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Six of Crows Hardcover – September 29, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2015: Leigh Bardugo is a fascinating storyteller and in her latest book, Six of Crows, she’s stepped up her game even more. At the heart of the novel is Kaz Brekkar, a mysterious young man who has clawed his way to notoriety in a city fueled by corruption and greed. When Kaz is asked to perform an extremely dangerous heist in return for a staggering sum of money, he calls upon his most trusted compatriots to help. The story is told from multiple points of view and readers discover what led each character to Kaz in the first place, as well as his own shocking path. Six of Crows is a vivid, entertaining fantasy that boldly captures the imagination and leaves an impression well after the novel’s cliff-hanger ending. -- Seira Wilson
From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Bardugo has created a wildly imaginative story of six young people who have been commissioned to pull off the greatest heist of all time. They are to nab the creator of jurda parem, a highly addictive product that enhances the innate paranormal powers of the Grisha peoples, in the hopes of creating weapons of war that will upset the balance of power and destroy the economies of rival governments. Kaz, the hero of the story and mastermind of the plot, recruits five others to aid in his quest for revenge for the loss of his brother and the promise of vast wealth. Taking what could have been stock characters of young adult fiction—the loner, the rebel, the outcast, and the con artist, the author has fashioned fully fleshed out, dynamic protagonists who will engage and enchant readers. What a thrill it is to return to the world she created with her popular "Grisha Trilogy" (Holt). While the unresolved ending may frustrate some teens, the promise of a sequel will give them hope that this unsettling, captivating, magical journey will continue.—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK
Top customer reviews
Kaz is so broken and put back together with thoughts of revenge and this makes him very good at what he does. As much as Kaz seems to have no heart, there is that spark of wounded humanity that makes you root for him and his ragtaggled crew of pickpockets and thieves as they attempt an impossible job that would give them all more money than they'd ever need to escape the lives they are living. Of course things go wrong and the clever bits keep you interested and wanting to know how it will all end.
This is the first book in a sequel, and I'm not a big fan of long drawn out stories, but this was intriguing enough that I'm going to read the second book.
1.) Setting・Worldbuilding: Ketterdam and Djerholm, the two main cities where she sets the story, come to life in scene. Description only goes so far, but Leigh brings her world to life by the actions, reactions, and customs of groups: the gangs and merch of Ketterdam with their cleverly named gambling parlors and brothel houses, the initiation rites of the Fjerdan drüskelle, and the magical powers of the Grisha. The world unfolds never in an info dump or description binge, but rather gradually and generously through vivid scenes, where characters interact with the clash of cultures that is Ketterdam.
2.) Dialogue: The dialogue is both witty and revealing without ever seeming pedantic, over-the-top, or on-the-nose. The retorts the main characters use to poke fun at each other’s vices made me laugh as I learned new barbs. Most of the banter had a purpose, which meant even the funniest insults carried a side of seriousness or truth vital to the plot or matter at hand; it was never just talk to pass the time, but rather verbal jousting that advanced the plot. Furthermore, Leigh Bardugo creates her own slang native to the Grisha universe, with its own curse words and turns of phrase, but the foreign terms always come with enough context or explanation, without ever seeming forced or excessive.
3.) Voice・POV: The story is told from the third-person limited perspective of five of the six main characters and a couple of side characters at the beginning and end. Normally, head jumping can be confusing for the reader, but Leigh pulls this off masterfully because of how unique the characters sound. In short, Six of Crows is a clinic in filtering, a textbook on how to reveal character and conceal plot and backstory through third-person perspective. Kaz’s dry humor and pragmatic efficiency. Inej’s search for meaning and inner tenderness, coated with a tough exterior. Nina’s shameless flirtation and effervescent energy. Matthias’ modesty and soldier honor. Jesper’s carefree thirst for action and danger. (Sheltered Wylan doesn’t receive a POV chapter.) Every character imbues his or her dialogue with a unique, distinctive style and way of speech or viewing the world, that reading the story, told from different perspectives, with little to no overlap in time, was a joy in and of itself. This experience was so good it convinced me to try writing my own fiction from multiple third-person limiteds.
4.) Characters: Each of the six main characters has some redeeming quality that makes his or her vices all the more realistic, tolerable, and relatable. Kaz is a merciless demon content to treat his team members as investments or pawns, but it is his sentimentality - which proves to be a weakness - in the book’s final act that redeems his ruthless pragmatism. Moreover, he is just a cool customer, never blinking or showing any weakness through the early scenes. Matthias, too, is hardened in his ways and outlook on life, but as Nina and the others save his life time and time again, he begins to question his own upbringing and soften up. The bonding and trust that characters form with one another - but always with the edge of the task at hand, and the threat of betrayal from muddy pasts - give the entire story a positive, redeeming vibe despite the prevalence of vice in the characters’ pasts and world looming as a possible excuse. Each character has a volume of backstory, but the author never dumps it on the reader; instead, she parcels it out in flashbacks throughout the plot, interleaved skillfully between as interludes between the action. Only Wylan and Jesper don’t reveal much backstory in this book, but their pasts receive ample attention in Crooked Kingdom.
5.) Plot Twists: In a world where loyalty changes as quickly as money changes hands, it is remarkable that the six characters collaborating on the heist actually grow closer as the plot unfolds. So much betrayal and surprise happen from page 1 — and even before, with Matthias and Nina’s past — that it isn’t always a given that the characters have any virtue or loyalty. Like a house of cards, every single character experiences a moment — sometimes several — where a well-timed betrayal could end the heist then and there. We learn through early plot twists that anyone could be a traitor, and anyone can be bought or bribed with money. These loyalty plot twists set the stage for a different level of plot twist on the heist, when unforeseen obstacles force the characters to trust each other to stay alive. Finally, the plot twists crescendo toward a final betrayal in the end, further layered with the protagonists’ own counters. In brief, everyone in the story is always trying to stay a step ahead of his peers and rivals, and often that level of gamesmanship - thinking two or three plies ahead - thrills the reader when they are revealed in rapid succession.
6.) Action: The action scenes are surprising and well-paced. Not a single character is spared any blood or challenge; everyone faces a demon at some point, and it is those difficult moments of action where the characters truly come to life. Even our introduction to Kaz, where he encounters a rival gang, rings with vivid action, complete with a surprising betrayal and moments of doubt. What Leigh does particularly well is keeping the outcome in suspense: We’re not always sure who will win the battles, and Kaz or one of his characters must often improvise despite maniacal preparations. The amount of stabbing, gunfire, punches, eyeball-ripouts, and Grisha magic (a well-conceived system) rarely seem gratuitous, but they convey the mortal danger these characters face around every corner, and their reactions build character and bring us closer.
Besides the obvious complaint of Wylan’s lack of chapter time — remedied in Crooked Kingdom — I would say the book is like many of its characters: seemingly incomplete and unsalvageable on the outside, but truly substantive and attractive in the middle. Unlike many other books, which are the opposite in how they operate, Six of Crows doesn’t begin with as much relevance, or close with as much closure as I would have liked.
Most if not all of the prologue characters never play a tangible role in the rest of the story; they certainly don’t appear in the flesh, only as bits of conversation. Though the beginning sets the stage of the prized drug jurda parem, the characters that first dance on that stage never see the spotlight again.
Likewise, the ending, after a sequence of breathtaking plot twists and grand reveals, leaves the protagonist group of six separated, without any sense of closure or accomplishment. Two of them falter, leaving their relationship at a low point, while a third is kidnapped, and the book ends without any firm resolution or plan, although we sense comeuppance is on the horizon. Fortunately, the second book resolves those loose ends and brings much more satisfying closure.
Like many of her characters, Leigh Bardugo more than makes up for this by the strength of the novel’s interior. When I started reading, I wasn’t sure how badly I’d want to follow Joost, or when I’d see Anya again, but the farther I read, the more the true main characters came to life, and once I got past Chapter 2, I knew I was experiencing something special. In that sense, the novel itself is like a lesson to look beyond the surface, at the interior, because sometimes the beauty of a person (or book) is in the redeeming qualities inside.
As a writer working on my craft, I can't think of a better paragon or more inspiring read to offer hope -- much like hope for Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Wylan, Nina, and Matthias -- and affirmation that this market still has room for a story well-told and prose well-written.