Disclaimer: This review is semi-spoiler free; meaning I won’t give away any major events but I will be mentioning facts pertaining to well beyond the first chapter.
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.
I feel as though I should start off by disclaiming that I’ve never read a book by Leigh Bardugo before. Everywhere I looked, may it be on #bookstagram, tumblr, etc…, someone was raving about either her Six of Crows duology or Grisha trilogy. And after finishing this book I have to admit it deserves all the praise it received, rightfully so. Six of Crows is not only a treat for the eyes; it’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.
We’re not here to honor its marvelous design, though, but rather the interior. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up any sooner, in the first place, for fantasy and especially dark fantasy is my go-to genre and I can’t seem to get enough of it. So I don’t have anything to bring forward as an excuse any other than the biggest obstacle every reader has had to face at least once; and its name is TBR. This particular evil made it its task to ruin all our lives and we walk straight into the trap it laid out for us…
“Wanden olstrum end kendesorum. Isen ne bejstrum. The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.”
But to get back to the main topic at hand; Six of Crows is told in multiple POV’s. The reader follows six, more or less, thieves and criminals on a heist. Yes, a heist. If that alone didn’t get you hooked, then I don’t know what else will. And, honestly, I don’t want to go into more detail as to what the story is about for it unfolds in such a miraculous way if you go into this unknowingly and I would hate to ruin the experience for you. But I can tell, no guarantee, you one thing; it will be a wild ride. That’s fore sure.
Leigh Bardugo created a world like I’ve never encountered before. Marching through the dark and treacherous aisles of Ketterdam, screams of joy and agony in the fighting pits in Kerch, crossing waters into the unknown, wandering to sure death in the harsh north and a one-way-ticket into an seemingly-unbreakable prison… This and more will await you on a journey to unlimited riches and fortune. But it is not only the detailed and complex places that intrigued me to this very extent; Bardugo also managed to display this world in a very visually-appealing way and it feels like you are being transported into this universe. Another thing that just made me fall in love with it is the diversity and cultures that are being displayed throughout this story. There are, for instance, the cold Fjerdans, Suli acrobats, multiple gangs, Zemeni-born sharpshooters, Ravkans and of course the Grisha.
For those of you who haven’t read either Six of Crows or Shadow and Bone; Grisha are masters of the Small Science and members of the Second Army. Their powers are to be seen as extensions of the natural world. The Grisha are divided into three orders: Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki and within these orders there are many subdivisions as well. This complex magic system enhanced this world to the point where I thought I, as a reader, was actually a part of this universe. I’m currently reading Shadow and Bone and I have to say that this system itself plays a much more important role in it than it did in Six of Crows in the sense that it feels like the reader is being introduced to the world. In Six of Crows we cross paths with Grisha and their powers are a big part of this story as well but Six of Crows takes places decades after the Grisha trilogy and, thereby, focuses on many different things. Leigh herself disclaimed that it’s not important in which order you read them but I, for my part, would recommend starting with Shadow and Bone for it gives the reader a first glimpse as to what you are actually up against and lays the foundation for the story where, in Six of Crows, you are basically being thrown into the current situation and have to make your way through a tangle of information. But no need to worry! In the course of this story everything comes together so that finally a big light bulb will appear above your head and everything is alright!
The Grisha world was inspired by Russian folklore and if you know me just a bit, you will be well aware of the fact that I’m a big sucker for mythology and folklore. I love everything whimsical and peculiarly dark; and that’s exactly what I found in Six of Crows. Leigh Bardugo wove these Russian elements so beautifully into the story, and combined with her writing style this book was a literal feast for every history/historical fiction nerd. Reading this novel felt like being a part of a legend or saga and this very feel made it such a special experience for me. And, admittedly, I was drooling over her writing. With her talent for crafting word after word in such a disturbingly capturing way she managed to fascinate me with every flipping of pages.
“Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.”
As for the characters; They’re just too precious for this world and I’m by no means exaggerating. In Six of Crows we don’t get your typical hero or heroine but antiheroes. This concept really does wonders in regard of dark fantasy and underlines the gloomy and sarcastic atmosphere. Each and every character has its own backstory to be told and this past left its marks upon every single one of them. May it be physically or mentally. And it’s this heart-wrenching truth that makes them such reliable personalties who you can’t help but fall for at the end. Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, Matthias and Wylan – I took a shine to all of them. It’s very hard not to, actually! Leigh, thank you so much for these wonderfully flawed human beings – And just to throw that out there; being an antihero doesn’t make the character a villain. I’ve seen many people get confused and throw them into the same pot if they clearly shouldn’t be.
Let me introduce you to my barrel rat, businessman *cough* thief *cough*, Kaz Brekker aka Dirtyhands. He appears cunning, tough and ruthless but if you look any closer you’ll see a sentimental and broken boy who has clawed his way of of the slums and has become a legend among all of Ketterdam; and he’s only 17 years old. But his greed for money is an undeniable fact and if you’d ask me to step in his way in order to save all the money in the world I wouldn’t do it! Not a single person would even think about such a thing, at least no one with common sense, that is. He always manages to have something up his sleeves, no matter how tricky the situation. And I can’t talk about Kaz without mentioning his Wraith, Inej, of course. Her story wrenched my heart open. Ravkan-born and trained Suli acrobat, Inej was captured by slavers and sold to Tante Heleen who forced her to work in the Menagerie, a pleasure house. As the name Wraith already suggests, Inej is Kaz’ spy and with that a skilled assassin. She was the character I could relate most to, for it was her quiet and, yet, funny nature that drew me in. The same goes for Jesper, a Zemeni-born sharpshooter with dark skin. And here I have to thank you again Leigh – but I warn you for it won’t be the last time – that you involved diversity into the story. I don’t want to add too much but this diversity isn’t only displayed in different ethnicities but sexualities as well. Jesper is this optimistic and light-hearted guy you just want to keep you company on a heist. He always manages to brighten up the mood but he is just as troubled as the others even if that may not be visible at first glance.
Nina Zenik, a Grisha – more specifically heartrender which falls under the category Corporalki – works in another brothel in Ketterdam but her loyalties lie with the Dregs, Kaz’ gang. Her history is a long one and intertwines with Matthias’ long before she met the other characters. I don’t want to go into more detail as to how but let me tell you that with every revelation your heart will be nothing more than a puddle at the end. As for Matthias, he’s seems to be a cold and brutal warrior from the north. His hatred for Grisha is consuming his common sense and his drive to kill them due to certain events mentioned in Six of Crows is rather strong. But again, his character is, just like the others, of complex and nebulous nature. Last but not least, and somewhat of an underdog, we got Wylan. The sweet, who-couldn’t-kill-a fly-if-it-came-down-to-it and who-will-get-them-all-killed Wylan – Think again! He is deeply underestimated by his crew members but proves his worth time and time again.
Leigh Bardugo created a work of art; her writing combined with great characters, a rich world and plot-like eventful story takes the reader on an unforgettable journey. The Russian traits make the story so much more vivid in all its facets and enwrap the events in a dark atmosphere. This novel is most certainly nothing you want to miss out on.