Series: Six of Crows #1
Published by Henry Holt and Company on September 29th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
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Goodreads Synopsis: Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:
Break into the notorious Ice Court (a military stronghold that has never been breached). Retrieve a hostage (who could unleash magical havoc on the world). Survive long enough to collect his reward (and spend it).
Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.
Six of Crows is one of those books that I could truly kick myself for waiting so long to read. Now that I’ve finally finished reading it, all I keep thinking is what a fool I was to deprive myself of one of the most original and amazing fantasy stories I’ve ever read. I feel like I’m not even going to begin to do this book justice, but hopefully, since I’m pretty sure I’m one of the last people on the planet to actually read it, you guys will all just nod your heads in agreement because you already know why Six of Crows is such a fabulous read.
For those unfamiliar with the basic storyline, Six of Crows follows Kaz Brekker, a teenage criminal mastermind, who has been offered an opportunity to achieve wealth beyond his wildest dreams. How? By completing what can probably best be described as Mission Impossible. He has to break into the Ice Court, a heavy guarded military stronghold that has never successfully been broken into before. Once inside, his mission is to locate and smuggle out a scientist who is being held hostage there because he possesses knowledge on how to amplify and weaponize magic. Kaz knows enough about the dangers of the Ice Court to know that, without the right team, this heist is going to be nearly impossible, possibly even a suicide mission. Lucky for Kaz though, he knows exactly who the right team is: a deadly gang of young thugs, thieves, and runaways who are just desperate enough to agree to be part of this crazy mission.
What I loved most about Six of Crows are the characters. Leigh Bardugo has crafted some of the most fascinating and unique characters I’ve come across in YA fantasy. I always enjoy stories that feature an anti-hero and with Kaz and his “Crows,” we have 6 anti-heroes! I love anti-heroes because they’re always such complex characters and these characters are no different. What each of the Crows have in common is that they have no family and they’ve each had to do some pretty awful things in the name of survival, including resorting to thievery and murder. Through flashbacks that give us backstory on each of the characters, however, Bardugo manages to make this gang of thugs so sympathetic that you can’t help but fall in love with them. I also liked the angle that each character seemed to have their own, sometimes selfish motives, for wanting to be a part of Kaz’s mission and it added an element of suspense at times, as I wondered if someone would sabotage the mission to serve their own needs.
It’s hard to pick a favorite character because they’re all so badass, but Kaz is definitely near the top of my list. As I’ve already mentioned, he’s a criminal mastermind. Even though he’s a teenager, his reputation precedes him and he is feared by many in Ketterdam, the city where the story takes place. Kaz can be as greedy as he can be cruel, but he’s also so brilliant, brazen, and daring that you can’t help being drawn to him. Kaz is also haunted by events from his past that left him alone and destitute, and he’s highly motivated by the desire for revenge against the man he holds responsible for what happened.
In addition to Kaz, there are also two badass female characters, Inej and Nina. Inej, known as the wraith, has a reputation for being somewhat of a ninja. Kaz calls her his spider because she can climb her way pretty much anywhere and can do so undetected, a very handy skill in their line of “work.” She’s also very skilled with knives and is perhaps the most murderous member of Kaz’s team. I just loved watching her in action as she cut down anyone who posed a threat to the team. What made Inej especially fascinating to me was the connection between her and Kaz. As much as Kaz tries to be all business, all the time and never show any emotion or weakness, it’s clear that he has a soft spot when it comes to Inej and her safety. It’s also pretty clear that there’s a good chance the feeling is mutual.
Nina is what is known as a Grisha, which means she possesses magical abilities. For the purposes of Kaz’s mission, Nina can use that magic to do useful things like slow people’s heartrates down until they lose consciousness. She can also use her powers for healing purposes, also handy when you’re on a super-dangerous mission. As we learn from her backstory, Nina’s people have been persecuted for years because of their magic — imprisoned, tortured, and even burned at the stake. Because the Grisha are the ones whose magic would be weaponized, Nina has personal reasons for wanting to take part in this mission.
Matthias is one of the characters that intrigued me the most. At first, I couldn’t stand him, but the more I got to know about him, the more I just grew to adore him. Kaz recruits him by breaking him out of jail and offering him a pardon for his crimes in exchange for his help with the mission. Kaz sees Matthias as one of the biggest assets to the team because he used to work in the Ice Castle and can therefore give them the overall layout of the place, how the security works, etc. Matthias is torn because he knows he should be loyal to the Ice Castle, but at the same time, how can you turn down a chance to be pardoned so that you can get your life back? What makes the whole situation even more complicated is that he and Nina have shared history and he holds her responsible for his imprisonment. Tension, much? I swear I was convinced those two were going to kill each other for about half the book! Beneath all that hate they seemed to have for each other though, you could sense there was something more, an almost smoldering attraction for one another. Let me tell you – I’m not usually big on romance, but I was shipping the heck out of Nina and Matthias!
Jesper and Wylan. While these two guys were clearly assets to the team as well with their knowledge of weapons and explosives, respectively, what I loved most about Jesper and Wylan was that they provided a bit of comic relief where the other characters were so intense all the time. Jesper and Wylan teased each other relentlessly and their banter was just hilarious at times.
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The world building in Six of Crows is also top notch. Bardugo paints a vivid picture of Ketterdam with its rival street gangs swarming around duking it out for power. It’s a dark and gritty world, as well as a dangerous one, filled with assorted thieves, predators, and traitors. It’s hard to know who, if anyone, can be trusted. The atmosphere definitely creates a sensation that all of the characters are vulnerable to attack by anyone anywhere so they have to be in survival mode at all times.
The Grisha magic system is also well thought out and vividly drawn. I went into Six of Crows without having read the Grisha series, which was probably a mistake as I’m sure it would have further enriched my understanding of the Grisha magic and their history, but even without having read it, I still felt like I completely understood the magic and why it would be such a valuable weapon if it could be amplified and harnessed. Imagine practically indestructible armies of Grisha fighting on your behalf. You’d be unstoppable.
Action, Action, Action! As I’m sure you can imagine just based on the details of their mission, Six of Crows is truly action-packed. There are endless twists and turns, obstacles that need to be overcome, enemies that need to be taken out, plans that fall apart and then need to be improvised. Although the novel starts out at a fairly slow pace as we are meeting each character and establishing the world of Ketterdam, once Kaz and his gang get started on their missions, it’s like jumping on a thrill ride that doesn’t stop until the final page.
I can’t really say this is a dislike of the book, but it did take me about a hundred pages or so to really become invested in the characters and get sucked into the story. Again, I’m chalking up my slow start to needing extra time to understand the Grisha magic and how it worked because I didn’t read the Grisha trilogy first. Once I did get sucked in, however, there was no stopping me. It probably took me 3 or 4 days to get to page 100, but then I inhaled the last 300 or so pages in another day and a half. I guess my advice would if you are struggling to get into it, stick with it until they actually get started with the planning of their mission. It might be a slow build in the beginning, but it’s a wild ride from that point to the very end.
I truly loved pretty much everything about Six of Crows, hence why I’m kicking myself for having waited so long to read it. Up until now, Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series has been, hands down, my favorite YA fantasy series. I have to say though, Six of Crows is seriously giving it a run for its money.