Six of Crows was recommended to me before I had heard of the Grishaverse. After receiving it as a gift in the 2018 Cannonball gift exchange, I discovered that it was part of a larger world setting and I should probably read the preceding trilogy first. It took me a while to get around to the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy and then another length of time to get back to Six of Crows. I’m glad I waited and read the trilogy first, otherwise, the world would not have been as clear and I would have lacked nuance and understanding. While this story does stand alone, the world building in the first trilogy made reading Six of Crows a deeper experience.
One nitpick before I begin. The book is titled Six of Crows and as such revolves around a band of six companions. Chapters alternate between characters but we only ever hear the voice of five of them. Because the sixth character doesn’t have a voice in the narrative, they almost feel like they were necessary only for plot device purposes, which is annoying since the other five are so well fleshed out. This weakens the book for me and if we did half stars, I would probably knock it down to 3 1/2. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole and have put the rating at 4 stars to reflect that.
Through misfortune and trickery, Kaz ended up as a street urchin in Ketterdam with a grudge and determination big enough to move mountains in order to reach his goals. In order to survive he ruthlessly cuts away any part of himself he considers to be soft and earns the nickname Dirtyhands, as he is willing to do any job. From urchin he has moved up the ladder to gang leader of the Dregs, with the backing of an older gang boss, to whom Kaz pays tithes.
Inej was abducted as a youth and sold into slavery to a brothel. Kaz recognizes her potential and convinces his boss to buy Inej and make her an indentured servant. Freed from the brothel, Inej becomes Kaz’s spy and begins working off her debt by culling secrets, thereby allowing Kaz to blackmail individuals. With her talents of climbing buildings, walking roof lines, and ability to move silently, Inej has garnered the nickname, Wraith.
Nina and Mattias’s stories are intertwined. She is a Grisha, trained as a Corporalki heartrender from Ravka, with the ability to stop a person’s heart or manipulate their flesh. Nina was on a secret mission searching for other Grisha in hiding when she was captured by Mattias, a Fjerdan, who was training in an elite unit that hunts the unnatural Grisha and brings them back to Fjerda for trial. Nina and Mattias have a complicated relationship, as they work through a personal history that is weighed down by the warring history between their nations. Her skills as a Grisha and his personal knowledge of the heist location make them invaluable to the team but they have to overcome their past to make it safely through the caper.
Jesper is an adrenaline junky. Whether he get it from gambling or the heat of a fight, Jesper looks for the next thrill. He left his rural up bringing to attend university in Ketterdam but soon after arrival he found himself in a gambling hall and immediately gained an addiction for the high of the win. Seriously in debt, Kaz takes him into the Dregs where Jesper gains status as a sharpshooter. Proving himself loyal to Kaz, he has risen high in the ranks.
And then there is Wylan. Newly arrived in the slums, he is the most protected and innocent of the group. His knowledge of demolitions and chemicals, and his use as leverage, are what brings him along on this venture. This is the character that we don’t see their perspective and thus feels very plot device-y.
Kaz has recently put a rival gang back in it’s place when he is forcibly taken to a private meeting with a prominent leader of Ketterdam. He offers Kaz the chance to take a job to retrieve a prisoner held in the capital stronghold of Fjerda, something thought to be a near impossible task. Kaz negotiates for an outrageous sum and the adventure takes off. Along the way the backstory of each character unfolds giving perspective on their motives and insight into the relationships between them. I particularly enjoyed the sparks between Nina and Mattias. Kaz and Inej dance around each other and I yearned for them. Everyone in the group is somewhere in their late teens but they felt older. I would start each time an actual age is stated.
Bardugo has crafted an excellent story in her Grishaverse setting. This time showing off more of the seedy underbelly to her world. Six of Crows is a fun and exciting read. I love when groups of miscreants work together to infiltrate an impenetrable stronghold and try to sneak away with their target. I deeply cared for the characters, wanting them to succeed with their cleverness and rooting for the couples to figure their shit out. My 2nd grader wants the third book in a series she is reading, I may have to pick up the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, too.