So you say you like heist stories? Assembling the team tropes? GOOD. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is one of the best in the business.
Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Hardcover: 465 Pages
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.
Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Six of Crows trilogy
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Hardcover
There’s nothing better than a good heist story.
Well, that’s not necessarily true. Two of my favorite tropes in all of movie/tv/book-dom are Assembling the Team (see: Avengers, the forming of the Fellowship of the Ring, The Magnificent Seven, my favorite ever Fighting Fantasy book where for the first time you get a TEAM and aren’t alone, Crypt of the Sorcerer) and The Heist (see: Inception, Mistborn, and yes, Ocean’s Eleven).
Six of Crows embodies both of these tropes beautifully, creating a truly scintillating, high-stakes, fully awesome heist.
In short: I really, really enjoyed this book. A LOT. Let me back up, though, and start at the beginning.
Six of Crows follows six characters, each with alternating narrative chapters, each with their own special set of skills, quirks, and baggage. Set in the same universe as Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, aka the Grishaverse, Six of Crows opens in Ketterdam–a city of violence and opportunity. The story focuses on main character Kaz Brekker: thief and brutal street lord. The backbone of Ketterdam’s Dregs underground business, Kaz’s past is haunted by death and abandonment, guilt and trauma. Since growing up as an orphan on Ketterdam’s unforgiving streets, Kaz has grown up to be a hard young man, and one with connections. Kaz is approached with a dangerous, but lucrative proposition: break into the impenetrable Ice Court and retrieve the package. The package, in this case, being a man named Yul-Bayur, who has the formula for a highly addictive drug called Jurda parem which amplifies a Grisha (those born with magical abilities)’s powers to extreme ends.
Kaz accepts the challenge–and assembles his team:
- Inej–a light-footed spy so good at her job she’s simply known as “the Wraith”, Kaz’s secret keeper, and former sex worker (whose contract was purchased and discarded by Kaz)
- Jesper–a sharpshooter with exceptional skill, but also a weakness for gambling that is his downfall
- Wylan–the privileged son, who runs away to live amongst the rabble and hone his skills at demolitions
- Matthias–a brawler, soldier of the Ice Court, and prisoner turned gladiator, with a murderous grudge against the woman who he thinks betrayed him…
- Nina–Grisha Heartrender, polyglot, and woman of secrets.
Together, this ragtag crew will dare to pull off one of the greatest Heists in history.
Before diving into individual characters, let’s spend a little time reflecting on story and worldbuilding. I had previously read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and generally liked it with some reservations (that said, I never finished the trilogy, dropping off book 2 with a DNF). The world in Six of Crows is set in the same universe as her previous trilogy, and happily expands on the rules and peoples therein. This world is a general fantasy analog of our own (Eastern Europe, Western Europe, East Asia, South Asia, etc), and on it’s own not exceptional or remarkable–but the magical systems make up for the lack of originality. I love the concept of the Grisha and the limitations of power and magic in this world, making the central issue to Six of Crows (the control of a highly addictive drug that unlocks incomparable magical ability in those who can already work magic) all the more desperate. There’s an underlying question and theme of power in this book–who has it, who takes it from others, what people will do to secure their power.
Of course, there’s also THE HEIST. Oh, it’s good. The book might be a little slow to start, but when the team is assembled an they are on their way to the Ice Court? It gets REALLY REALLY GOOD. No spoilers, but the action is nonstop and just the right amount of badass.
But let’s dive into what really makes this book memorable, shall we? In addition to the brekneck plot and the pitch-perfect executed heist storyline, it’s the characters who make me care. In particular, there are two characters I’d like to focus on: Kaz, the leader of the group, and Inej, the Wraith. Kaz’s nickname in the Dregs is “Dirtyhands”–a moniker he encourages by always wearing gloves, and allowing every rumor about why he wears the gloves go. Kaz is… complex. Superior leaders who are badass fighters/thieves/masterminds are a dime a dozen when it comes to these kinds of ensemble book; leaders suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and desperately trying to keep it together (and in the first book of a trilogy, for that matter) are not so common. Kaz’s aversion to touch, his methodical nature, his dissociation and need for control makes for a nuanced portrayal of a nuanced character. Similarly, Inej, the Wraith, has her own complicated past–a sex worker sold into slavery and freed from it by money again and now a spy and sneak thief of the highest order. I love Inej’s quiet determination, and her relationships with others–particularly Kaz.
I don’t want to give anything else away, so I’ll just say this: Six of Crows ends with a bang and there is a lot of room from so much more. Absolutely recommended, and I can’t wait for Crooked Kingdom. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far.
Notable Quotes: From Chapter 1:
Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache.
He was supposed to be making his rounds at the Hoede house, but for the last fifteen minutes, he’d been hovering around the southeast wall of the gardens, trying to think of something clever and romantic to say to Anya.
If only Anya’s eyes were blue like the sea or green like an emerald. Instead, her eyes were brown-lovely, dreamy … melted chocolate brown? Rabbit fur brown?
“Just tell her she’s got skin like moonlight,” his friend Pieter had said. “Girls love that.”
A perfect solution, but the Ketterdam weather was not cooperating. There’d been no breeze off the harbor that day, and a gray milk fog had wreathed the city’s canals and crooked alleys in damp. Even here among the mansions of the Geldstraat, the air hung thick with the smell of fish and bilge water, and smoke from the refineries on the city’s outer islands had smeared the night sky in a briny haze. The full moon looked less like a jewel than a yellowy blister in need of lancing.
Maybe he could compliment Anya’s laugh? Except he’d never heard her laugh. He wasn’t very good with jokes.
Joost glanced at his reflection in one of the glass panels set into the double doors that led from the house to the side garden. His mother was right. Even in his new uniform, he still looked like a baby. Gently, he brushed his finger along his upper lip. If only his mustache would come in. It definitely felt thicker than yesterday.
He’d been a guard in the stadwatch less than six weeks, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as he’d hoped. He thought he’d be running down thieves in the Barrel or patrolling the harbors, getting first look at cargo coming in on the docks. But ever since the assassination of that ambassador at the town hall, the Merchant Council had been grumbling about security, so where was he? Stuck walking in circles at some lucky mercher’s house. Not just any mercher, though. Councilman Hoede was about as high placed in Ketterdam government as a man could be. The kind of man who could make a career.
Joost adjusted the set of his coat and rifle, then patted the weighted baton at his hip. Maybe Hoede would take a liking to him. Sharp-eyed and quick with the cudgel, Hoede would say. That fellow deserves a promotion.
“Sergeant Joost Van Poel,” he whispered, savoring the sound of the words. “Captain Joost Van Poel.”
“Stop gawking at yourself.”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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