The Book Look: ‘Six of Crows’ examines redeeming qualities of the immoral

Six+of+Crows+by+Leigh+Bardugo.

The Magnet Tribune: Publisher

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

Lauren Melendez, The Book Look Columnist

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is the first book in a groundbreaking young adult duology. It is a pure heist story, with inventive plotting and sophisticated writing, but the true beauty of the story lies within its characters.

It follows the story of six fascinating misfits with loose morals and criminal tendencies. The group consists of:

  • Kaz Brekker: a clever con artist,
  • Inej Ghafa: a quiet girl with a dark past,
  • Jesper Fahey: a promising student who submits to bad habits,
  • Nina Zenik: a boisterous young woman with magical abilities,
  • Matthias Helvar: a convict with jaded beliefs and a thirst for revenge, and
  • Wylan Van Eck: a sheltered son turned runaway.

Bardugo defied the confines of these typical tropes, often associated with young adult fiction, and fleshed out dynamic characters that readers can’t help but fall in love with.

These characters are all part of an infamous gang known as “The Dregs,” and are led by the ruthless Kaz Brekker: thief, con artist, and criminal prodigy. Hardened by a past filled with loss, Kaz rose from the ashes and created a life for himself. Known on the streets as “Dirtyhands,” he and his crew were the obvious choice when Pekka Rollins needed a job done.

So begins their mission: to perform a heist so dangerous it was thought to be impossible. They were given the task of breaking into an impenetrable prison, to kidnap a very valuable hostage: scientist Bo Yul-Bayur, who is in possession of a secret weapon that has the potential to wreak havoc.

In this fantasy novel, there is a race of people known as the Grisha, who possess magical abilities. Yul-Bayur chemically engineered a drug called juda parem that magnifies Grisha powers to extremely perilous levels. Moreover, once a Grisha uses this drug, they develop an addiction, and their bodies wither without it. Kaz and his crew were tasked with breaking into the impermeable Ice Court to kidnap Yul-Bayur, thus ensuring that the secret of juda parem remains a secret. In exchange, the crew was promised a very handsome sum.

This tale of misadventure was told in a unique way. The book contains chapters with a third person narrative from each of the characters, giving readers an inside look at each of the characters’ backgrounds.

Subsequently, Bardugo was able to execute something few writers have accomplished; She brought to life a group of objectively “bad” people, and gave them just enough redeeming qualities to make readers love them. Much like Alex of A Clockwork Orange, or Henry Wotton of The Picture of Dorian Gray, these characters prompt readers to examine the human capacity for evil, and discover vindicating qualities in the immoral.

Kaz Brekker is a prime example of this feat. Unscrupulous though he may be, he is undoubtedly smart, and quick on his feet. He grew up in the crime-ridden neighborhood known as “The Barrel” and there is said to be no job so low or so dangerous that Kaz won’t take it. He is the Don Corleone of the Grisha world, if you will — the type of guy whose help you seek only as a last resort. He is driven almost solely by greed, and makes no secret of it. Take a look at a conversation he once had with another character:

“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”

Some of the atrocities he has committed are unspeakable, and yet, by the end of the book, he has managed to worm his way into the hearts of nearly every reader. Boys are fascinated by him, girls swoon over him, and nearly everyone flies through the book because of him. When asked about Kaz, Bardugo was quoted as saying “I mean, he’s really despicable — cold, brutal, amoral. But he’s also spectacularly good at what he does, and I think we forgive a lot because he’s so damn competent.” The ability to create such a dynamic character is a testament to Bardugo’s writing abilities.

The book contains chapters with a third person narrative from each of the characters, giving readers an inside look at each of the characters’ backgrounds.”

— Lauren Melendez, columnist

The book also touches on a few controversial topics that are relevant to society. Because the fantasy world Bardugo created was so intricate, it is easy for these themes to go unnoticed. In the whimsical Grisha world, there are multiple countries with conflicting political views. At the beginning of the book, you’ll find a hand-drawn map, designed to help readers envision the world. The Grisha typically live in the country known as Ravka, where their magical abilities are not only accepted, but revered. Across the True Sea lies the icy country of Fierda, whose people are raised to hate the Grisha — which calls to mind recent events. More interesting still, is the turbulent romance that blossoms between a Grisha woman and the Fjerdan officer she once betrayed.

The world Bardugo created (affectionately dubbed the “Grishaverse” by its fans) is extremely complex. So much so, that the Six of Crows duology is, in fact, the second book series set in this world. It seems that the world was heavily inspired by Tsarist Russia, and is based on a magical system. It is also said that Kerch — the country in which Ketterdam is located — is also influenced by the Dutch Republic of the 1700’s. These cultural attributes are used in combination with darker themes to create a mysterious setting for a heist.

All in all, Six of Crows was an incredible read. Dive into the Grishaverse and allow yourself to be engulfed in its magic. Its intricacies — both personal and political — make this series one like no other, so be sure to pick up a copy!