Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo


Gritty and grimy. Engaging and exhilarating. Fast-paced and fun. These are all words I would use to describe Six of Crows – the first book in a duology by Leigh Bardugo. This book was my introduction to Bardugo’s fantasy world, the Grishaverse, and what an introduction it was! I’ve never read the Shadow and Bone series – her first series set in this universe – and I’m glad to say it didn’t make a difference to my enjoyment of this book, or my ability to follow what was happening. Though, I will be putting them on my to read list.

The story is a classic heist story. It follows Kaz Brekker, criminal mastermind from the dark streets of Ketterdam, and his gang of exceptional individuals as they attempt to pull of a near impossible heist that will not only prevent disaster and war, but more importantly (at least for our characters) make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Kaz Brekker, as out main protagonist, drives the story forward. He is the one who accepts the job, binds the rest of the gang together and keeps them focussed on the mission despite the myriad of distractions that occur throughout the story, ranging from hidden secrets and personal vendettas all the way through to lust and romance. Despite being clearly the most important character to the story, he isn’t my favourite. That is Inej Ghafa, or the Wraith, an extremely talented spy and acrobat with a terrifying past of slavery and enforced prostitution. Aside from these two, we also have Nina Zenik, a Grisha Heartrender (a type of witch or wizard) desperate to make amends for past mistakes; Jesper Fahey, a sharp shooter with a serious gambling addiction; Matthias, a former drüskelle (witch hunter) and now convict with a thirst for revenge, and finally, Wylan, a rich kid on the run from his family with a natural proficiency for chemistry and explosives.

Bardugo gives us chapters from all but Wylan’s perspective throughout the story, really fleshing out their characters, motives, fears and desires, which allows us to really develop a sense of intimacy with them. This is, for me, is one of the greatest strengths of this book: you just really want them all to succeed. The only hiccup with these characters is their age, which is most probably due to the book being aimed at YA readers. They are, I’m pretty sure, teenagers in the book, but they feel much older. To me, they didn’t behave or act like 17-year olds and in fact, I kind of gave up thinking of them as teenagers.

Despite being aimed at YA, and the young age of the characters, the story feels very dark and gritty in places, featuring murder, gang warfare, drug addiction, prostitution and religious zealots, as well as a whole host of other mature themed content. From the frozen north to the mean backstreets of Ketterdam, the world feels dangerous and realistic, despite the fantasy and steampunk bits littered throughout. Bardugo has done an excellent job at world-building, allowing you to slip into the world and get thoroughly immersed. She also manages to avoid the dread info-dump that can be a problem in fantasy works, her writing drip feeding you information and allowing you to piece together the puzzle that is the Grishaverse in your head as you read.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. Leigh Bardugo has absolutely hit this one out the park. It is dark, tragic, funny and exciting all at the same time, and if you like fantasy, I think you’ll love this.