Based on the recommendation of one of my friends, I picked up Six of Crows (Young Adult 462 pages) by Leigh Bardugo several weeks ago. I actually read it the same weekend I borrowed it from the library but am only just now writing up the review, as life tends to get in the way of just about everything.
“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 constantly forgot that the characters in this novel were supposed to be young teenagers and so every time their ages were brought up, it often took me by surprise. The setting in this novel is dark and gritty and absolutely doesn’t sugar coat life on the streets where slavery, human trafficking, violence, and crime are common and everyone is someone else’s property.
I’m not sure if this is a spoiler or not but it’s a minor enough point that it won’t ruin anything about the story. This book is fairly unique in the sense that it started the first chapter with characters who aren’t a part of the rest of the story. While the events that transpire in the first chapter are mentioned elsewhere in the book, the characters themselves aren’t, which is an interesting way of starting a book, in my opinion. I can’t think of any examples where I’ve read other stories where the characters in the first chapter aren’t any of the main characters and are mostly just “throw-aways” like they were here. From a writing perspective, I’m still not sure how I feel about this method of beginning a story. However, this book and its sequel are clearly doing very well so I’d say it must be working for this series and author.
The next viewpoint character is Inej and she is definitely a character I found a great deal to like and enjoy. I can’t recall reading any other series where a main character is such a solid rock climber and the little tidbits about her special shoes and her climb up the super-heated chimney evoked phantom aches in my fingers and toes. I also greatly appreciate Inej as a character for a lot of reasons, probably most heavily because she reminds me a lot of someone who means a lot to me. In fact, most of Inej’s abilities, especially at climbing things, her personality, and her morals remind me a lot of someone who changed everything about my entire life about four years ago. Inej is quiet and observant and seems to always believe the best in the people around her. She’s a loyal and trustworthy friend and she actively works to not hurt people, unless you betray the people she’s loyal to – then she’s absolutely ruthless and merciless. She uses violence as another tool to protect the people who matter in her life and she’s rather brutal when she needs to be. She’s never violent just for the sake of violence. When violence is necessary, she will absolutely ensure that she solves the problem permanently. She also has a really big heart and she cares more about the people in her life than she really lets on, which is remarkable, considering her living environment. Obviously, Inej is my favorite character from this book and I feel like I can empathize with her on many levels. She just sort of makes sense to me.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is dark and gritty and it was often difficult to remember that all six of the point of view characters are supposed to be teenagers. In the world these characters live in, being small and over-looked would be extremely beneficial to survival in a lot of ways, but it also highlighted some fairly nasty aspects of the world in which we actually live. While this story takes place in a purely fantastical world, many of the mentioned social and societal issues are prevalent in our own society today. The brothels, the human trafficking, and the religious vigor with which an entire society will hunt and perform genocide on others just for being different is sickening, but also a part of even our “modern” society today. If you ever did even the basic research on modern sex-trafficking, you would find that old, privileged men are purchasing rights to use and abuse the bodies of young women who were stolen, bought, or sold because the men have the resources and the young women have no options to free themselves from their lives. And all of this is shown in this book – the slavery, the stealing of young women from their families, and those with resources who make leaving the system near impossible.
Did I mention I had problems remembering this is supposedly a YA book with teenage characters?
One of the other really interesting aspects of this book to me is that there is a relationship between Nina, a Heartrender, and Matthias, a druskelle who believes her very existence should be terminated for her special Grisha powers. The interesting part about Nina and Matthias is that they absolutely love each other and neither of them is happy with this situation. The reason this is such a fascinating relationship to me is because this is exactly how love works. Sometimes, love makes sense, but sometimes, love defies all reason and better judgment. I kind of feel like love is a connection that can’t be forced – if you love someone and there’s a connection there, that connection will be powerful and consuming and won’t react well to being ignored. A lot of the relationship between Nina and Matthias showed not only what a powerful force love is but also how much people can change and grow because of love.
As for the story, this novel has a rather interesting heist and a lot of really interesting details. Kaz is clearly a very thorough planner and he also doesn’t share any of his deep plans with anyone. His plans are very in-depth and often present unexpected solutions.
Overall, I’d say this book is a solid three on my rating scale. I enjoyed reading it and I might see if I can find it to add it to my own collection at some point in the future, as the copy I read was from my local library.
Bardugo, Leigh. Six of Crows. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015.