My Nan very kindly gave me four books as part of my Christmas present, and Six of Crows was one of them. I’ve seen Leigh Bardugo‘s name floating around Twitter for years now and finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. Rather than dive straight into the Grisha trilogy I thought I’d read the first of the Six of Crows duology, thinking that if I enjoyed the writing style I could always look at the Grisha trilogy later. I read it on the long train journeys to and from Scotland and didn’t want to put it down to the extent that I was packing my bag up with one hand as we pulled into Glasgow, nose still deep in the book.
A little-known fact about me is that I bloody love a heist movie, so Six of Crows sounded right up my street, described as “Ocean’s Eleven meets Game of Thrones”. It’s closer to Ocean’s Eleven than Thrones, with the settings really absolutely nothing alike. I feel like reviewers like to slap on big-name fantasy like Thrones or Harry Potter to draw people in, even if in reality they’re completely different. Like Ocean’s Eleven, it revolves around a central mastermind of dubious morality, as he gathers a band of misfits to pull off a heist of gargantuan proportions for profit, to prevent a crisis and for vengeance. One of the things I enjoyed most was the clear motive for each member of the gang to go on the mission; often books gloss over this, leaving the reader incredulous and disconnected with the story as characters behave in ways that don’t make sense.
The characters are somewhat stereotypical in nature and improbably young, the oldest being just 18. You have the usual tropes of a morally corrupt and reticent mastermind, the gambling sharpshooter, the grim-faced Northerner, a beautiful sorceress, the tiny acrobat with a troubled past and the kid who likes to blow things up. Some of the team work well together and others don’t, and it’s pretty true to life of how a group of people who don’t necessarily get along can work together. For all that the characters are recognisable tropes, they and the plot don’t suffer for it. They’re fairly well-rounded characters, and although some of the minor romance seemed forced I didn’t feel like any of it was unbelievable. I don’t mind tropes as long as they’re done well: they’re often tropes for a reason.I love the setting of Ketterdam, with its grimy streets and murky canals, and it’s basically a fantasy version of Amsterdam, a beautiful city I’ll be visiting for the first time in April. I’ve never read anything set in a city like it, so it made for a refreshing change. The setting of the Ice Palace was less enjoyable for me; it was more of a typical fantasy setting and I’ve found I prefer cities over palaces due to the greater scope for variety, but it served its purpose as an impregnable stronghold.
The plot was great, full of twists and turns and a few things I didn’t see coming. As I say, I love a good heist, and this satisfied my desire for seemingly insurmountable obstacles overcome in interesting ways; I thought several aspects were very original and clever, but I can’t say too much without giving things away. I didn’t enjoy the flashbacks to Matthias and Nina’s past, finding them either unnecessary or disorienting. They left me floundering to get back into the main story, and I was left wondering if this backstory was part of the Grisha trilogy. A quick google suggests it isn’t, and instead, I wonder if Bardugo wanted to write a whole separate book about the two and was forced to incorporate it into Six of Crows.
The ending of the book was utterly infuriating and one of the most frustrating cliffhangers I’ve ever encountered. Fortunately, the sequel has already been released, but I was so angry at the ending that I flung the book across the room. A bit of a cliffhanger is good but that was a monster. I’ll be buying the sequel very soon to find out what happens, and I’ll probably get round to the Grisha trilogy at some point but it won’t be top of my list.
Six of Crows made for an engaging and easy read; it’s perfect to balance with a more heavy-going book if, like me, you like to have two on the go at once. It’s about what I expected when I ordered it, but it’s definitely one of the better YA Fantasy novels out there. I have nothing against the genre, having read a great deal of it and enjoyed it, but they do have a reputation for shoddy writing. Bardgo’s characters are typical yet nuanced, her world-building accomplished and her inventiveness is to be applauded. The book won’t be breaking boundaries anytime soon, but if you like original fantasy that’s an easy read then you’ll love it.