Fiction Friday: Review of the YA Book, Six of Crows
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I am thrilled to share a review of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows from Food, Fitness and Fiction contributing editor, Amber Lee (pictured below).
Six of Crows is the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s new series, a spin-off of her widely acclaimed Grisha Trilogy. It is a classic heist story in a lush fantastical setting, vividly fleshed out with a plot that never stagnates. The perspective jumps around between the six principle characters that make up the heist crew: Kaz, Inej, Nina, Jesper, Matthias, and Wylan. Bardugo successfully juggles the orchestrated chaos and pushes all of the characters to their limit while letting their relationships and internal struggles evolve naturally and in a relatable way against the detailed backdrop of her magical world.
The world building serves as the biggest challenge in readability to me but is also a significant part of what compelled me to keep reading. Bardugo’s world is truly a world of its own: big and sprawling with at least four distinct and well-characterized countries with their own culture and different kinds of magic. The countries all have different influences; for example, Ravka is based on Russia and Ketterdam (the central setting) is equivalent to Amsterdam. The system of magic, the Small Science, manifests through different kinds of Grisha who have powers based on manipulating matter. I love analyzing systems of magic in fantasy books and it is obvious Bardugo invested a lot of time in it. However, in the beginning, I skipped over a lot of the terminology to try to not to lose the thread of the story. I had not read the Grisha Trilogy before and the immediate influx of information regarding all of the new concepts and names were a little difficult for me to process.
The plot structure was a clever rendition of the epitomized heist story, expertly integrated into the setting. The introduction of cast and setting, the reluctant coalescing of the group, and the painstaking preparation and planning were all given due consideration and were used to set up the bulk of the narrative: the actual heist. As a long-upheld tradition in heist stories, the characters’ plan nearly immediately falls apart. All sides of the plot are thoroughly explained and information is deliberately unloaded or withheld to build mystery and suspense. While the characters crash through the plot a la “Improvise or Die,” it is evident how adeptly Bardugo weaves together the varying storylines. However, I thought that the most glaring flaw was the ending. After everything had already been concluded in a satisfactory way, the story further extended to set up the sequel. The entire plot turned on its head and immediately launched the next mission, rescinding all previous sense of closure. It was an abrupt and startling ending to an otherwise excellent book. Though I would have preferred the story to end slightly sooner, it did not mar my overall positive opinion of the book.
Having a central cast of six main characters is daunting for some, but Bardugo pulls it off seemingly effortlessly and even adds a myriad of significant side characters to the mix. Every single person in the Six is relatable on some level and their culture, motivation, and aspirations are all subtly laid out for readers to connect to. Kaz has a cold veneer of distrust and refuses to show vulnerability because of his past. Inej feels disconnected from her past and culture and does not know what to do with her life. Jesper is disappointed with himself and continually gives in to bad habits. Wylan is rejected from his family and does not know where he fits in. Nina wronged someone she loves and wants to atone and Matthias was wronged and is conflicted in wanting to seek retribution. All of these vastly different characters have universal emotional struggles and struck a chord in me. Through the course of the novel, they struggled together and became sort of a rag-tag, makeshift family. They all deal with physical and emotional conflicts involving life and death, family, or romance that readers could relate to and watching them develop is a delight under Bardugo’s construction.
Leigh Bardugo is masterful at the challenge of maintaining her constantly expanding world and her wide cast of characters. The story she crafted is exciting and compelling and at times her dialog left me breathless. Her writing is extremely quotable and full of thematic elements and subtly put in morals people can relate to. Heist stories are hard to pull off because of the constantly moving parts and how well it has been done countless times before. But Bardugo seamlessly integrated it into her established world and created characters I felt a real connection to. Six of Crows is honestly one of my new favorite books and the best YA book I have read in a while. I would recommend it to all older teens with a craving for fantasy. It has violence and dark themes but is kept light and immersive with humor.
Amber Lee is a high school junior from Irvine, California, and a staff writer for the Beckman Chronicle. She first published her writing online at age 11 and is interested in journalism, DIY projects, creative writing, and digital art. You can follow her on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.
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