Leigh Bardugo created a slippery and enticing novel with ‘Six of Crows.’ Once I started listening to it I didn’t want to stop. I am impatient for the next in series. Kaz Brekker, “Dirty Hands,” from the Barell…wait, scratch that – it is part of the legend he has created about himself. Kaz is a leader of “The Dreggs,” a group of young thieves in The Barell of Ketterdam. No job is too difficult or unscrupulous. They will do what is needed to survive. Kaz and his associates, aren’t as dark as they would like to be believed, but they are skilled. Enter “The Wraith,” the stealer of secrets. You will not hear her enter or exit. Nina is Grisha, a trained warrior, but separated from her army she is still a Heartrender. She can make you see what you want/what she wants. Jesper is a brash Sharpshooter most comfortable in life being shot at. Wylan is new with an unclear but necessary skill set. This peculiar team is going to take on an impossible job. A heist requiring Matthias, a convicted Fjerdan Druskelle, to get them into the Ice Palace. It will be hard enough to break him out of prison, but since he was sent there on Nina’s false testimony, his willingness to betray his country and beliefs with her is only the beginning of the crews obstacles.
I have not read Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. I read mixed reviews, but was intrigued by the alternate Russian fantasy world she created. ‘Six of Crows’ has been reported as darker and more adult. That makes sense. It loosely falls in the YA genre because it is about a group of young thieves. The book, however, is about an intricate heist, politics, subjugation, and drugs. There is minor romance secondary to the story. It is present to instigate development in the characters. I was impressed at the depth and range of traits Bardugo built into them. They are authentic, likable, and I became invested – especially in Inej or ‘The Wraith.’
There is a strong theme of disillusionment with any form of idealism. These characters each lost innocence of believing in right and wrong having strict delineations. Mathias is a Druskelle, raised to be part of a fanatically religious Fjerdan army that believes Grisha, non human abominations, must be eliminated. Nina was raised as a Grisha warrior meant to infiltrate Fjerda. Kaz lost all as a child at the hands ruthless con artists. Inej was caught, enslaved, and sold to a house of ill repute where she was hocked nightly. You get the picture. This story is about a group of people forced to deal with dark aspects of the world as it is – not as it is represented. YA is flush with dystopias where people have loss, but there is generally a strong theme of revolution based off of right and wrong. It rarely shows the aftermath where those newly in power, considered bastions of right, resort to abuses of power similar to the regime it displaced. Bardugo’s novel deals with realization of complexities or murkiness between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Despite dealing with these heavy topics ‘Six of Crows’ is fun. I am impressed.
It is narrated by a talented ensemble cast including Jay Snyder, David Ledoux, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, Tristan Morris, and Brandon Rubin. The group does a great job. With the large cast there is clear character differentiation. They handled Bardugo’s fantastical word pronunciation consistently which does not always take place. If done incorrectly it is cause for me to abandon the audio version for the book. I don’t doubt that reading the book is enjoyable but when the second book comes out I will look for the audible version. The narrators interpretation of the characters helped endear me to them. If you would like to listen to a sample of the narration take the link below. My personal tastes prefer to listen to it at 1.25 speed.
If it is not clear, I encourage you to read this book. I think even those who only like the grimmest of the Grimdark will enjoy ‘Six of Crows.’ If you enjoy Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series I’m pretty certain you will like this. As said above, I didn’t read the Grisha trilogy, but I’ve seen enough reviews to be able to say that if you liked it you will want to pick up ‘Six of Crows.’ I think this book will have a wide audience.