Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist: break into the Ice Court – a military stronghold that has never been breached – and retrieve a hostage whose knowledge could change Grisha magic forever. To succeed would mean rich beyond his wildest dreams – but he can’t pull it off alone . . .
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Together they might just be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.
Published September 29th 2015 by Henry Holt & Company
This was a buddy read with Yesha from Books Teacup and Reviews.
Check out her wonderful review of this fantasy must-read. Her amazing, spoiler-free reviews of the Shadow and Bone trilogy introduced me to the Grishaverse. Once you get a glimpse of this original world, you are hooked on its magic.
The Six of Crows duology is set on the island of Kerch, which is to the left of Ravka, the country introduced in Shadow and Bone. It’s capital Ketterdam is a city where trade and profit-making are literally venerated (their god Ghezen is a god of Commerce). It’s all about money, contracts, speculation. While rich, respectable and unbearably greedy merchants rule, the city has its underbelly the Barrel, where gangs divide the profits flowing from relieving unsuspecting tourists of their hard-earned cash, from gambling parlors and brothels. The Barrel lives by its own rules and the only way to survive there is not to trust anyone or show any weakness.
Kaz Brekker is a rising star in this criminal world, a leautenant in a gang called Dregs, who have been using an image of crows as their symbol. He is a mastermind behind an impossible heist, commissioned by one of the members of the City Council. The aim of the heist is to break into the Ice Court, an unpenetrable palace in Fjerda (a country famous for its military spirit and hatred of everything related to Grisha, the practitioners of a special kind of matter-manipulating science/magic).
My first question when I started reading the Six of Crows duology was whether it is possible to read it as a standalone. Yes, although there are some references to the civil war in Ravka and Ravkan refugees unknowingly getting themselves into ‘indentures’ (practical slavery) in Ketterdam. The events that caused the war are not mentioned and we learn the three main groups of Grisha powers on the go (Corporalki- controlling human body, Etherealki-controlling elements such as water, wind, fire, light, and Fabricators-controlling/transforming/inventing materials). The focus in this book is on Kaz’s brilliant heist, but the larger political context gradually reveals itself as you keep reading.
Some of the main characters have Grisha powers, although only one of them had formal training. For the others, dealing with their ‘gift’ is a part of their character arc. It is very clear that Grisha are born and live in all parts of this fictional world. Generally speaking, there is more diversity (in various aspects) than in the previous trilogy and the book is all the better for this.
The main characters
The story is told from multiple perspectives, mosty from the point of view of the six heisters, named in the book blurb:
A convict with a thirst for revenge- Matthias
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager-Jesper
A runaway with a privileged past- Wylan
A spy known as the Wraith -Inej
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums-Nina
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes- Kaz
Despite the large number of protagonists, they are all well-developed. We learn about their past and what life experiences made them into what they are, we get to know their beliefs and their motivations, what they look like and how they think. Yesha also made an excellent point about the multiple points of view creating a sense of suspense and contributing to the overall rhythm of the book.
IfI had to choose my favourite character, it would be Inej with her special kind of kindness and vulnerability A victim of human trafficking, this former acrobat endured terrible things and yet, never lost her religion and her conscience. Quiet and agile, she scales the Ketterdam walls and roofs, collecting useful information. She’s also a feared fighter, known for her knife-throwing expertise. What I liked about Inej is her tenacity, honesty, wisdom and ability to see the best in other people.
Inej has a special, very complicated relationship with Kaz, who is carrying a lot of trauma from his dark past. His main motivation for building up his criminal career and ruthless reputation is revenge,but somewhere behind this terrifying facade is a person who cares for his team. Gradually, we learn about the harrowing past events that made Kaz see trust as the greatest weakness possible. Ironically, we also learn to trust the brilliance of his plans.
The six of crows are all more or less the same age- 17-18, although they do not behave or sound their age. The only character that still retained the spontaneity and recklessness of ‘just going for it’ was Nina. A witty and open-minded Heartrender (a Grisha who has a special ability/training to control a person’s blood pressure and heart), she is first and foremost a patriot of her country, a soldier. She’s excellent at foreign languages and can fit anywhere. She also shows a deep understanding and respect for other cultures. Nina is larger than life… She stayed in Ketterdam for a year to save a Fjerdan witch-hunter, strong and implacable Matthias.
The remaining two crows Jesper, a mysterious sharpshooter with a gambling addiction, and Wylan-I don’t want to give away Wylan’s secrets- provided a few twists I didn’t see coming at all. There was no way I could have guessed what the conflict with his father was about.
The plot and the pace
The six main characters have their own storylines and yet it all comes brilliantly together in one very logical plot-the preparation for the heist (putting the crew together, getting the intel and necessary supplies), the heist itself, and it’s aftermath. We learn about the past which gives us a better insight into the characters, yet the progression of the story is always clear.
I really enjoyed the overall shape of the narrative, all the tension points coming in crescendo. The reader is almost lulled into thinking it’s all over…and then another twist changes the game! The heist itself was so fast-paced… You could feel the adrenaline running through the veins of the six crows. Things were being drilled, climbed, blown up, transformed, axed, and shattered, and I was just sitting there, turning pages compulsively, absolutely unable to put the book down. I was almost afraid to blink and miss a crucial detail.
I started missing this incredible Ketterdam crew as soon as I turned the last page. This book is quite rightly one of the most popular fantasy series in the YA category. Action-packed, with a brilliant plot, great world-building, diversity in characters, Six of Crows is 465 pages (or more, depending on your edition) of non-stop entertainment.
A huge thank you to Yesha for her thoughtful questions and insights that transformed this reading experience into something truly special.
A few spoilers from our buddy read / Our favourite scenes in the book:
(the text is in white- highlight it and you can see the spoiler!)
- the deal talk between Kaz and Geels in the beginning,
- the Hellgate heist (getting Mattias out of the Hellgate prison),
- their entry to the ice court,
- the way they discovered Yul-Bayur,
- Nina and Matthias after that
- the climax and the conversation between Kaz and Inej after the climax
- the end.
- Kaz saving Inej when she got stabbed,
- Nina and Matthias exchanging their names for the first time,
- Inej …climbing the incinerator even after her shoes started melting
- Inej finding Kaz’s gloves and giving them backto him– because she is the girl who ‘knows’ him
- Inej telling Kaz she will have him without armour or not at all
- Kaz surviving the underwater river by thinking about Inej and then promising to get back his girl