5 out of 5 stars!
Format: Hardback (borrowed) - YA Dark Fantasy - Goodreads summary:
"Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he'll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:
Break into the notorious Ice Court
(a military stronghold that has never been breached)
Retrieve a hostage
(who could unleash magical havoc on the world)
Survive long enough to collect his reward
(and spend it)
Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done - and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable - if they don't kill each other first."
It's good to be back at the review game! There had been so much hype built up for this book, and to be honest, it took me forever to pick it up. A friend let me borrow it WAY too many months ago, and it just sat on my shelf looking real badass with its creepy cover and black-lined pages. I read the first chapter and didn't pick it back up for a few months. Big mistake! This book blew my mind.
***LITE SPOILERS AHEAD***
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Based on the Goodreads summary, I assumed this story was about Kaz. It's not. The chapters are evenly split between the entire cast. It's truly an ensemble book, which I loved, I just wish the blurb had emphasized that better. Because until I figured that out (around p.70), I kept feeling disappointed that it wasn't taking me where it said it would.
Now, there's something to be said about a first chapter that didn't make me want to keep going. Chapter one was cool and all, but after reading the whole book, I realize it was totally a prologue. So don't put it down just because you think things only get moderately interesting. Aside from introducing us to the magic and one of the antagonists (jurda parem), chapter one doesn't do much else. I mean... all the characters we meet in that chapter die so... I didn't really see the point of it, and I thought the drug/enemy could've been introduced another way, BUT all the other chapters were so mind-blowingly good, I didn't care.
SETTING: This was a pleasant surprise. Like most YA Fantasy, I expected a 16th-17th century setting. NOPE! It's Victorian... somewhere. Ketterdam doesn't exist but it has a London fog feel while the other areas they travel to definitely feel more Norwegian. I know her Grisha books take place in a Czarist Russia inspired world, so I liked that the setting and time period kept me on my toes.
CHARACTERIZATION: I appreciate Bardugo's ability to craft a believable cast of diverse characters. Each person had a different background, different native country, different sexual identity. It was really cool to see it done and done well. No one felt like an afterthought (ala Alec Lightwood), but it made them who they were. Now, I'm a straight white girl who married a straight white man, so I realize I'm on the outside looking in. But it felt really real to me, and I admire an author that can pull that off in a time where diversity is SO important, yet so hard to do right.
There are a handful of bad reviews on this book, and most of them come down to characterization. And I can't disagree, but it obviously wasn't enough to dock any stars. First of all, these kids are crooks. I will never understand why any reader would expect a surge of morality from any of them. By the end, we know their "why" and they backstory, and it does soften them a bit. But they're still criminals for hire! Like... you gotta be okay with that, reader. Similarly, one reviewer on Goodreads (don't even remember who, not that I'd call him/her out) was super upset when Kaz kills someone. The reviewer stopped reading AND THEN GAVE IT A 1-STAR REVIEW (rude) because the tough-as-nails leader of the literal gang "tortures and humiliates another character" who is only in that once scene and is a badder member of a rival gang. 1) I would hardly call what happened torture or humiliation, 2) Did we forget THEY'RE CRIMINALS?? Why do you expect them to take mercy on a guy who just gutted my favorite character? 3) He was a really bad dude, and I'm glad he's dead. There, I said it.
BELIEVABILITY: this kind of builds off the previous Characterization. I understand this was marketed as YA, and the gang has been hardened by street life, becoming orphans, being sold into sex slavery, all of the above. However, they do not, at any point, feel like teenagers. The only character that acts and reads his age is Wayland who is the baby of the group. He actually acts fifteen. The others (especially Nina, Kaz, and Matthias) are way too mature and well-spoken for 17 and 18 year-olds who didn't grow up with a formal education. The most educated guy in the whole group can't even read! Yet Kaz, Matthias, even Nina seem way too worldly even for people who had it rough like they did.
As flawed as their stories are, the presentation of each character is too smooth. Kaz has ONE moment of weakness which nearly messes things up for everyone, but it serves to give us some backstory, and then he quickly recovers. No big deal. I wanted to see more of their flaws actually influencing the plot and outcome of the book. I want their weakness to get them in trouble and not just the events screwing things up for them. Every character was REALLY good at what they did (too good). They knew how to carry themselves, use their sexual wiles to manipulate grown men (a little gross), and aside from one gravity-defying climb up a chimney, none of them ever looked shaken. That made it a little harder to really conceptualize, but with a little suspension of belief, you'll get through it. I'd like to believe the characters were originally written to be New Adult age, and the editor/publisher wanted it strictly YA for marketing purposes.
STYLE: Bardugo has some of the best writing I've seen out of YA in a while! And I love reading all the YA I can get my hands on, but hers was so smooth and poetic, but never left out the tension or the action. There was a lot of PLOT happening in this book, and at times, it was way less character-driven than I personally prefer. But it's a heist book, and complications in a heist rarely come from a character's growth points. It's all about the environment and the other players of the game who throw in unexpected moves. One of the most impressive uses of skill is Bardugo's lack of author tics. No overly repeated phrases, no crutch words. And her pacing was freakin' inspirational, as was her ability to tie up so many loose ends. By the end, I had zero questions, I knew where everyone stood, but I still wanted more. Absolutely brilliant.
My biggest qualm comes back to the ensemble cast. They were great, but if Kaz was billed as the main character, I expect him to be the main character. His mysterious-ness and ruthless leader attitude kind of fell flat for me because the other characters were given so much screen-time. I'm glad Bardugo showed us the depth of all the characters involved (instead of saving it for a spinoff novella fortheloveofgod), but Kaz didn't have the punch for me I was expecting after reading the synopsis.
FAN GIRLING: I am OBSESSED with the fan art coming out of this series. Have you SEEN them?! Charlie Bowater and Davood Diba are just a couple of my favorites I've stumbled upon. Charlie is actually an amazing illustrator and she's done some work with Sarah J. Maas, as well as other others. Follow her on instagram (@charliebowater)-- she's brilliant!
FINAL THOUGHTS: This first novel in the Six Of Crows duology is masterfully done and well worth a read. Be prepared for some dark twisties, but it's one of my favorite reads of all time. I'm just so impressed with the world this author built and how well it was translated on the page. Thanks for sharing your talents, Leigh Bardugo! *running to find everything she's ever written*