Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
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.
Where. To. Begin.
Normally, I allow a book to marinate for at least 24 hours before tackling a review. You know: allow all the flavors to properly marry before offering samples to the public. An efficient practice when one is obligated to give their non-biased opinion.
Rules be damned.
This book left me a complete mess.
I'm at a loss as to where to start. My mind is literally in nuclear power phase-out.
Author: Leigh Bardugo, also the author of the Grisha series - Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising - which are set in the Slavic/Russian-esque state of Ravka (hence the 17th century onion-shaped domes displayed on the covers).
Born in Jerusalem and raised in Los Angelos, Bardugo is a Yale graduate *victory whoop for smart women everywhere!!!*, who has worked in journalism, advertising, and special effects in addition to her successful career as a YA novelist.
If we can call Six of Crows a YA novel... I'm pretty sure the only reason it got slapped with this label is because the main group of characters are all under the age of 20, though they certainly don't act like it... Lord knows I wasn't blowing up prisons, visiting pleasure houses, or gambling till 5am at the age of 17. But who knows what these crazy kids are up to nowadays...
By far, the most impressive aspect about this book that set it apart from anything else I've read this year (including my self-proclaimed spirit animal, Sarah J. "Can-Do-No-Wrong" Maas...) is the amount of detail Bardugo placed in her world-building.
I'm sure you've read a novel recently where most everything clicked into place - multi-dimensional characters, interesting plot, unique narrative, etc. But the world-building was so flat that it didn't feel real. You weren't standing next to the lead character, the smell of acrid pools of waste that puddled around their feet in that dark alleyway invading your senses as you read the beginning of a fight scene. And you came out of it feeling disappointed. It was forgettable.
This book is unforgettable. Bardugo wanted to create a world that was unique and separate from Russia, but with enough connection to culture and language that readers could identify with. This excerpt was taken from Leigh Bardugo's website, explaining her thoughts on creating the Ravkan world from which the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows were born.
Bardugo isn't afraid to dig in and do her homework where this story was concerned, which seriously made my respect for her sky-rocket. In the Acknowledgments section at the back of the book (which I always read because you can find little nuggets of awesome-ness, like THIS!), she lists a slew of titles that were read in preparation for writing Six of Crows. To name a few:
- Criminal Slang: The Vernacular of the Underworld Lingo by Vincent J. Monteleone
- The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man by David Maurer
- The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg
- The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum by Sarah Wise
Another point to Bardugo: her use of an anti-hero as her main character, Kaz Brekker. Imagine a younger, darker George Clooney from "Ocean's Eleven" (a very popular comparison overall for this novel), but without the easy charm and moral code. As a reader, you're both horrified and intrigued by this 17-year old gang leader, who rose from a broken life as a Barrel orphan rat, running errands for The Dregs boss, Pekka Haskell, to the hardened second-in-command nicknamed Dirtyhands.
About midways in, you all of a sudden stop and ask yourself, "When did I start rooting for Kaz Brekker?? 100 pages ago he scared the sh!t out of me!". Have no fear. This is a normal response. Why? Because it's realistic.
The quintessential tie-my-shoes-straight, poster-boy hero is boring. And shallow. Two-dimensional. Show me someone who fights with their demons, sometimes loses, but at the end of the fight still has redeemable qualities and a good heart buried underneath all his scars!!
We're given glimpses into the POVs of the other 5 characters in group Kaz chose to complete this insane operation, which I personally loved since it lead to further twists and turns in alliances, relationships, revelations, and all-around suspense. My personal favorite was Inej, AKA The Wraith (who I am still convinced is somehow some sort of Grisha because of her stealth abilities).
Now for my last point.
No love triangle.
Praise Jesus! Let's have a slow clap, people.
Let me be clear: there is romance. But it is does not take up the whole damn novel. Maybe it's a personal vendetta of mine after the tortuous exposure to all things vampire-ish and Twilight-esque. I'm over it. SO OVER IT. To the point if there's even a hint of a love triangle, square, octagon - IT DOESN'T MATTER!! I'm out.
I won't give away spoilers, but there are two potential camps that you will fall under once you finish this book.
Relationship #1 - Let's call it Camp A - is much more subtle, a delicious slow burn to Camp B's Hot-as-Hades passion simmering just under the surface for nearly the entire 465 pages.
I'm betting on Camp A.
Camp A also rips your heart out at the end. Just fair warning, for those of you who catch on quick. Be prepared.
If you haven't read this book yet, drop everything and pick up a copy immediately! This has been my favorite read so far this year, which is saying A LOT. Be aware that the first 100 pages can be slow to start, since you're trying to catch on to the feel of Bardugo's, world while adjusting to each new POV thrown your way. Once the heist is underway, you'll be reading at mach speed.
Get ready to lose sleep.