Friday, July 31, 2015

ARC Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

First off, thank you to Henry Holt and the lovely people with ABA White Box for providing me with this review copy. 
Disclaimer: All images are property of their respective copyright holders. Book image and synopsis taken from Goodreads

When I went to Book Expo this year (my first time), I noticed the hullabaloo around Six of Crows. There were outrageously long lines about an hour before Bardugo was even signing. Needless to say, I stayed on the less populated side of the Expo! I hadn't read anything by Bardugo, so I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about, anyway.

A couple months later, a Six of Crows ARC shows up at the store, and naturally I'm intrigued. When I flipped it over and read the synopsis, I realized that it was a fantasy heist novel. SOLD.
Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. 
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. 
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first. 

A lot of things I liked about this book are spoilery, so I will try to avoid any important plot elements while telling you why you should read it.

That summary basically tells you that there are six outcasts on an impossible heist in a fantasy world. What it doesn't tell you is that Six of Crows is a fast-paced, well written fantasy novel with six very different POV characters. Though it's in third person, you are allowed a peek into each of the scurrilous (some more than others) characters' tricky brains.

Reasons to Read Six of Crows:

1. Two Words: Heist Novel. Six of Crows delivered everything I was hoping for in this regard. Impossible job? Check. Impenetrable fortress. Check. Disguises? Check. Characters who don't trust each other. Yes. Sharp rocks at the bottom? Most likely. Bardugo handles the actual job masterfully, deftly balancing the characters' twisty interactions, private agendas, and helps you follow the actual plan without giving away too much. And of course, plot twists.

2. Morally ambiguous, truly unreliable characters. I love unreliable narrators and characters who keep me guessing at their true motives. Even if I'm not rooting for them (like Moriarty), I love clever characters to death. Especially with Kaz Brekker, Bardugo manages to make us sympathise, pity, and root for a character who isn't always sympathetic. He's a hardened criminal (albeit damaged), and he never apologises for any of it. In fact, he finds ways of turning his weaknesses into strength.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love character development and redemptive character arcs, but YA fiction is populated by "bad boys (and sometimes girls)" who pout, crack some off color jokes or smoke, lounge around brooding, and moan about how bad they are, and then they turn on "knight in shining armor" mode (usually for the love interest). Real life isn't like that. In the case of Six of Crows, Ketterdam (with very 16-18th century Amsterdam influences!) is a cesspit of wealth, poverty, and corruption. Kaz and crew fit into this world, and have been authentically shaped by it. I loved the constant clash of ideals, beliefs, and motives that this very diverse group went through. On the other hand, this meant that I didn't connect with all the characters as much as I might have, and sometimes their interactions were a tiny bit fatiguing.

Inej (the Wraith) and Kaz were the true standouts. Their arcs were the most developed, and I connected to their characters. I would have been happy to read a book about either one of them, exclusively, though the rest of the crew added a lot of conflict and humor.

3. The world. At the risk of being the most redundant reviewer ever, I'm going to praise yet another fully developed world. What can I say? Races, cultures, histories, beliefs, and customs are as varied in the world of Six of Crows as they are in reality. The Grishas fascinated me (which means I'll have to actually read that series!), and I loved how the interaction between Grisha Nina and Grisha-hunter Matthais revealed so much about their worldviews, culture, and the difference that made.

4. THE WRITING. Beautiful, beautiful prose. As a writer, I was in reading heaven. Bardugo manages to be both descriptive and elegant when depicting a world that isn't very pretty. And yet, it never comes across as glamorous. It's raw, yet polished.

5. There's something for everyone. It's epic fantasy, there are thieves and outcasts, a bit of humor, romance and swashbuckling, there's a story, there will be sequels. If you like Firefly, Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay, and Mistborn, then Six of Crows should definitely be on your to-read list.

Overall: 4 out of 5 Stars. This is a thrill ride of a heist novel, but it is considerably darker than many of its young adult contemporaries. The characters are well done (especially Kaz and Inej!), nuanced, and diverse, and the world is beautifully drawn. I don't feel an intense need for an immediate sequel, but I will definitely read it when it comes out (and I'll check out the Grisha trilogy as well).

Do you plan on reading Six of Crows? Do you like heist stories? Why do you think we all like clever thieves so much, but really hate being stolen from in real life? Do you prefer roguish characters, or characters with better motives? 

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