Every little component of the heist as well as all the activities of the Dregs as they happen throughout the book were captured brilliantly. The author demonstrated such imagination to bring this additional layer of the Grishaverse to life as well as attention to detail, which extended to different languages and peoples. Furthermore, jurda parem was a very creative concept.
It did perhaps seem a little bit slow moving to begin with, but once all the characters had been established it soon became a thoroughly entertaining read. There are hints towards potential romances and a whole host of other themes are at play, and even after the intricate relentlessness of the heist there is still a sting in the tail at the end.
Everything is written in the third person past tense and the main perspective switches at the start of each chapter. Aside from the first chapter and the last, it alternates between each member of the sextet except for Wylan, who nonetheless plays a highly significant role. A lot of the book is devoted to the characters and their respective backstories, but that never detracts from the ongoing events and instead provides added enrichment.
The one problem with having so many perspectives in this case was that certain events that took place outside the main narrative had to be relayed later on for the reader’s benefit, which is not really ideal. I also think using the character of Joost for the first chapter was unnecessary, as although it provided an effective insight into the effects of jurda parem, he does not appear again in the story.
There can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the thing which sets this book apart the most is the characters, who are among the best you will ever see in the genre. On the face of it a group of thieves does not seem the most likeable bunch, yet it is hard not to feel invested in them, for they are complex, compelling, and magnificently developed.
My personal favourite was Inej, for whom the Dregs are a kind of temporary salvation. She moves with the lightness of a ghost and although she cannot bear to be without her remarkable collection of knives, she seems peaceful at heart. On the other hand Jesper is rarely happy unless he is gambling or has something – or someone – to shoot at, but for all of that he is strangely endearing.
It is clear right from the moment Matthias is introduced that he and Nina have a very complicated history, bringing tension to the story as well as intrigue. Their arc was bittersweet, but I really liked the way it played out as it brought redemption for them both. Nina in particular was a fun character to read; powerful in more ways than one.
And then of course we have the one and only Kaz Brekker, who takes the term ‘morally grey’ to the greatest of extremes. To describe him as likeable would be stretching a point, as he is capable of the utmost ruthlessness and occasionally startling violence, but there are many different sides to his personality and when all of those are taken into account he can be positively charismatic.
Kaz is the ultimate schemer, extremely perceptive and always about five steps ahead of everyone else. There are several moments in this book where the rug is pulled from under you and something unexpected would happen that was all part of his plan, and once again this is where the author really succeeds. He also has a more vulnerable side which becomes evident later on.
The Ice Court is made to feel like an intimidating setting and the stakes noticeably increased as they grew closer to finding Yul-Bayur, helped by some of the twists along the way. Meanwhile, Ketterdam had a darker atmosphere about it to reflect the fact it was a place ruled by criminal gangs. References to the Shadow and Bone trilogy were rare, but some characters did receive the odd mention.
In terms of the writing style, there is a great balance between humour and the matter at hand; ideal for a primarily young adult audience. It is sophisticated and none of the concepts are too difficult to grasp, with the story remaining immersive right up until the last page, where a mini cliffhanger lays the foundations for the sequel.
Overall, this is a very accomplished book which royally entertains and provides many a gripping narrative. Though set in the same world as the Shadow and Bone series, it sheds a completely new light upon it and delivers something full of ingenuity. The plot is riveting and the characters even more so, but it is only the first half of the story.
I can now completely understand a lot of the hype surrounding this book. It is richly entertaining and Leigh Bardugo really excels with numerous aspects of her storytelling. An excellent read.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐