Inej would find her own way in. The rules of fair play along the gangs were from Per Haskell’s time. Besides, she was the Wraith – the only law that applied to her was gravity, and some days she defied that, too.
Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is a new story in her well-established fantasy universe known as the Grishaverse. Having not read any of her previous works in this universe, I was surprised and pleased to find that this book did an excellent job of introducing the unique magic system her universe hinges on (and is named for) without dipping into any textbook or encyclopedia-style descriptions. Readers new to Bardugo need not fear – Six of Crows is an excellent place to begin.
As a typical heist story, Six of Crows hits every mark. It has the large cast of rich characters each with their job to do and each with their private motivations – which Bardugo links together artfully and entertainingly as the story unfolds. It has the high stakes, the bad guys, the complicated plots and machinations. It has the breath-baitingly, nerve-wrackingly difficult tasks. And it has plenty of well-timed comedic and touching moments to wrap it all into one lovely narrative.
I don’t have much to complain about when it comes to this book, but I’ve struggled since I finished reading it to properly review it. You see, while I don’t have many complaints to enumerate, and while there was a LOT about this book that was quite well executed, it just doesn’t feel like a 5-star book. I hate not being able to explain why, but there you go. Those are my feelings.
Setting feelings aside for the moment, this book’s stand-out quality is certainly the extent to which I enjoyed Bardugo’s use of prose. In fact, multiple times in my reading of Six of Crows I made a note that just said “This passage is nicely written”. I made that note 17 times. That’s the meat of my review, if I’m being honest – just an appreciation of the words she strung together and the way that pleased me.
(My previous record for that particular note, by the way, was 6.)
He wasn’t much younger than Kaz, but somehow he looked like a child – smooth-skinned, wide-eyed, like a silk-eared puppy in a room full of fighting dogs.
More than once, she draws the reader’s attention to a well-turned phrase as a capstone to a scene or interaction. Another author might call back to that phrase later, to remind the reader that it was artful. Bardugo takes this one step further, and she does so multiple times without wearing out the gag. She uses that phrase we hardly noticed we noticed as a key to unlock a character’s realization, or to betray for the reader that what we had once believed was wrong. It’s simply artful writing, and this review is a time to appreciate that skill.
Bardugo studied English at Yale, and I see a lot of evidence of this in her writing – not just in the prose. Her pacing of the story, her assemblage of characters, her comedic interjections, all feel calculatedly precise. Where sometimes I might’ve resented that feeling, or rolled my eyes at it, I appreciated that quality of Bardugo’s writing. I felt comfortable placing myself as a reader in Bardugo’s hands, and trusted her to take me on the journey she had planned. Given how well Barudugo hit each beat of her heist story and how gracefully she handled the difficult task of explaining (while neither over- nor under-explaining) a unique magical element already thoroughly explained in a previous series, I consider this a textbook example of how to write entertaining YA sff adventures.
This one walked with soft feet like she’d drifted in from the next world and no one had the good sense to send her back.
So why can’t I quite bring myself to give it those 5 stars? It probably is how well she hit the “heist story” beats. It feels like she read a recipe for “YA Heist Story” and followed it. Yes, she followed it very, very well. Yes, I’ll read more Grishaverse and more Bardugo. But I’ll be hoping to see less of the recipe in her next books.