Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Genre: High Fantasy
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Six of Crows is a little more than six years old, and I can’t even count the number of time I’ve seen it on YA must-read lists. This coupled with the fact that Shadow and Bone is now a TV series really suggests that I should have cracked open the book before now. Somehow it always got pushed around by something else. But I really wanted to start the new year with something good, so I gave it a shot.
The book deserves all its praise and then some.
I’ll confess, the opening had me worried. The memorable, sympathetic characters in Six of Crows are what make the book nearly impossible to put down. But you wouldn’t know that from the opening, which is told from the view of a single-chapter character, a low-ranking guard named Joost.
Joost spends the opening pages pining for a young woman he likes and lamenting that her eyes are brown. He wants to compare her eyes to a precious stone but presumably forgot that garnet, tiger’s eye, and a bunch of other gems exist. It does not occur to him to pick some non-gem item to use in his metaphor.
The first chapter, of course, is set-up. Joost isn’t there as an intriguing character; he’s there as a witness to the inciting event. In this world, people with magical abilities are known as Grisha, and the authorities have discovered a drug that can super-charge their powers. Even the possible ramifications of this are enough to send the central cast on a near-impossible mission to keep the drug from falling into the wrong hands. Some of the characters are very close prior to the mission’s start; others barely know each other. And every character has their backstory laid out throughout the course of the novel. This might sound like it bogs down the narrative, but it sets the pacing perfectly and connects the readers to all the characters’ motivations. None of them are perfect, morally speaking. Few of them are even particularly good. Kaj, Inej, and Jasper have little issue with killing opponents. Matthias joins the crew hoping to murder one of his supposed allies. There’s a flawed humanity in every one of them that shines through, and it’s absolutely worth moving through the earlier chapters to get there. (As much as I love Inej now, her first scene really focuses on her rogue-like abilities, and it takes some time for her to break out of that D&D-like trope.)
To compare to another series with an ensemble cast, A Song of Ice and Fire has some brilliant writing, but there are maybe two or three characters I cared for as much as my least favorite character from Six of Crow’s cast. (Which would probably be Matthias, if you were wondering, and only because he always had a knack for bridging some real cliffhanger chapters!) The story had plenty of suspenseful moments, but it never filled me with that overwhelming dread that Ice and Fire did. Throughout the book, I felt like there could be a win for this crew, though the method and potential cost were always a mystery. And that kept me turning pages.
If this is your first step into one of Leigh Bardugo’s worlds, you’re in for a treat. Don’t be turned off by early D&D archetypes or young men lamenting their knowledge of brown gemstones. Focus on the awesome, and enjoy the ride. You’ll be thrilled that you did.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
You can find Six of Crows on Goodreads
You can also buy Six of Crows on Amazon. (Affiliate link)