It’s finally happening. I’m reviewing Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Full disclosure up front: this will be a glowing review. In fact, it’s a five-star review. Now, as the title suggests, this will be a spoiler free review. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
“No mourners. No funerals. Among them, it passed for ‘good luck.'”Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows is the first book in a fantasy duology set in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Taking place a couple years after the events of the Grisha Triology, Six of Crows follows a cast of characters in Ketterdam, a gritty city run by rich and powerful merchants. Kaz Brekker is a criminal prodigy, and sets out to accomplish an impossible heist. He assembles his crew: a spy, a Heartrender, a convict, a sharpshooter and a runaway. Together, they will try to pull off a heist that promises to save the world, but most importantly… make them rich.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the crux of this story: the characters. Leigh Bardugo excels at character development in Six of Crows. She has built complex, dynamic characters that feel real. Here’s a quick breakdown of the core gang.
In case you don’t want any information before you read the book, just skip over the bulleted list.
- Kaz Brekker is the Bastard of the Barrel, also known as Dirtyhands. He quickly rose through the ranks of Per Haskell’s gang and controls the youngest members of the gang – The Dregs. Kaz is a young crime boss with a curious affinity for gloves and kruge.
- Inej Ghafa is a former Suli acrobat turned spy. There isn’t much she can’t do, and she uses her gifts to cultivate her persona as The Wraith, Kaz’s gatherer of whispers and right hand woman.
- Jesper Fahey is a Zemeni sharpshooter with a slight gambling problem. He can hit any target, even in a garish green suit, but he has problems of his own, among them his ability to loose kruge at the tables.
- Nina Zenik is a Heartrender, a Corporalki Grisha who can slow your heart to calm you… or kill you. Far from her home – Ravka – she’s part of the Dregs and works at the White Rose begrudgingly, though she has her reasons to stay in Ketterdam.
- Matthias Helvar is a convict serving his time in Hellgate. A former Fjerdan drüskelle, his life was formerly devoted to hunting Grisha, until his own decisions and a deception led him to Hellgate.
- Wylan is a runaway, who lived a privileged life in Ketterdam before leaving home.
All of these characters have something in common: trauma. To varying degrees, but nonetheless, each has gone through incredible circumstances for their young age. However, Bardugo manages to explore and explain this trauma without sensationalizing it. Instead, she builds complex backgrounds for each character and grows them throughout Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. The use of multi-perspective is incredible, and adds to the story. In the hands of a less-skilled author, five perspectives could have been a disaster, but Bardugo manages to foster a connection to each individual perspective and uses it to the benefit of the plot.
Now, one complaint I do have for Six of Crows regards character equity. Kaz and Inej are my favorite characters in this duology. While I really enjoy the amount of page time they receive in book one, I do think it’s a detriment to Jesper, Nina and Matthias’ character growth, and Wylan doesn’t even have a perspective. However, overall this didn’t detract from my enjoyment, particularly because this is rectified in Crooked Kingdom.
I have to admit, this plot could have been next to nothing, and I wouldn’t have cared. Really, the plot isn’t too complex. This begins as a classic heist story; plotting, scheming and pitfalls are front and center. I’ve seen some negative reviews about the plot, saying it’s too slow. I understand this complaint, but as a reader who loves characters, I didn’t mind that the plot wasn’t Earth-shattering. The plot wasn’t boring by any means, but if you’re someone who likes constant twists and turns, you might struggle a bit. The flashbacks and characters were enough for me, though.
Ketterdam and Other Notes
Another thing I enjoyed about Six of Crows was Bardugo’s use of setting. Ketterdam feels like a character in itself. It’s gritty; it’s dirty; it’s greedy; it’s beautiful. The city is important to many of the characters, and in a way it nurtures them. The waterways and canals are means of transportation and necessary for life. The streets and alleyways are not always safe, but they are home. The Slat isn’t perfect, but it’s a refuge. Ketterdam is based loosely off of Amsterdam, and imaging the canals and crooked buildings as Bardugo describes them ties this story together. I will say, I found it more difficult to understand Fjerda and the Ice Court. In some ways this felt intentional; after all, it’s only ever been home to one of the crows.
Overall, this is my favorite young adult fantasy. Though it’s young adult, I truly think more than teenagers will enjoy this book (I mean, I was 25 when I read it). Its themes speak to a broad audience, and these characters have stuck with me long after I finished reading it… twice. Now, hopefully the Netflix adaptation is just as good as the books!
I hope you give Six of Crows a go, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts down in the comments. Also, check out my book playlist below!
“When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.”Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Kaz Brekker & The Crows Playlist
- Sinister Kid by The Black Keys
- Heathens by Twenty One Pilots
- This is My World by Esterly ft. Austin Jenckes
- Bury Me Face Down by grandson
- Used to the Darkness by Des Rocs
- Hustler by Zayde Wolfe
- Trouble by Valerie Broussard
- Heart of Stone by The Raveonettes
- City of Sin by Linus Young
- World Gone Mad by The Phantoms
- Ten Cent Pistol by The Black Keys