Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“’No mourners,’ Jesper said as he tossed his rifle to Rotty. ‘No funerals,’ the rest of the Dregs murmured in reply. Among them it passed for ‘good luck’.”

Ocean’s 11 meets magic adventure in a world of prejudice. Six criminals, one high payout, and two world altering dilemmas. This book was fantastic! The world building was on point. The characters were well developed and complex. The plot was naturally progressive and believable. I was leery of reading Six of Crows, despite the great reviews. As unpopular as my opinion is, I was not a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo previous Grisha trilogy. However this new series left all of my previous gripes behind!

Set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy, Ketterdam neighbors Ravka and is the location where many Grisha fled during/after the civil war that tore Ravka asunder. But this is not a story of Grisha dominance or prejudice. This is a heist story plain and simple. Set in a gritty, grimy world layered with a thin veneer of honor and a thick layer of survival, our six criminals have grown up before their time.

“Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.
“The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch. You take his attention and direct it where you want it to go.”

The Crew

“When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.”

Kaz “Dirtyhands” has been on the streets since he was a kid. His ingenuity and self-serving mentality have taken a down and out street gang (The Dregs) to the top of the crime ring in Ketterdam. But this is not enough for Kaz, he has one goal in mind: REVENGE. (view spoiler) And, Kaz does not mince actions or words. He is of the Capone/Swordfish mentality, you bomb one church he nukes your country. There is no half measures for this guy.

“Besides, she was the Wraith-the only law that applied to her was gravity, and some days she defied that, too”

Inej is the Wraith. Stolen from her home as a child and sent to a brothel, her lightness of foot and silent manner bought her way out of a career that would have destroyed her…of course her current career as spy and assassin for Kaz is not doing her any longevity favors. Inej is probably my favorite character from this book. She is tortured by her past and yet continues to seek the good in everyone- even her demented mentor. The Wraith is feared on the streets but the empowerment that the fear gives Inej is no longer enough. Soon she will have to decide if the life of a master spy is the one for her. Both conscious and mother of the group, Inej is the light in the darkness of gang life.

“Oh, I see. I’m the wicked Grisha seductress. I have beguiled you with my Grisha wiles!”
She poked him in the chest.
“Stop that.”
“No. I’m beguiling you.”

Nina is a Grisha exiled by her own decisions. She seeks one goal: to right the wrong she committed in her naivety against the one person she had come to care for. Trained in the Grisha art of war, she found herself trapped in enemy territory. But in that territory she found the one man she could truly trust and then she betrayed him. She bought her exile with The Dregs her skill as heartrender and tailor. It is her skill, and her mistake, that will give our crew of misfits the “in” that they need for the heist of a lifetime.

“I have been made to protect you. Only in death will I be kept from this oath. It was the vow of the Drüskelle to Fjerda.”

Matthias is a former Drüskelle from Fjerda trapped in his dishonor by Nina. An inherently honorable man, he struggles with his feelings for Nina (the Grisha are Fjerda’s enemies,) his need for vengeance for Nina’s betrayal, and the dishonorable bargain he must make for his freedom.

“If any of you survive, make sure I have an open casket. The world deserves a few more moments with this face.”

Jesper is a gambler with a natural affinity for guns…but no affinity with gambling. He is deep in debt with every Boss in the Barrel. Even with his never ending banter, he will not be able to talk his way out of death if he does not pay up soon. He walks a tight rope between staying loyal and Kaz and feeding his addiction. Lucky for him, he has a skill that Kaz highly values.

“Wylan, your thoughts have taken a very dark turn. I fear the Dregs may be a bad influence.”

Wylan is the runt of the litter. He is runaway from a predominate family, amateur explosives expert, and pseudo hostage in a game with high stakes. Wylan is not quite certain where he fits in with this tortured band of psychotic megalomaniacs, but he knows that he has no interest in returning to his past. This is his chance to prove to himself and Kaz that despite his compassion and innocence, there is more to him than meets the eye.

The Heist

“How do you get your information, Mister Brekker?”
“You might say I’m a lockpick.”
“You must be a very gifted one.”
“I am indeed.” Kaz leaned back slightly. “You see, every man is a safe, a vault of secrets and longings. Now, there are those who take the brute’s way, but I prefer a gentler approach – the right pressure applied at the right moment, in the right place. It’s a delicate thing.”
“Do you always speak in metaphors, Mister Brekker?”
Kaz smiled. “It’s not a metaphor.”
He was out of his chair before his chains hit the ground.”

Jan Van Eck gets the drop on Kaz one dark and grimy night in the Barrel in order to hire him for a job. No one gets the drop on Kaz. But the young renegade decides that the offer is worth the assault to his dignity (after carefully helping himself to a few of the merchant’s valuables.) The job is to go deep in into the Fjerda stronghold, the Ice Court, to rescue Bo Yul-Bayur. Bo has come up with a way to keep Grisha malleable while upping their power considerably. This is a power that the merchants, the controllers of the city, want to control. Kaz will need to come up with something both daring and devious to complete this mission because no one has ever penetrated the stronghold and lived to tell about it. The score? Enough to set up our criminals for the rest of their natural lives…even if they are longer than the typical Barrel rat.

“Pretty sure most of us don’t have ‘stalwart’ or ‘true’ checked off on our resumes.”

The world was well a despicable labyrinth that mixed knives and guns, magic and technology, philosophy and social issues in a well-developed atmosphere. You could practically smell the garbage littered along the Barrel’s alleys. The world was enhanced by the development of the characters. The interaction between characters was highly fun and natural. Reading this book was easy and before I knew it, it was 3am and I was still glued to the pages.

My biggest problem is that these characters were around 17 years old. That is right, they were teenagers. While I do buy into the fact that teenagers grow up a lot faster on the streets–these kids did not think like kids. Their thought processes and actions reflected individuals years older. Even how they referenced each other lent itself to believing that they were years ahead of their actual ages.

“Who’d deny a poor cripple his cane?”
“If the cripple is you, then any man with sense.”

Still, if that was my biggest gripe in this action back adventure across a world full of magic and rifles, it really does not seem much like a problem at all. In fact, I cannot wait until the next installment! The cliffhanger was well done!

“If it were a trick, I’d promise you safety. I’d offer you happiness. I don’t know if that exists in the Barrel, but you’ll find none of it with me.”

“Brick by brick, I will destroy you.”

“The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.”