It has been months since I’ve finished the Six of Crows Duology and my need to obsess over every element of this story is only just becoming a bearable – permanent– part of my personality. Originally, I wasn’t all that invested. It was an audiobook to pass the time on a road trip to Boston and back, but by the time we arrived home after a long weekend, I was ready to park myself on the couch and listen for three days straight.
As a reader and, more importantly, as a writer, this series offers a treasure trove of inspiration, skill, and finesse and we can all learn a great deal from it. Here are just a few reasons why everyone who loves to write – and read – should put this book at the top of their To Be Read Pile.
The Plot is Unique and Unpredictable
Genre fiction can be tricky where plot is concerned. In romance, the hero/heroine and hero/heroine meet, fall in love, face an obstacle and live happily ever after. In mystery, the crime is committed, the unqualified detective-like character with too much access to classified records finds the culprit and saves the day, exposing some master plot in the process.
This series had all the potential to be predictable. Look at the precedent set by Hunger Games, the Selection and Twilight, alternate universes where romance reigns and the final scene could be one of a handful of options. And I happen to enjoy some of those stories very much. The point is, Six of Crows goes well beyond the expected and the obvious. Instead, it sets us up for a story where the main character – and don’t call him a hero – is always one step ahead, so predictably forward-thinking and wily that you would almost be disappointed if you could anticipate his next move.
There are organic setbacks, inspired ret-cons and the complicated and unique challenges that face us as humans every day. You will not be bored reading this series.
Kaz, Inej, Wyland, Jesper, Nina, and Matthias
I don’t have the words to explain how truly incredible the characterization in this story is. Split into six circulating perspectives that offer a well-rounded look at the unfolding con, Six of Crows doesn’t just have characters, it has real, human, solid people. Leigh Bardguo does such a remarkable job writing these characters that, as a reader, I truly feel capable of predicting their thoughts and feelings on something that never happened in the book. How would this character respond to this situation? I can confidently answer that question, with the tools and insight she has provided over the course of the series.
And the organic evolution is remarkable in and of itself. The books are fairly long and very involved and the characters do not remain stagnant, do not exist in a vortex. Instead, they change and are changed by the world around them. And while they seem infallible, powerful, brilliant, skilled, we are routinely reminded that they are children, no older than eighteen, sculpted into something hard by the unforgiving nature of their environment, capable because it was the only way to survive. These characters are nothing short of incredible.
Ketterdam Wasn’t Built in a Day
As an author, especially one who has only dabbled in fantasy writing, I am routinely in awe of people who can craft complete and beautiful worlds from nothing. Bardugo goes well and beyond that. In fact, whenever I get into a fangirling fit about this series, I spend a good long time waxing poetic about her amazing ability to create a world so completely. I have no doubt in my mind that I could ask her about the irrigation system of a once-mentioned region or the main trade route through the south and she’d be able to answer without hesitation.
The languages, religions, imports and exports, the styles, the belief systems, the interaction between regions, it is real, tangible, and remarkable. I have learned a great deal from her skill in building a world so full and complete, and I have no doubt other authors will as well.
A Full Cast of Characters
Fiction has been struggling with fully inclusive writing for a long time. While we’ve certainly made strides, it often feels as though the author is saying look, look at how diverse my cast is! I have a character of color. In reality, pointing that inclusivity out, rather than setting it up as the norm, is detrimental to said inclusivity. It’s something we all need to work to be better at, and it’s another very strong point to Bardugo’s writing.
While her fantasy world is imagined, it takes obvious influence from places like Amsterdam, eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. Two of the main characters are characters of color, one Zemini, one Suli, largely representative of black and Middle Eastern characters, though the countries of origin are all their own. There are characters from the Shu Han nation, queer characters (headcanon that most of her characters are bi, but at least two are canonically gay) and characters with pronounced physical disabilities.
She references racism within the world, both overt and otherwise, but at the end of the day, the characters are diverse because they hail from a city of traders and escapees, where a homogenized cast is far less believable than a representative one. It is remarkably done.
The Monsters Within Us
And just as Bardugo acknowledges that diversity is a reality of the world around us, so too does she acknowledge the diversity – and hardship – of the individual experience. She does not shy away from terrifying topics, nor yet brush over or undermine them. Over the course of the book, we come face to face with religious zealotry and massacre, PTSD, sexual assault, addiction, drug withdrawal, learning disabilities and many other real topics that exist in the real world. These themes are not used as foils, but rather, help to build complete and three-dimensional characters with backstories and environments that settle them into who they are. They are not gratuitous, nor are they shy. They are simply reality.
Tales, Folklore, and Stories by the Fire
At the end of the day, Six of Crows is more legend than book. It is crafted from a thousand stories of witches and soldiers, magicians, acrobats and warriors. It tells of gunslingers, brilliant scientists, narrow escapes, impossible love and an even more impossible happy ending, though that, of course, means different things for different people.
Bardugo gives us this sense, this ability to imagine her story as a legend shared around a campfire, as a myth told upon the creaking boards of a ship at distant sea. We know each word of the page is carefully, expertly crafted and yet, it feels as though it is told directly from the mouth of the bard, mist and smoke, mirrors, and hidden messages.
This book’s incredible prose, lively banter, and unique narration is part and parcel of the story itself, a telling for now but also for the future, when all that is left of our ragtag crew of warriors and thieves is legend and dust.
I could write for pages more on why this series is a remarkable teacher to other authors, why it is a remarkable read for all enthusiasts bookworms, but I don’t want to ruin the magic and glory of the first-hand experience. I hope you are inspired to seek this story out, to indulge in it, to learn from it as I have. I promise, you’ll be very happy you did. ♦