by The Wanderer
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Six of Crows Duology
In the streets of Ketterdam, rising street urchin Kaz Brekker discovers the opportunity to make a heist that will change his fortune forever. Pulling it off will require him to break into the most secure place in the Grisha world, the Ice Court. But to pull this off the team will not only have to survive the dangers of being in a foreign land, but they will have to learn to trust each other.
I have confession to make. I judged this book by it's cover. It's a cool looking cover, and every now and then I like to randomly buy a book and hope for the best. It's a do or die scenario that's paid off before, but oftentimes it blows up in my face.
Six of Crows unfortunately blew up in my face. I love heist stories, so I was excited when I finally got around to reading the jacket cover. Mistborn was a fun heist with a brilliant magic system, and Best Served Cold is one of my favorite fantasy novels, surely a YA version of a similar concept could have potential?
I think the biggest problem that Bardugo faces in writing a story like this, is that YA genre is not compatible with the grittiness required to realistically depict characters that more or less grew up on the streets and were subjected to all sorts of traumatic events. Combine that grittiness with YA publishing's near unanimous requirement that there always be 'first romances' and you get some unrealistic characters that don't act in a manner that's consistent with the environment they grew up in.
Consider the Grisha Nina and the Fjerda Matthias and the romantic relationship that develops between them. The beginnings of this relationship is told in the past, and both Matthias and Nina meet others as hostiles in an on-going war between the Grisha and the Fjerda. Nina becomes Matthias' prisoner until the ship they are on wrecks and they are forced to interact with each other until they can find help. Once they do Matthias is imprisoned for a year and half and subjected to some hellish treatment until he is freed.
How would you expect a character like Matthias who's been trained as a soldier and then tortured for over a year to think about love and romantic relationships? If you answered like a 14 year old suburban girl who's getting ready to go to her first Homecoming dance, you would be wrong. Dead wrong. Yet ... this is the way he's written. No he doesn't get along with Nina for most of this novel, but the way he romantically obsesses about her just doesn't have any consistency with what his character has been through. It's not just this relationship, it's all the relationships Bardugo is trying to setup: Kaz and Inej, Jesper and Wylan, they aren't believable.
Another major issue is Kaz Brekker. A Mary Sue if there ever was one, Kaz is constantly placed on a pedestal so that his brilliance may light the way for the mere plebs that hang on to his every word. It never feels like any character is in danger when Kaz is around. He's thought of everything. His weaknesses include a limp, which never seems to hinder him when he is required to move urgently, and letting things get personal like his grudge with Pekka Rollins and of course ... it's a YA ... his romantic feelings for Inej. Of course these really aren't true flaws, he has every reason to hate Pekka and falling in love is natural.
It's the characters that ultimately doom Six of Crows. Even though there's a fun cliff hanger for an ending, and a frantic pace that never lets the reader go more than forty pages without someone fighting someone. Nailing some of the core components of a YA novel isn't enough to save this story.