Six of Crows
Genre(s) | Young Adult, Fantasy
Goodreads Rating | 4.5
Humpo Show Rating | 5 / 5
Heart-stopping…like a Grisha, and addictive…like Jurda Parem. Six of Crows is an utterly fascinating page turner, and a compulsory read for Young-Adult readers.
Six outcasts have accepted the charge of a seemingly impossible heist job that could earn them wealth beyond their wildest dreams. They have to break into a never before breached military stronghold, Ice Court, retrieve a hostage that holds a formula that could wreak mayhem on the world, and make it back to collect their reward. If that seemed improbable enough, they have to contend with enemies intent on derailing their efforts, conflict among themselves, and an ever-changing plan that leaves a lot to chance.
The most identifiable aspect of Six of Crows that I and other readers have loved while reading was the point-of-views that Bardugo afforded to each of her six outcasts. With six POVs, the fear was that Bardugo would struggle to provide a coherent and flowing narrative…this was certainly not the case! Each one of the characters had a unique and recognisable voice that leapt off the pages in their chapter, and into the hearts and minds of the readers. She achieved every author’s aim when writing multiple POVs; to have distinctive characters providing their own personal angle on one story. Her characters were afforded enough time to establish their own personality, their backstory, and their agenda for accepting an impossible job. With each visit to their palaces of their thoughts and feelings, we as readers become further and further drawn into their personal missions that are spurned on by revenge, family and love.
Creating one character that resonates with readers enough for them to fall in love with their personality is a challenge enough, given the high expectations of voracious readers nowadays, but Bardugo has managed to craft six individuals that are brilliant and loveable in their own right.
I’ll begin with Inej, otherwise known as The Wraith. Female and diverse characters are given the reins to control the tempo of the narrative, and oh boy do they dictate a ferociously-paced story. Inej is a fleet-footed and ninja-esque girl that gathers information and secrets for Kaz. But this small and deadly girl will use her talents for more dangerous and high risk means as she is a critical component of Kaz’s insane plan. Like the other characters in Six of Crows, Inej has physical and mental scars from another life before she joined Kaz in The Barrel. And those scars provide the inner-drive to pursue a path that takes her far away from her past as she possibly can.
Jesper is a hopeless gambler. But he is always hopeful. His uplifting demeanour is a key factor when the group are in a tense or harrowing situation. The banter he has with Wylan helped to provide the light relief that is always needed in a serious and high-risk quest.
Speaking of Wylan, the son of Van Eck, the councillor responsible for offering the group this impossible mission and wealth beyond their wildest dreams, Wylan starts out as a quiet outsider of the group as his expertise pales in comparison to the others. But with every passing chapter, his importance to the story and to the group rises and rises. He transforms from shy, privileged boy, to a daring and passionate young man.
Matthis Helvar, the drüskelle Fjerdan soldier who has found himself in Hellgate Prison, is a crucial cog in terms of the mission. As a former drüskelle, he has a great deal of knowledge about Ice Court and the various protocols that occur within those walls. His character exudes traits that have been drilled into him since birth, like; justice and loyalty, yet due to his conflicting feelings for Nina, a Grisha, the type of person he should be hunting, he self-tortures himself over who he should be loyal to.
Nina is the altruistic and fiery Grisha Heartrender that Matthias has feelings for. She has the ability to stop a person’s heart, and I’m not talking about the way she does that to Matthias! She can physically stop a person from breathing, an ability she will use more than once in their daring mission fraught with danger. Nina and Inej give powerhouse performances as the leading ladies in this epic fantasy story. They accept dangerous roles in Kaz’s plan without hesitation and they both are idealistic in their motives for being a part of the company of six.
While Nina manages to torture the heart of the loyal and brave Matthias. Inej does something similar, but more subtly, to the heart of the main protagonist, the brooding and mysterious criminal mastermind, Kaz Brekker. The man with a plan. An expert lock-pick and a master planner, Kaz accepts this wealthy adventure in the hope of enacting revenge on a man that is responsible for the horrors of Kaz’s past, the horrors that he carries with him today. Bardugo expertly crafts his backstory seamlessly into Kaz’s chapters, revealing more and more each time, as mystery, pain and hatred rise to the surface which threatens to crack at any moment and pour out.
The layered and well-developed characters that Bardugo has created through the use of multiple POVs is the main success that I will take away from my reading of Six of Crows. But she adds an element that all Young-Adult readers love. Love. The subtle hints of love interests were particularly expressed well, the Kaz-Inej burgeoning romance will no doubt grow in the sequel Crooked Kingdom as their love can heal one another from their demons and hopefully blossom too. The Nina-Mathias romance will probably develop more quickly, but they will almost certainly have more ups and downs due to their chequered history and innate rivalry. The Jesper-Wylan friendship was a good inclusion, especially their banter with one another, but I, and many others, feel that there could be some hidden feelings underneath the surface from both of them, and it could develop into something more than friendship. The character driven aspect never once felt unnecessary, even when some sub-plots overlapped, it only added more details to scenes from a different perspective which heightened the stakes and suspense even more. The sub-plots introduced into the story enhanced the overall plot as their hidden motives and backstory played a part in their actions during their nautical journey and subsequent heist.
Jurda Parem. A drug that exponentially increases the abilities of the Grisha (people that have magical abilities- for example, Nina, a Heartrender, can manipulate a person’s blood). This drug in question is the subject of a worldwide pursuit by all kingdoms trying to seek out the formula for their own means. Many intend to use it as a weapon and others for wealth. Kaz and his merry band of outcasts have been tasked to retrieve Bo Yul-Bayur, the inventor of the drug, before he replicates the drug for the Fjerdan army to use as a weapon. The six outcasts are all that stand in their way.
Crime is what binds them all together. It is very much a dominant theme and of course, dark and mysterious undertones follow the action like a shadow. This creates a different experience for readers who follow these criminals attempting to save the world. Given that their motives for saving the world range from greed and desire, to clearing gambling debts, they are clearly far from saints but they are doing a saintly job. The tone of the book is darkened by the sub-plots that emphasise the degradation of humanity and the terrible things that they have done, or had done to them. They’re all just complex characters, who are ruthless in their pursuit on righting the wrongs and injustices of their lives, which only helps them become our loveable criminals and heroes.
Ketterdam. The Barrel. Fjerda. The Ice Court. These are the places that we see the characters in action. The descriptions of all of these places were enticing and vivid. I immediately understood and imagined the world that Bardugo had built. A world full of crime and danger, but also one full of diversity and love. Six of Crows has the fantastical elements, the intrigue created by the scheming, and the heart-stopping moments that occur in the heist. Betrayal lurks in the background, plot twists happen unexpectedly, and danger is an ever-present seventh character. This is undoubtedly the best Young-Adult Fantasy I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The story is packed full of action, yet it never overwhelms or detracts from the central narrative. Beautifully paced, it leaves readers unblinking on every page.
With its memorable and compelling characters, its unnerving atmosphere, and magical world building, Six of Crows will take you on a journey that you wish would go on forever. Unpredictable to the last, a heart-pounding and suspenseful ending that assures its place in the pantheon of Young-Adult literature.
The Humpo Show | Richard