The Eagle’s Cry Book Review, Six Of Crows


In honor of the recently released, and much anticpiated, second novel in the Six of Crows duology, I feel as though there needs to be a conversation regarding Six of Crows.

Six of Crows opens in the dangerous city of Ketterdam, governed by the Merchant Council, but in reality, large sectors of the city are given over to gangs who run the various gambling dens and brothels. The underworld’s rising star is 17-year-old Kaz Brekker, known as Dirtyhands for his brutal amorality. Kaz walks with chronic pain from an old injury, but that doesn’t deter him from utterly destroying any and all rivals. When a councilman offers him an unimaginable reward to rescue a kidnapped foreign chemist—30 million kruge!—Kaz knows just the team he needs to assemble. There’s Inej, known as The Wraith, an itinerant acrobat captured by slavers and sold to a brothel, now a spy, or a spider, for Kaz; the Grisha Nina, with the magical ability to calm and heal; Matthias the zealot, hunter of Grishas and caught in a hopeless spiral of love and vengeance with Nina; Wylan, the privileged boy with an engineer’s skills; and Jesper, a sharpshooter who enjoys making Wylan blush. Bardugo skillfully broadens the universe she created in the former Grisha Trilogy, sending her protagonists around countries that resemble post-Renaissance northern Europe, where technology develops in harmony with the magic that’s both coveted and despised.

Now, no one’s going to read Leigh Bardugo’s book, Six Of Crows, without thinking about Ocean’s 11. No one’s going to hear the premise — six young criminals hired to break into, and then out of, the most secure prison in the world — without thinking of Danny Ocean and his crew. And, as it would be stupid not to, certainly no critic is going to write about the thing without making the connection. Because Six Of Crows is a heist story, and it’s so purely and simply a heist story that comparisons to, arguably, one of the best heist stories ever written are inevitable. Kaz Brekker, the 17-year-old criminal prodigy and second in command of a gang called the Dregs, opens the story, with a mysterious past, a cool nickname —Dirtyhands— and Danny Ocean’s knack for misdirection and covering all his bets, the readers know that they’re in for a good story. Anyways, without going into details, the first time readers get a good view of him, he’s having one of those typical brain-on-brain showdowns with another gang leader. While never moving from the mark on which he stands while, as all around him, a plan carefully laid off-page comes clicking together with clockwork precision, Kaz demonstrates his mastery of the situation. It’s a nice set-piece, crippled only by the fact that, while it acts as the beginning of the tale, it isn’t actually the beginning of the book. No, Bardugo instead chooses to tack on a long-ish and somewhat dull, first chapter that serves both as a prologue and a gentle drop into her world for those not already familiar with the expansive and outlandish  universe she writes in. And while I understand the utility of such a thing — particularly in the YA sphere, where this book lives — it’s one of those things that most readers will just have to suffer through in order to get to the good stuff that follows.

And yes, there is a lot of good stuff. I mean, how could there not be? Second only to submarine stories, the heist story is the most compact and driven of all possible plot frames. There’s a thing in a place, in this case, a scientist/magician with the secret formula for a kind of magical super-drug, locked away in a supposedly impenetrable prison in a foreign country, then a team of thieves who have to go to the place and steal the thing. Complications, of course, aris, and Bardugo does not stray far from these mechanics. Where the true joy of the story comes is in the interaction between the team of thieves, the brains of the boss and the machinations of the law. There are multiple courtships and betrayals among Brekker’s crew, long-simmering lusts, and dark motivations laid out one by one as Bardugo bounces from one narrator to the next to the next, handing off the point of view with each chapter. And, as expected, there’s the Big Job there waiting at the end of the long trail — breaking into the Ice Court in the far North, grabbing Professor X and getting out again in one piece. It sounds simple enough.

It’s an extremely impressive world. Bardugo has created a grimy fantasy with a thin punk veneer laid over the top. There are knives and rifles, magic and technology, and everything is mashed together in a jumble of influences that is wickedly attractive because, and not in spite of, the characters inhabiting it so fully. It’s a slick trick of world-building that forgoes the info-dump, save that first regrettable chapter, in favor of making the world simply the world, defined only by the way the characters move through it.

A cracking page-turner with a multi ethnic band of misfits with differing sexual orientations who satisfyingly, believably jell into a family, Bardugo crafts a highly successful venture, leaving enough open questions to cause readers to eagerly await the next volume. Crooked Kingdom holds a lot of promise, and was promptly released on September 27, 2016. And this writer cannot wait to read it.