Six of Crows was the type of book that had been lurking around my interest for a while after its popularity on tumblr book blogs… who knew it would have taken exam stress for me to pick it up? I’d first become familiar with Bardugo’s writing after reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel in the Grisha Trilogy. What I didn’t know before reading this, was that Six of Crows is written within the Grisha universe, and personally, I’d recommend you read Shadow and Bone to get a grasp of the real wonder of the Grisha before you start this, as Bardugo depicts Grisha in an antagonistic light to begin with in Six of Crows.
Six of Crows is a YA fantasy novel about a group of criminals with questionable virtues, who take on one of the riskiest heists six teenagers can only hope to pull off. They live in a world inhabited by Grisha, individuals who have special abilities which are being corrupted by the dangerous drug jurda parem. By snatching the scientist behind the drug , Bo Yhul-Bayar, the six will be rich as kings and queens in their criminal kingdom, the Barrel. Six of Crows addresses themes such as drug use, prostitution, crime, and discrimination.
When authors publish novels in their former fictional universe with new characters, I often assume it will be a shoddy attempt to milk success. I felt this wasn’t the case at all for Six of Crows. Bardugo’s characters were just as strong and intriguing as with those in Shadow and Bone. Six of Crows was written from the perspectives of each character involved in the heist (excluding the first chapter). The two perspectives I enjoyed the most were Kaz’ and Matthias’. Although the female characters, Inej and Nina, were written well with a satisfying amount of badass.
Kaz Brekker was such an interesting, complex character, and Bardugo definitely holds him up well as the leader of the group. All the quirky little tricks and insights into his criminalities were a highlight for me – Kaz reminded me of both Sherlock Holmes for his deductive nature and Pablo Escobar for his omniscience and lack of moral compass. Kaz Brekker’s resourcefulness is cleverly thought out and creates many satisfying plot twists.
No physical description ascribed to Kaz is superficial, his iconic leather gloves and cane reveal much about his muffled past. Kaz Brekker is clearly no saint, he is brutal when need be, willing to slash the soles of feet that step in his path. Yet, when he shows a glimmer of humanity, he becomes endearing. Bardugo is really skilled at evoking empathy in her readers. Although Kaz has a cruel past, by no means does it justify his present behaviour.
We, as readers, start the book knowing Kaz is a notorious felon. Yet, as we learn more of him his personality shines through and we find ourselves rooting for Kaz and his goals. I loved this experience, often when reading novels from an antagonist’s perspective, I hope for their tragic repercussions to bite them in the bum (e.g. Dorian Gray or figures in Edgar Allan Poe’s work) but I wanted the opposite in this instance. I can’t praise Bardugo enough for her achievement of this, encouraging empathy where there may not have been any – a skill which is critically needed in the present day.
Matthias’ side plot was another reason I loved this book. He’s your typical Draco Malfoy, an I’ve-been-raised-in-an-ignorant-and-hateful-environment kinda idiot. Yes, I had sympathy for his circumstances at the beginning of the book, but his actions made him difficult to like at first. What was really lovely was his character development, he underwent more change than any other character in Six of Crows. Bardugo’s exploration of hate and discrimination and how people accept or come to reject it was really compelling and a great moral demonstration.
I also really enjoyed Matthias’ presence in the plot because of the diversity and culture it fused into the narrative (not that Bardugo was short on representation or anything – I loved that she included disabled, POC, and LGBT characters). Being the only Fjerdan on the mission, Matthias’ imparting of cultural knowledge was peppered throughout the book. Bardugo made the Fjerdan religion and culture so rich, from the sacredness of wolves to their God being omnipresent through streams, rivers, and seas. World-building is in my opinion what makes the novel so enticing. Although, one of the only problems I had with this novel was the destruction of a Fjerdan religious symbol – sure, its fine to disagree with Fjerdan’s views but to tear apart something sacred to them send across a really bad message in my view.
The initiation process of Drüskelle (Fjerdan soldiers) was really cool to read, and I loved the detail of higher ranking soldiers being the only ones able to wear a beard. It reminded me a lot of Khal Drogo’s culture in A Song of Ice and Fire. However, Matthias description made my imagination see him as a viking aha.
After mentioning A Song of Ice and Fire, I felt like the Grishaverse was a slightly toned down version of Westeros. There were many moments that were pretty graphic, but didn’t happen enough to compete with George R. R. Martin. Nevertheless, I felt that there was just the right amount of gore to raise the stakes.
I understand now why there’s so much fuss surrounding this book – my expectations have been met and I absolutely want to continue on to Crooked Kingdom.