Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo makes for a fantastic read, and I sped through it within a few days. I enjoyed it so much, I read it again. Six of Crows is fast-paced, with many sharp, suspenseful twists and turns, and Bardugo immerses you in the story while leaving you hungry for the next page.
We open in Ketterdam, a city of trade. Bardugo has created a wonderfully in-depth world, to which she introduces us through the eyes of six characters. The protagonist is Kaz Brekker, a thief and master criminal against whom no lock is secure. Kaz is called “Dirtyhands” because there is no job he will not take, and nothing he will not do, in order to fulfill his goal. Kaz is approached by a representative of the Merchant Council and offered a deal: to break into the extremely-secure Ice Court and steal a captive who holds the secret to jurda parem, a drug that makes Grisha (people who can manipulate matter at its most basic form; in short, wizards) nearly unstoppably powerful. In exchange, Kaz and his crew will be paid thirty million kruge (Kerch currency). In order to do the impossible, he puts together a crew of unlikely acquaintances, to say the least: a former Fjerdan military member who has his own agenda, a marksman with a gambling problem, a runaway who is passable (at best) at demolition, a Heartrender (a subclass of Grisha) who wishes to be back in Ravka, and finally, the most deadly of all, a Suli assassin known in the streets of Ketterdam as “The Wraith.” The way in which these characters react to each other is unpredictable, and many of the characters are at odds with one another, such as the Fjerdan soldier and the Ravkan Grisha. These two countries are at war in the fictional universe, which raises tensions everywhere, even in Ketterdam. The dynamics between characters makes you wonder, who will betray whom? Who’s next? Will the lure of colossal wealth be enough to settle their differences until the job is done? Every action that this gang takes just raises the stakes more and more.
This book is similar to a puzzle. The pieces, or characters, slowly shift into position, revealing as they do so the motivation that drives them. While it is clear that the main goal of Kaz’s team is to raid the impenetrable Ice Court, the nuances of each member’s backstory slowly determine their character arc. The way Bardugo accomplishes this is part of what makes this book one of my favorites.
Let’s talk about the world of Six of Crows. Bardugo has written a previous series using this universe, set in Ravka. I can assure you that while these books are a good read, you don’t need to know their plot in order to understand the going-ons in Six of Crows. Kerch is where we open and, as I mentioned, is a nation built on trade. It is good to remember that here, trade and the sanctity of trade are practically worshipped. Kerch is neutral in many of the wars between Ravka, the Shu Han, and Fjerda. Ravka is based off of Tsarist Russia, and provides the only safe haven for Grisha, although it is still rebuilding after a civil war. Ravka is always at odds with either Fjerda or the Shu, and many times, both. The Shu are mentioned in name only, so you shouldn’t concern yourself with them just yet, only know that they possess a fondness for dissecting Grisha. Finally, Fjerda is the land in which a large portion of our story takes place. Fjerda is based off of Germany and Scandinavia, so it’s no surprise that it is both cold and rigidly militaristic. The Fjerdans hate Grisha above all to the point of having a special military unit dedicated to hunting them. Their unbreachable Ice Court is the ultimate display of Fjerdan power and military might. Kaz Brekker and his team are dedicated to sending that display crashing down in pieces, with the added bonus of a few million kruge.
This is a heist story with a fantasy spin on it, and the novel pulls it off remarkably well. While it is not particularly original, the depth of the universe, unpredictability of the characters, and comic scenarios more than make up for that flaw. If you enjoy thrilling tales of heists, and adventure then this book is for you!