Six of Crows (Six of Crows Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published: September 29, 2015 by Henry Holt & Co. (US), Orion Children's Books (UK)
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.
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.
Politics and magic are in turmoil in the Grishaverse. The ruling powers of Kerch, Ravka, and Fjerda are all eager to control the supply Jurda Pardem - a stimulant that can amplify the magical powers of the Grisha to unimaginable capacities. Kaz Brekker and his rag-tag team of criminals are hired to rescue the inventor of the drug, Bo Yul-Bayer, who has been taken captive by the Fjerdans. The rescue mission requires breaking into an impenetrable fortress, the Ice Court, and thwarting some of the world's deadliest soldiers - an impossible heist.
Leigh Bardugo's Grisha universe is on its way to becoming one of my favourite fantasy worlds. I read and loved her Grisha trilogy when it was first released, but I could recognise why some people criticised the books as 'fantasy-lite'. At times the Grisha books felt like they could have used a bit more grit, something to give the story some more grounding in a living-breathing world. This is something that a lot of fantasy worlds lack, and isn't a unique fault of the Grisha trilogy (and I wouldn't rank this particular fault as hugely detrimental to the story overall - as I said, I loved the books). In Six of Crows Bardugo more than makes up for this lack - in fact, this book is practically all grit. Six misfits and criminals, each with their own dark backstory, working together not to save the world but instead just to do a dirty job. The grit and the hardness of the characters (and the non-heroic plot) works very well. Ketterdam and the rest of the Grisha world is brought to life with amazing vibrancy and depth. The world-building and the story come together perfectly to give the book a robust grounding and brilliant vitality.
There are six main POV characters in the book, alternating by chapter. Because of this and because the very first chapter is narrated by a one-off character never heard from again, getting into the story takes a bit of patience. That patience is reward ten times over, however, once you fall in love with Bardugo's richly imagined characters. Each character is wholly unique and intriguing individually, but equally fascinating is their relationships to one another. There is some romance, but as no two characters take centre stage the romance is kept off to one side as well and so instead of becoming a distraction the romantic undertones (and overtones for one relationship specifically) simply adds another layer to the intricate characterisation at play. In fact, I'm not hugely invested in any of the romantic relationships* - I'm much more interested in the friendships and group dynamics. That said I'm also in love with each individual character on their own and that's the mark of really great characterisation for me. I just want more Inej, and more Jasper, and more Nina, and more Kaz, and more Matthias, and more Wylan.
My main critique of the book as a whole is its pacing. Giving the backstory for six characters and moving the plot along is a tall order in itself but this is further complicated by the fact that the main action of the plot, the actual heist, really only takes place over the course of a few hours. The heist scenes are perfectly paced, very exciting and I was on the edge of my seat through the whole section. Leading up to the Ice Court heist, however, there is quite a bit of waiting around while plans are made off-page - ample time for flashbacks and character development, but it felt clunky at times. I find flashbacks to be quite an unwieldy plot-device in general. In fact, even though the main plot action was relatively stagnant leading up to the heist, overall the book felt a bit rushed/overpacked. Each backstory could have used a bit more time, but the main plot suffered from too many disruptions. So the book was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
These issues were not enough to substantially mar my reading experience in any way. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - I read a good portion of it on a single train journey, so immersed in the story that the 2 hours from London to York flew by. I should mention that I read this book on my iPhone. It was an Overdrive library book and for whatever reason it was not available to borrow as a Kindle book. I don't usually enjoy reading on my phone as I end up dipping in and out at more random moments instead of sitting down for longer stretches of reading. This may have affected my ability to fully enter into the world of the story at first, but once I fell for the characters I became fully immersed, eager to spend time with the rag-tag group of misfits.
I don't give partial stars, but this one was hovering somewhere in between 3 and 4 stars for me. Ultimately I I bumped this one up to 4 stars based on how much I loved all of the characters - Kaz, Inej, Jasper, Nina, Matthias, and Wylan stole my heart away!
Have you read Six of Crows - what did you think?
* Which is not to say I don't ship ALL THE SHIPS or have ALL THE FEELS - bc I do, I definitely do!