I know I read a lot. I still get intimidated by big books. Funnily enough, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is not even 500 pages (similar to the second book, Crooked Kingdom), but the book itself—perhaps because of paper type?—feels bigger than that. And, honestly, I wasn’t that into if for the first quarter of the book or so. (I found out later this is a common complaint. So first thing for you: keep reading. You’ll be hooked before mid-book. Really hooked, before too long.)
What eventually sold me on it? What made me finish the book and then immediately buy and read the second (and final of the series) book, Crooked Kingdom? I bought into the characters and I was hooked on the plot and stakes. What never quite hooked me was the world-building, mostly because it wasn’t very clear or detailed (especially up front) and I hard time visualizing what these people were wearing, what they buildings looked like, etc. The point is that it’s the people and the story that really stick with you, and while you’re reading it, you just want to stay… up… one… more… minute (or hour) to find out what is going to happen on the next page to these people that you maybe should not like as much as you clearly do. For the record, I also found the fantasy names and words a little silly, but I often think that even about my own fantasy names. And the countries being loosely based on countries/areas of our world when it has no connection to our world? Awkward, I thought. Not that that’s going to stop me from freaking out at you about this book and the next. Loved them.
By 200 pages into Crooked Kingdom, I just have to agree with the reviewer (among many similar) who said, “This book is fan-fricking-tastic.” I mean, if I dig deep, I can find some things to say bad about it. Let me think… the romances simmer forever. Couldn’t Bardugo just deliver on one of them a little early and give us a release and then some steamy stuff later on? And I did find some of the world-building elements to be cliché and cheesy, like the names. (Already mentioned that.) And the second book didn’t have a very clear roadmap for the reader for a good long while, as in you didn’t know where you were going next or how on earth the next step was going to take 500 pages. (In the first book there’s a major heist that takes up the vast majority of the novel, so it was much more traditional in that sense and relied less on short-term cliff-hangers.) This means that the second book also takes some time investment before you are good and interested. Perhaps the kids were a little too young for the story. Perhaps the ending could have been a little clearer about where these people and relationships will end up, a little more fulfilling (though I thought it was pretty clear until I realized other people thought differently. And at the end of most good books, you still want more. Don’t know if this is a bad thing.)
But what could I say good about this duology? It’s pretty amazing. I am now accustomed to these “dirty” characters and their bad selves and the second book fleshes out their motives and their soft sides a whole lot more, making them much more victims who are going to someday make good. But there is blood on everyone’s hands, which always makes me uncomfortable for heroes. The truth is, I am now completely invested in these characters because all six of them are compelling and fascinating as heck. The romances are also compelling in that way that you are like, “Please, please, please get together and live happily ever after!” I can’t imagine trying to write a book with this many twists and turns and also so much plotting, as in one clever bad guy trumping another and another undermining another and the hands keep clapping over the one before until someone’s hand is on top of the (crow-headed) cane. Was Bardugo a criminal mastermind in another life? It seems likely. I couldn’t put either of these books down and though I always balk at giant books, who the heck cares, here? This story is amazing, the characters are amazing, the writing is amazing. (Not perfect, but still wondrously clear, sometimes even beautiful.) Bardugo looks so young. Can she be that young? Is she some sort of genius? What she’s really the master of is getting you invested so that she can keep you holding your breath and on the edge of your seat. Over and over and over again. And over again. And again.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom make up the complete duology that centers around a band of six teen/young adult criminals and a couple of epic heists that take place in relation to one another. It’s something like fantasy-heist, with the contemporary twist of the good guys being much more like bad guys but with some explanatory backstories. Sorta steam-punky, but not. Don’t let the word “heist” throw you off. You could argue that Kaz Brekker is the main antagonist, but all six of the main characters get a lot of play and the chapters skip around from all of their perspectives. (The first book does not include Wylan’s perspective, but the second does. Also, there are intro and closing chapters in each book from a random character’s perspective.) Six of Crows sets up the Grishaverse in Ketterdam, a neutral territory port town and the ghetto area, where all of our characters have landed by mishappenstance. A couple of them are grisha, which means they have superpowers which make them vulnerable to kidnapping and exploitation but also give them special abilities. The other characters each have some other remarkable talent that comes along with their tragic backstory and their reason to be part of the criminal element. When Kaz gets word of the heist of a lifetime, he turns to the other five to join him in crossing the world and working completely against the odds to bring home some major bacon. Relationships happen. Drama happens. Twists and turns galore. It can get pretty dark, at times, and gritty, but not really mature in some obvious ways. And it gets very, very dangerous for the six of crows.
Crooked Kingdom is the other half of the duology and picks up after the team has returned from the heist. Some strings were left dangling in book one and some of the characters are in renewed danger. They keep the game afoot in order to save one of their own and get what was promised them, but the new heist, and the depth of the plan, grow much bigger than they had originally anticipated. Dreams are dreamed. Romances sizzle and deepen. And bag guys get uglier and more in trouble because the six of crows—with Kaz at the helm—are gunning for them and in the process they might even save the world from the insidious threat of an extremely dangerous and world-threatening drug. There is death. There is human trafficking. There are brothels, gambling, brokenness galore. But that’s sort of the point. These kids didn’t ask for this. Can they still be great people with meaningful relationships?
There is more to the Grishaverse, which is what we call the fantasy world that Bardugo built up in which this duology takes place. There is another popular trilogy which acts as a prequel to Six of Crows, though it predates these characters, so be ready for that. I have heard it argued that the place to begin reading is still Six of Crows (which was written first) but I have also heard it argued the other way around. When I read theShadow and Bone trilogy, I will let you know my opinion on the matter. And there are two other Grishaverse books, King of Scars and Rule of Wolves, as well as The Language of Thorns book of fairytales, Demon in the Wood graphic novel, and The Lives of Saints companion book. There is also a Netflix series that is one series in and, from what I understand, twists together the Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone series (so I won’t be watching that until I read the other series). The second season is coming in 2023. Do I want to keep reading the Grishaverse? I will be reading the Shadow and Bone series because it is also on my TBR. As for the others, maybe not, but I am curious about the graphic novel (and also the fairy tales, I guess, because my Northwyth Legends loose series has a fairy tale book in it, as well). Meanwhile, Bardugo keeps adding to the Grishaverse and trying to work on other projects. She has even said that sometime in the future she might add a third book to Six of Crows.
I really see this duology as destined to be a classic, which probably means the Grishaverse and Bardugo are destined to a long run. It is YA, sure, but I imagine many adults are reading this and many would count it as a favorite of the genre. As for YA readers, if they like fantasy, this is a no-brainer. It’s modern, well-written, distinctly YA, and addictive like jurga parem.
Still calling it: a new staple of the genre, for sures.
(Didn’t mark them from the first book because it didn’t belong to me. So these are from Crooked Kingdom. It’s not a super-quotable book, anyhow; it’s about the story and characters.)
“Kaz always spoke logic, but that didn’t mean he always spoke the truth” (p40).
“…her father had explained that only fools were fearless. We meet fear, he’d said. We greet the unexpected visitor and listen to what he has to tell us” (p51).
“Praying and wishing are not the same thing” (p180).
“Sometimes the trick to getting the best of the situation is to just wait” (p182).
“Zoya used to say that fear is a phoenix. You can watch it burn a thousand times and still it will return” (p188).
“What kind of mother would I be to my son if I hid away my talents? If I let fear be my guide for this life?” (p258).
“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” (p283).
“We can endure all kinds of pain. It’s shame that eats men whole” (p283).
“They valued the things he could do instead of punishing him for the things he couldn’t” (p322).
“Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined. If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it” (p339).
“He wanted to tell Nina that you could love something and still see its flaws” (p383).
“Rich men want to believe they deserve every penny they’ve got, so they forget what they owe to chance. Smart men are always looking for loopholes. They want an opportunity to game the system” (p398).
“You gave him someone to run to. No matter what he did or what went wrong. I think that’s bigger than the big mistakes” (p424).
“Innocence was a luxury, and Inej did not believe her Saints demanded it” (p458).
“When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway” (p460).