BY DAKSHITA NAITHANI
People usually tend to avoid the sci-fi and fantasy genre, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Complicated worlds, entirely different from our own, magic and otherworldly creatures, characters tasked with saving the world. It’s standard fantasy fare from the time of Tolkien, and it seems everyone is tired of it.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo came as a breath of fresh air then in the Young Adult category. What is it about, you ask? I’ll give you three words:
Morally grey characters.
The first point in its favour was marked the moment it presented our chosen leads: a thief, a spy, a sharpshooter, a runaway scientist, a soldier girl trying to survive in the city with her powers, and a child soldier and ex-convict with a thirst for revenge.
Bardugo’s story is set in a world different from our own, with different nations, but same political machinations. Beings called Grisha wield powers of the elements. In some nations, they are revered and have a high standing in the armies (Ravka). In others, ingrained prejudice makes humans hunt them like dogs going for a kill (Fjerda). Unlike her previous trilogy, Shadow and Bone, this story takes place in Ketterdam, the capital of a small island called Kerch, filled with thieves and con artists and ruthless businessmen looking to make a coin.
The story is based on a heist, and our criminal mastermind, Kaz Brekker, is tasked with freeing a valuable Grisha prisoner from the Ice Court—the world’s most impenetrable fortress. To venture there means signing your death warrant, but Kaz accepts anyway. Why?
He is promised thirty million kruge.
Like I said, this story does not feature any selfless Chosen Ones.
With his mission given, Kaz gathers his crew: Inej Ghafa, a brown girl and one of the best spies on the Ketterdam rooftops; Jesper Fahey, a biracial boy with an excellent aim and the most charismatic smile; Wylan van Eck, a runaway scientist who also happens to be the son of a rich businessman; Matthias Helvar, former prisoner who is torn between assisting with the heist and the ingrained prejudices and loyalty to his country.
As the blurb of the book says, “Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Together they might just be unstoppable—if they don’t kill each other first.”
What made this book even more amazing, in addition to the fast-paced plot and action, were the characters themselves. With five point-of-views, I got a clear picture of their past traumas and motivations, their quirks and flaws, and that just made me fall in love with all of them even more. The way they all slowly developed friendships and became each other’s family against impossible odds was heartwarming to see, especially for Kaz, who is used to operating alone as the mastermind.
Another great thing about this book has to be the representation. The author suffers from a disability herself which requires her a cane. It is no surprise then that Kaz too suffers from a permanent leg injury and chronic pain. This is never made fun of, and actually explains why he relies on his cunning and smarts so much.
While most white authors resort to stereotypical representation of brown people, Bardugo instead makes Inej a strong female character. She is kind even in the face of adversity and tries her best to embrace her religion and heritage. Despite her brutal past and obvious mental scars, she is talented with her knives and spying and as another brown girl, this was inspiring to read. Through her, Bardugo also elaborates on human trafficking and sex slavery of children: important topics of discussion that most people shy away from.
Nina Zenik, the Grisha Heartrender, is fat. No stereotypes. No jokes. She loves food. She loves her body, and she is a powerful magician and fighter. She is also incredibly street-smart (speaks at least seven languages) and a great actress. Her spunk, charisma and energy were infectious, even in the face of her past as a child soldier.
Jesper Fahey is biracial—half Black. Like Nina, he is energetic and extroverted, coded as having ADHD, however addicted to gambling. He is an expert with guns and sharpshooting, Kaz’s right-hand man in any physical confrontation. His bisexuality is a normal thing in the world. No biphobia. His friends gladly accept him. His character arc and internal prejudices are elaborated upon in a very believable way, and I cannot wait to see his development in the sequel.
Also, the romances in the book were very well-written! Most books rush into the relationship too fast, but every couple in Six of Crows had proper development and slow build-up. Each couple became a well-functioning team first. This is especially true for Kaz and Inej, who each suffer from a form of touch aversion due to trauma. Both vow to become better people first before pursuing any sort of relationship, even though they work extremely well as a team.
Overall, this book deserves a full five-star rating! The world-building and magic system is a bit complicated to get into in the first few chapters, but the characters and their lovely friendships eventually get you hooked. If you love magic, want to have a different kind of adventure than the standard fantasy one, and like seeing heist movies, then this book is for you!
Categories: Book Reviews