- Title: Six of Crows
- Author: Leigh Bardugo
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
- Year Published: 2015
- Setting: Mainly in Ketterdam, Kerch and the Ice Court, Fjerda (in Bardugo’s Grisha Universe)
- Point of View (POV): Third person omniscient, alternating between the main characters: Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, and Jesper. The first and last chapters are from the perspectives of two minor characters: Joost and Pekka Rollins.
- Themes: Survival, Identity, Courage, Revenge, Greed, Friendship, Race (Grisha vs. non-Grisha)
- My Rating: 9/10
- Favourite Quotes:
- “‘No mourners,’ . . . ‘No funerals,” . . . Among them, it passed for ‘good luck’” (Bardugo 21).
- “‘It’s not natural for women to fight.’ ‘It’s not natural for someone to be as stupid as he is tall, and yet there you stand’” (Bardugo 143).
- “She’d laughed, and if he could have bottled the sound and got drunk on it every night, he would have. It terrified him” (Bardugo 242).
*WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!*
Six of Crows is a young adult fantasy heist novel about six teens, each with their own special talents, who are tasked with breaking a scientist out of the impenetrable Ice Palace. The story takes place in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Universe, where some people, called ‘Grisha’, have special abilities or powers. These powers include the ability to manipulate the body by damaging or healing it, to control a particular element, or to manipulate different materials such as steel, textiles, glass, or poisons. Grisha are thought of in different ways, depending on where in the Grisha Universe you are, for in some nations, the Grisha are hunted, while in others they are revered, and in others they exist as indentured servants. In Six of Crows, a drug has been invented called jurda parem, that strengthens a Grisha’s powers, making them extremely dangerous in some cases. However, the drug is highly addictive and slowly kills the user. The job of breaking Bo Yul-Bayur – the scientist who accidentally created jurda parem – out of the Ice Court is offered to Kaz Brekker, a criminal prodigy and leader of the Ketterdam gang called ‘the Dregs’, and in exchange, he and his team will receive thirty million kruge (the novel’s invented currency). This team consists of Inej Ghafa, otherwise known as ‘the Wraith’ due to her special gift for stealth; Jesper Fahey, a sharpshooter and gambler; Nina Zenik, a beautiful Heartrender Grisha, meaning she can cause damage to a person’s internal organs; Matthias Helvar, a former Drüskelle soldier (Grisha hunter); and Wylan Van Eck, a young demolitions expert. Despite a complicated plot and a fantastically detailed world, this novel is heavily driven by its characters and I loved learning about their backstories and how their pasts affect them in the present.
The height of the conflict in this novel comes when the team finally make it to the Ice Court and have to find a way in so they can retrieve Bo Yul-Bayur. The plan is not revealed to the reader ahead of time, so we are taken along for the ride as the group of teens use their individual talents to accomplish their task. There is also conflict between characters, especially between Nina and Matthias. Matthias, as a former Drüskelle (Grisha hunter), is greatly threatened by Nina, due to her Grisha abilities. In addition, the two have a history, for it’s because of Nina that Matthias was sent to Hellgate prison, falsely accused of slave trading. As Nina and Matthias’ past is slowly revealed throughout the novel, we begin to realize how truly complicated their relationship is. Kaz and Inej’s relationship also develops, for the two begin to realize that they have romantic feelings for each other. However, Kaz is so focused on the heist and his desire for revenge upon a leader of another gang in Ketterdam, for something the man did to Kaz years ago, that he is unable to think about much else. The team does not get out of the Ice Court without adversity, for there are soldiers sent after them to stop them from escaping with the son of Bo Yul-Bayur (who they had to take in his father’s place when they found out that he’d already died before they arrived). Nina decides to risk the horrible consequences of the jurda parem in order to help them escape, and even once they do, the novel still isn’t over. In order for the team to get their thirty million kruge, the exchange still has to take place, with each side planning on double-crossing the other. This first novel in Bardugo’s duology ends dramatically, with a kidnapping, Nina’s survival in question, and neither side getting what they wanted. This book was action-packed and always kept me interested. I can’t wait to read the second novel!
I became extremely attached emotionally to Six of Crows and its characters. The book is told through alternating point-of-views, for the most part being told by Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, and Jesper. This way, the reader gets an in-depth look into each of these characters’ thoughts and emotions. The only main character whose point-of-view is not heard is Wylan’s, because his identity as the son of Jan Van Eck (the man who gave Kaz the job), is something kept secret from the reader and most of the other characters until Kaz chooses to reveal the information. The main reason Kaz chooses to bring Wylan along as part of his team is to use him as insurance. Kaz thinks that Jan will not double-cross him if he has his son as a hostage. Unfortunately, the father and son do not care for one another and using Wylan as a security measure does not work. Had Bardugo told parts of the story from Wylan’s point-of-view, this twist would have been revealed much earlier. When the novel ends, Wylan remains the team member we know the least about. As the novel progressed, I definitely chose Inej as my favourite character. She is incredibly strong mentally, as well as being very talented with her knives, and undetectable in her stealth. As per usual, I love a badass female protagonist. Her backstory is also fascinating and I am excited to see even more of what she can accomplish in the second book. Throughout all of the dangerous scenarios in Six of Crows, I was heavily invested in the well-being of the team and I wanted them to succeed. The talents and personalities in this group are like none other I’ve read about before.
Leigh Bardugo’s writing style is fantastic. She gave each of these characters their own specific voice, and despite the multiple POVs, I never got confused between them. She succeeded in building a world that is so complex and interesting that it makes me want to read the trilogy she wrote before Six of Crows, which takes place in the same universe. I do, however, feel that Bardugo should have included a little more explanation on the world for those of us who hadn’t read her previous trilogy. At times in the beginning, I felt confused since I did not even know what a Grisha was. As I continued reading, I was able to figure it out, but it would have been nice to have a few more subtle definitions to make the reading experience a little easier. The pacing of the story was always fast, which was perfect for this story. It is only in the occasional flashbacks into the pasts of the characters that the pace of the novel slows down a bit to emphasize the importance of the scene. Bardugo crafted this novel beautifully and her writing style might even be one of my new favourites.
Six of Crows definitely succeeds in fulfilling the expectations of its genre as young adult fantasy. Fantasy can be loosely defined as “any work that contains magic or other elements that cannot be understood by the rules of reality” (Burcher et al. 227). I have found fantasy to be a controversial genre in that you either love it or you hate it. For those people that love it, there are several reasons why: it “allows escape and generates hope” and “provides exercise for the imagination,” which is important because “an imagination educated in part by reading fantasy might be more able to solve problems here and now because it isn’t hampered by words like ‘impossible’” (Owen 76). Another aspect of fantasy that I love is how it “often crosses age lines, with adults reading books written for young adults and vice versa” (MacRae 115). I believe that Six of Crows falls into the category of fantasy called epic high fantasy, which “feature[s] elegant prose, large casts of characters, arduous quests, and lots of magic . . . [and] worldbuilding” (Burcher et al. 227). With its fantastic characters, fast-paced heist plot, and Grisha magic system, I don’t think anyone can argue against how well this novel fulfills these requirements.
I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of fantasy. I know that for some people, fantasy just isn’t something they like because it’s ‘hard to believe’ and ‘too different’. Yet, for some, these are the reasons to love fantasy. It is the easiest genre to lose yourself in – it is escapism at its finest. With fantasy being my current favourite genre, and with the amazing characters and character development that takes place in Six of Crows, I really loved this book. I am giving it a 9 out of 10, because I was completely enthralled with the story, however, I do wish that there had been a bit more of an introduction to the world in the beginning and I did find the ages of the characters to be a bit unbelievable. I was picturing the characters to be in their early to mid-twenties, not just in their late teens. It was a bit of a stretch for me to fully buy into these incredibly skilled characters being only sixteen to eighteen years old. With that said, I will still recommend this book to anyone who asks for a fantasy recommendation and I am dying to get my hands on the sequel.
Bardugo, Leigh. Six of Crows. Henry Holt and Company, 2015.
Burcher, Charlotte, Neil Hollands, Andrew Smith, Barry Trott, and Jessica Zellers. “Core Collections in Genre Studies: Fantasy Fiction 101.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 2009, pp. 226-231.
Hill, Beth. “Checklist for Editors.” The Editor’s Blog, 19 Aug. 2015, E.A. Hill, theeditorsblog.net/2011/06/07/checklist-for-editors. Accessed 3 Sept. 2016.
MacRae, Cathi Dunn. Presenting Young Adult Fantasy Fiction. Twayne Publishers, 1998.
Owen, Lucia. “Dragons in the Classroom.” The English Journal, vol. 73, no. 7, 1984, pp.76-77.