I AM BACK. I went on an unofficial hiatus for the month of December, but after rejuvenating myself in the joy of Christmas muffins and like, I am back to start 2017 on a high note with the most positive review EVER grace this blog: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.
But before we jump into this review, I just want to let it be known: I am blown away by this series. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have its flaws (no book or series truly does), but it’s always really exciting to me whenever I discover one of those rare series that manage to defy the tropes and cliches of its genre.
Because, well, let’s face it. So many YA books aren’t that original or creative anymore, and I’ve stopped caring about the genre because it seems like people are accepting this as the norm simply because teenagers are the target demographic.
However, Six of Crows restores my faith in humanity because it proves that commercial genres like YA can be done RIGHT, with both substance and quality, and it’s time authors realize this; it’s time they stop patronizing young readers.
So what’s the big ruckus about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom? Here’s my breakdown from here on out, and I hope you enjoy. (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!)
Happy 2017, and cheers everyone!
Incredible thing #1: Exposition flows nicely
“The letters from his father continued to arrive, once, sometimes twice a week. Wylan didn’t know what to make of them. Were they threats? Taunts? He stashed them in a stack beneath his mattress, and sometimes at night he thought he could feel the ink bleeding through the pages, up through the mattress and into his heart like poison.”
All at once elegant, assertive, and smooth, Six of Crows is a great read because of how easily it flows. There’s never a hitch or awkward tumble in words, and I think that’s an important thing when you’re looking for something enjoyable to read.
Funny thing #2: Humor, a.k.a. humanity’s best friend
“Matthias would be atoning for the mistakes he’d made in this life long into the next one, but he’d always believed that despite his crimes and failings, there was a core of decency inside him that could never be breached. And yet, he felt sure that if he had to spend another hour with Alys Van Eck, he might murder her just for the sake of a little quiet.”
The Bartimaeus Trilogy is probably my favorite YA series growing up: dark, ominous, and tragic, yet still ridiculously funny. And this series is just the same way! It manages to be dark and mellow when it needs to be, but still witty enough to keep you engaged.
Excellent thing #3: Smart dialogue
“I’m a business man,” he told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
Dialogue in most YA books make me cringe in all its awkward glory; but in Six of Crows, the characters speak, interact, and banter in the most natural way, and I had a blast reading this series simply because of fresh and original the dialogue was. Conversations in this series never go stale, and it’s so much fun watching these characters throw shit at each other (their bickering is AWESOME) and overall, it just feels smart. The characters themselves feel smart.
Emotional thing #4: The FEELS….*sniffles in a corner*
“When Kaz looked into the past, he saw his brother through the eyes of the boy he’d been: brave, brilliant, infallible, a knight bested by a dragon dressed like a merch. But how would he see Jordie now? As a mark? Another dumb pigeon looking for a shortcut? He leaned his hands on the edge of the sink. He wasn’t angry anymore. He just felt weary.”
Leigh Bardugo fleshes out emotion in this series by employing subtlety, not melodrama, and I highly respect that in any author. I just don’t like it when I’m being nudged to feel happy or sad, so the fact Leigh Bardugo left enough room for interpretation in scenes like these made me feel genuine empathy for these characters.
Clever thing #5: Yoda-level philosophies!
“It’s not something to joke about,” she replied. The look Kaz cast her was amused. Inej knew how she sounded–stern, fussy, like an old crone making dire pronouncements from her porch. She didn’t like it, but she also knew she was right. Besides, old women must know something, or they wouldn’t live to gather wrinkles and yell from their front steps.
This series moves at a very brisk pace, so I really appreciated the fact that Leigh Bardugo incorporated a lot of worldviews and philosophies to chew over. Those weighty and intellectual moments actually served to slow me down and really think about what I was reading, and that added to the smart nature of this story as well.
Respectful thing #6: Real world problems
“When people see a cripple walking down the street, leaning on his cane, what do they feel?” Wylan looked away. People always did when Kaz talked about his limp, as if he didn’t know what he was or how the world saw him. “They feel pity. Now, what do they think when they see me coming?”
Wylan’s mouth quirked up at the corner. “They think they’d better cross the street.”
Kaz tossed the ledger back in the safe. “You’re not weak because you can’t read. You’re weak because you’re afraid of people seeing your weakness. You’re letting shame decide who you are.”
And speaking of smart, I just want to mention there’s a lot of really dark social issues brought up in this series: Inej being a victim of rape and human trafficking, Nina’s addiction to parem being equated to drug addiction, Kaz being a cripple, Wylan’s dyslexia, Jesper’s addiction to gambling….There’s a lot of controversial topics here, and I want to give Leigh Bardugo props for dealing with such issues in her story.
Hot thing #7: It’s sexy….but not cheap.
She could feel the press of Kaz’s fingers against her skin, feel the bird’swing brush of his mouth against her neck, see his dilated eyes. Two of the deadliest people the Barrel had to offer, and they could barely touch each other without both of them keeling over–but they’d tried.
Now I don’t like romance in stories. There’s so many potentially great books out there that eventually devolve into mediocrity after introducing sex and romance, and I think it’s the bane of YA in general.
However, the romance here is surprisingly unobtrusive for how many couples there are in this series! Sure, there’s a lot of flirting, but the romance always manages to cut short of becoming sappy or cliche, and I thought that was VERY tastefully done. And the humor plays a huge role because I probably would’ve been annoyed or turned on by some of these romance scenes…but “keeling over”? “But they’d tried”? PFFFT I couldn’t help but laugh, and that element of irony and sarcasm prevented this series from becoming cheap.
Fantastic thing #7: Awesome characters
“Until this moment, Wylan hadn’t quite understood how much they meant to him. His father would have sneered at these thugs and thieves, a disgraced soldier, a gambler who couldn’t keep out of the red. But they were his first friends, his only friends, and Wylan knew that even if he’d had his pick of a thousand companions, these would have been the people he chose.”
Inej vanished over the side of the chapel. Kaz stood there, staring at the place she’d been only seconds before. She’d tricked him. The decent, honest, pious Wraith had outsmarted him. He turned to look back at the long expanse of roof he was going to have to traverse to get back to the boat. “Curse you and all your Saints,” he said to no one at all, then realized he was smiling.
You know when you’re watching a tennis match and your head moves from side to side with the ball? Because that’s exactly how you feel in Six of Crows. These characters bicker, fight, banter, flirt, and endlessly interact with one another, and despite such a fluid chemistry, it’s always easy to distinguish one character from another. AMAZINGLY done.
- Kaz: What I find particularly unique about this character is the fact that he doesn’t change much throughout this series. Sure, he fluctuates and shows affection in his own cautious way, but his character development is very tightly controlled, and I dug that because it made his badassery all the more believable, and on the rare occasion that he broke character, it was all the more compelling and meaningful for me.
- Nina: I generally don’t like loud and rambunctious characters, and yet I found myself really taking to Nina. She embraces her sexuality, and yet stays true of heart to Matthias. (More on her later.)
- Jesper: Oddly enough, I found Jesper to be the most understated and complex character in this series. Granted, he doesn’t have the dramatic backstory the characters have, but his darker moments of melancholy and depression really made him a puzzling and intriguing case. My personal favorite in this series.
- Inej: What a badass. She’s literally the strongest character here, and yet she’s the sweetest of them all! And her trauamatic past of rape and human trafficking was amazing dealt with; she doesn’t wallow in self-pity, but rather uses that as motivation to move on. WHAT a trooper.
- Wylan: Being so earnest and hardworking at whatever he does, Wylan is that underdog who more than fulfills his potential by the end. But his dynamic with his father? SO DAMN INTERESTING. Van Eck is a great villain in that he seems to have a heart, and that’s so contradictory to the way he treats Wylan–it really makes me wish there was a Wylan prequel lol.
- Matthias: This character is gruff and inflexible, but I found it really endearing how he always has a resting bitch face. I mean, he’s always glowering at people, and it always made me laugh whenever Nina chastised him and he becomes a bit of a puppy then (so cute lol!). But [SPOILER ALERT!!!!!] his death….WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?! Leigh Bardugo, you better write a sequel with Nina raising Matthias back from the dead otherwise I will flip a shit!!!!
Refreshing thing #8: Breaks gender stereotypes big time
“Stop gawking like you’ve never seen a girl in a dress before, Matthias,” Kaz said.
“I wasn’t gawking,” Matthias said with as much dignity as he could muster. But for Djel’s sake, what was he supposed to look at when Nina had irises tucked between…everything.
“Be quiet, Brekker,” Nina said. “I like it when he gawks.”
Physically strong women in YA isn’t really all that exciting or new to me anymore. Just because a girl can swing a sword around doesn’t mean she’s to be respected in my opinion–after all, what’s if she’s a complete bitch, or she’s not as empowering in other aspects of life?
Therefore, what I so highly appreciate about this series is the fact that the females are so damn realistic. Nina and Inej might be strong physically (literally they can beat up all the guys without batting an eyelash) but they’re also very emotionally mature, which I find really surprising. They’ve both had their trauamatic run-ins with men before, but the fact that they don’t play coy, passive, or hard-to-get when it comes to love is so absolutely refreshing. YA authors nowadays think that just because a girl is strong and independent means she doesn’t care about love, but that is so not true–WOMEN CAN HAVE SEXUAL DESIRE AND STILL BE STRONG AND INDEPENDENT.
In that, I think the portrayal of Nina and Inej sends a very positive message. But in reverse, I also loved how Matthias and Kaz were the figurative “damsels-in-distress” here–they were the ones running away from love, the ones being flustered by the opposite sex, and I think this is SUCH a fresh approach to what it means to me “manly.”
After all, so many people think that a man’s “weak” if he’s not being self-assured, but come on! Men are emotional creatures too, and it’s not fair to say a man’s not a “man” just because he’s vulnerable and sincere.
As for the pairing of Jesper and Wylan, I usually get annoyed by gay couples–not out of prejudice, but because media nowadays try to pidgeon-hole at least one gay couple into the story for the sake of “obligatory diversity.” It’s so absolutely disingenuous! However, this pairing is MAKES SENSE. Leigh Bardugo sets up strong parallels between these two character (the fear of disappointing their fathers, the loss of their mothers at an early age, being respectively dislodged from their homes, the denial of their heritage…) and in that, I truly thought their relationship developed in a very organic way. I TOTALLY ship them, as well as every other couple in this story.
Not-so-great thing #9: A few critiques?
Despite how positively I felt about this series, I do have to be fair, and there were three things that could’ve been snapped up on:
- World-building: Everything in this aspect is fine, but the first half of Six of Crows is a bit slow to get into because there’s little explanation in terms of world-building. And while that’s not a big deal for me ( I’m not a fan of excessive world-building), I think some people might take issue with this.
- Lack of planning in the heist doesn’t make sense: Considering how big this operation is, I feel rather taken aback by how quickly the plan proceeded. A bit more explanation about how they’re carrying out this heist, how they prepared, and so on would’ve made this premise a bit more realistic for me.
- [SPOILER ALERT!!!] Matthias’s death: With a bit more buttering up, the author could’ve set up this up to be really shocking and sad, but, the way that Matthias seemed so resigned to his death, the fact that his killer popped out of nowhere…it all happened without warning, and as a result, I just didn’t get enough time to feel bad about his death. Slightly miffed about that.
I REALLY enjoyed this series.
The positives overwhelmingly exceed the negatives, and on the whole, I think it’s supported by really strong exposition. There’s a particular rhythm and flow that makes the prose so easy to read, yet complex enough to admire. I’m surprised to be saying this, but Six of Crows is probably one of the most elegant writing efforts I’ve seen in a whole.
Not to mention, the series gets even better each time that you read it–a series that improves upon itself? I mean, what more can a reader ask for?
Thanks for reading thus far, and I apologize again for the lack of updates. There’s personal issues going on at the moment, but pinky promise that I will be regularly updating from now on. Cheers again, and happy 2017!