Six underworld criminal-types attempt a near-impossible heist for an outrageous sum of money that will help them escape their underworld lives (if they should so wish). What follows: love-hate relationships, constant betrayals, impossible feats, lots of violence, and the setup for a series.
Six of Crows is set in the same world as Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, taking place after the Ravkan civil war. Some of the former characters are referred to, but mostly these are all new people from many different races and countries: Kerch, Zemeni, Suli, Ravkan, Fjerdan, Shu. My expectations going into the book were mixed. I loved the Grisha trilogy – right up until the very end of the third book, when a specific thing happens that felt like cheating, like the book/series had been robbed of its power. So on the one hand, I knew Bardugo created characters and worlds I loved, and on the other, I worried about feeling let down again. Now that I’ve read it, my experience was equally mixed.
I don’t generally like books involving protagonists who are criminals or con artists. Some circumstantial situations can make that setup okay – like Kelsier’s thieving crew in Mistborn, trying to overthrow an oppressive government – but usually, no. As each of these characters’ backstories were revealed, I felt sorry for them. I knew they hadn’t landed in the underworld by choice. (Mostly.) But all the same…some of their motives were driven by vengeance, and I don’t find that to be honorable in any way. That made it difficult to like or connect with several of the players (like Kaz, the crew leader and book’s main protagonist). Even after finishing the book, I’m not yet sure I’d care if he, or certain others, died in later volumes.
On the other hand, I really did grow to love and care about several of the characters. The two women on the crew, in particular, felt like rounder, more realistic characters. Nina just tickled me, and I care quite a lot about what will happen to her (and Inej, the other woman on the crew). They were the backbone of this group, and really, I think they were the most crucial to the mission. I also think they were the most honorable of the crew, with motives I could understand and relate to. They made this book for me. (Jesper, though we rarely hear from him, eventually won me over, too.)
As for the story itself, there were some suspension of disbelief issues for me, and I preferred learning the character histories (which probably made up at least a third of the text). I wished the book had gone deeper, thicker into the individual psychologies and world-building, more the way the Grisha trilogy had. Still, Six of Crows kept my interest, and I do want to see what happens next, even if it didn’t blow me away the way that Shadow and Bone did. I honestly didn’t expect it to, given the setup was pretty much not-my-thing, but I admit, I did want a bit more from it.
This sounds like I’m just ripping apart the book, and that’s not my intention. It was well-written and well-paced. My negatives are purely personal pet peeves (how’s that for alliteration!) and I plan to read further volumes in the hope of more wow-ing ahead.
Revisited via audio in September 2016: This audiobook was read by seven different narrators, some better than others, but all mostly good. In fact, on audio, this book was about a hundred times better. I can’t say for sure if it’s because I knew all the character backstories before going in, or if it was the media that did it, but I really enjoyed this reread. I’m now looking forward to Crooked Kingdom (which I also plan to read via audio).