Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
|Book Name:||Six of Crows|
|Publisher(s):||Henry Holt and Co.|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Release Date:||September 29, 2015|
“Well, we’ve managed to get ourselves locked into the most secure prison in the world. We’re either geniuses or the dumbest sons of bitches to ever breathe air.”
Fantasy-Faction recently named Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows the 24th-best fantasy book of 2015. Not to criticize Marc Aplin and the rest of the Fantasy-Faction team, but after completing the novel in just two days, I can’t help but wonder they may have underrated this one.
Similar in some ways to Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard series, Six of Crows is a heist story that relies on strong character development across the board to move its plot forward and pull the reader into the action.
About the Author
Six of Crows is Bardugo’s fourth book, set two years after the conclusion of the New York Times bestselling Grisha Trilogy – Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. You can dive into Six of Crows without having read any of her previous books.
Though he and his gang are primarily teenagers, Kaz Brekker and his Crow Club have already built a reputation as criminal prodigies in a city where competing gangs battle daily for supremacy. Though an old injury has left him with a permanent limp, Kaz rules the streets due to an unparalleled gift for planning and a hard-earned reputation for ruthlessness.
It’s those skills that draw the attention of a wealthy merchant who recruits the Crows for a seemingly impossible mission on behalf of their nation – steal into the heavily-guarded Ice Court and escape with the scientist whose formula can change the nature of magic itself.
To pull it off, Kaz recruits Inej, an acrobat; Jesper, a sharpshooter and gambler; Nina, a Grisha magic user; Matthias, a Fjern warrior committed to wiping out all Grisha magic; and Wylan, a demolitions expert who also happens to be the disenfranchised son of the wealthy merchant hiring them.
To be honest, the comparison to The Lies of Locke Lamora feels awfully lazy (it’s a heist story so it has to be compared to Lynch!), but it’s hard to ignore some of the similarities. When friends who enjoyed the Gentlemen Bastards ask for similar recommendations, Six of Crows will top my list moving forward.
Kaz is like a darker version of Locke, a young thief who is quickly recognized by his peers as a man who thinks several steps ahead of the rest of them, but also possessing a violent mean streak. When we first meet Kaz, he’s embroiled in a parley with a rival gang. With a bit of theatrical grandstanding, he quickly counters his rival’s machinations and exposes a traitor within his gang, leaving said traitor friendless and dying in the streets. Locke Lamora may be a touch more clever, but Kaz is merciless, and Bardugo does an excellent job describing him from a variety of characters’ points of view.
“Being angry at Kaz for being ruthless is like being angry at a stove for being hot,” one character explains early in the book. “You know what he is.” Kaz himself notes that “there was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.” From the perspective of a rival crime boss: “Some wrathful thing in this boy was begging to get loose, and Rollins didn’t want to be around when it slipped its leash.”
Not only do each of these descriptions prove true, but they are beautifully written without being flashy. Bardugo sprinkles outstanding lines throughout the book, displaying the same cleverness in her writing that Kaz does with his plotting.
Like The Lies of Locke Lamora, Six of Crows utilizes frequent flashbacks that help us better understand the protagonists. With each chapter, Bardugo hops between points of view, providing fresh perspectives that illuminate the relationships between each member of the Kaz’s hand-picked crew. Far more than the plot, those relationships are what make the book such a success.
Kaz’s rough edges are softened by his well-crafted back story, which not only explains why he’s so single-minded in his determination to climb to the top of Ketterdam’s criminal underworld, but also why he wears his ever-present black gloves – the subject of much speculation by other characters throughout the book. His relationship with Inej is complicated in a believable way by their personalities and their backgrounds, and those flashbacks help to illuminate why each behaves the way they do.
The same holds true for the relationship between Nina and Matthias. The obstacles between the witch and the witch hunter are obvious, but Bardugo’s flashbacks again do an excellent job of describing how they came to meet, why they care for one another, and provided some surprising twists and turns in their relationship.
While the characters and their interactions are clearly the driving force behind the book’s success, Bardugo has crafted an intricate and detailed world, combining politics, economics and magic in interesting ways. Most of the book takes place outside of Ketterdam, but the city itself offers a wealth of storytelling possibilities as merchants, gangs and others all battle for their share.
As always, I’ll caution anyone frustrated by such things that the book ends abruptly – I was reading this on my Kindle, and was startled when the tab indicated I was 87% complete and the acknowledgements page popped up. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, but the story is nowhere near complete with the final page. Crooked Kingdom, the sequel, is slated for publication in Fall 2016, and I know I’ll be pre-ordering it. I’m a sucker for quotable, well-written dialogue and engaging characters. Six of Crows has them in spades.