Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows takes place in a fantasy setting that builds on Bardugo’s previous works, the Grisha trilogy. However, it focuses mainly on two places within the world: Ketterdam, similar to Victorian-English slums, and Fjerda, similar to a Dutch fjord town. (Rest may contain spoilers)
Kaz Brekker is a 17-year old leader of the Dregs crew and owner of a gambling hall in the Barrel. The story centers around a deal he was duped out of as a boy, resulting in his brother’s death, which initiates his need for revenge and the motivation behind the heist (as well as kruge, their currency). When recruited by a powerful mercher to rescue an influential scientist from a high-security prison, he gathers a team of other teenage thieves and gang-members to help. Inej, his main love interest, is an acrobatic and talented knife thrower who was once separated from her family and now serves under Kaz in the Dregs. Jesper is Kaz’s right hand man, and is a sharp-shooter with a gambling addiction. Wylan is the shy, rich son of the mercher who recruited Kaz, but is also a demolitions and mathematical expert. Nina is a Grisha, a group of magical beings who are hunted and abused for their abilities. The scientist they are tasked with rescuing has developed a drug that enhances these abilities. Nina has a romantic backstory with Matthias, a former solider who was wrongfully imprisoned. Together, the six members travel to Fjerda and break into the prison, however, in the end they are duped by the mercher and Inej is taken, setting up the plot for the sequel, Crooked Kingdom.
The beginning chapters are a bit slow to start, but develop the world and introduce a ton of series-specific vocabulary. Once these chapters finish, the rest of the book is an ensemble narrative with six POVs, alternating each chapter, told in third person. There are several backstories and romantic subplots throughout.
Six of Crows broadens the Grisha Trilogy in a new section of the same world. The heist story is similar to Ocean’s Eleven, but also books such as The Lies of Locke Lamora or the Mistborn series, but less high-fantasy and more easily accessible. Bardugo perfectly applies classic tropes in a fantasy setting. The characters in this book are the standouts. The group is entertainingly quippy. The diversity represented is excellent. Inej is Suli, which is described similarly to certain South Asian cultures, such as Indian. (There is a great passage about how other characters describe her skin color that can even be read as a dig at how not to write about non-white skin color.) Jesper is described as multiethnic and darker skinned, as well as pansexual. Kaz’s visible disability is that he walks with a cane, which becomes a symbol of strength, rather than being debilitating. He also experiences touch-aversion, as a result of possible PTSD. The female characters are strong heroines, and Inej’s backstory touches on human sex trafficking. At times it is hard to visualize these characters as teenagers, but it’s believable with the Victorian-magical setting.
Having multiple romances means there are plenty of relationships to root for, but it seems to be perfectly paired off and sometimes took away from the action. Matthias’ character development was also a bit choppy at times since he seemingly falls in and out of his bigotry against the Grishas. The pseudo-Russian words don’t follow guidelines as strictly as some of the pseudo-Dutch words do, with the names not matching their meanings accurately. This could jar readers who understand Russian and take away from an otherwise great book. There is also a scene directly after the heist that is very quick in comparison to some of the earlier, longer expositions. However, the ending is a great set up for a sequel.
This book has everything you could want out of a magical heist story. My main recommendations would be to alter some of the Russian-influenced vocabulary, and expand on the Shu culture (I’ve heard the sequel does this a bit?) Since the book otherwise represents diversity so well, these flaws stand out a bit. But overall it was one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in a while and if it was in manuscript form, I would absolutely not pass on this.