Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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 that could make him 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. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

Let's start with a confession: of the books in the original Grisha trilogy I have still only read the first book, Shadow and Bone. It was a book that I didn't quite love, but really enjoyed nonetheless, and I honestly meant to find the time to read the remaining books in the trilogy. However, with my main focus being middle grade these days that time has still to be found. Damn it! There are just far too many great sounding books being published these days! It may seem odd to some then that when a surprise proof of Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo's new Grisha novel, arrived in the post I actually felt a frisson of excitement and it didn't sit on my TBR pile for long at all before I decided to read it.

It's easy for me to explain this excitement. First up, I attended an event that Leigh Bardugo did in London last year, and it was one of the most enjoyable single author events that I have been to in the past few years. At that event Leigh talked briefly about her next project, the book that is now called Six of Crows, and my interest was well and truly piqued. You see, I LOVE heist stories and despite their popularity on the big and small screens, there just don't seem to be enough of them around in book form. Apart from Jack Heath's fab Money Run and Hit List, and Peter Jay Black's brilliant Urban Outlaws series I can't think of any others. Unless that it just my poor, tired brain being uber forgetful.

And not only is Six of Crows a fantastic heist story, it is also a darn good fantasy novel as well. In fact, it is one of the best books I have read this year which is testament to Bardugo's skill as a writer as there are so many elements that could have made this all go wrong, and perhaps this is why there are so few heist stories out there. A great heist needs a strong team to carry it out (think Ocean's 11, Leverage), and novels with too many lead characters can often become confusing or plodding. Not in this case. Not only are there six main characters, but the chapters also jump between POVs. This is not a technique that I am particularly fond of but in this case it works perfectly. Each chapter is headed with the name of its focus character, and after the first couple of chapters following this becomes second nature.

Of course, readers want to know as much about their lead character(s) as possible, and this includes back story: the experiences, trials and tribulations that have made them as they are when they first appear in the story. With six characters to focus on any one or more of them could have easily faded into the background as little more than a bit player with no history, and yet this never happens. I found it very easy to become attached to each and every one of them, and if we are honest, in a good heist story we are always rooting for every member of the team to make it through to the successful conclusion of the caper. This attachment came partly through the way Leigh Bardugo drip-feeds us with their back histories, and as the story progresses their various motivations become more and more apparent and important.

And then there is the world-building. With a great plot and fantastic characters, would this be the element that suffered? Not at all. As I have said, I have only read Shadow and Bone with its Tsarist Russian inspired Ravka, and I have no idea if more of the world outside of Ravka is shown in the sequels. However, Six of Crows is initially set in a wonderfully Ketterdam, a city that to me seemed to have a hint of the Netherlands, before the action moves to the snow covered Scandinavian-ish Fjerda (apologies if I'm sounding ridiculously uninformed to all those huge Grisha fans out there). I'm no fantasy aficionado but I very quickly got sucked into the sights, sounds and smells of Bardugo's world and it stayed with me for some time after I had finished the book (which, by the way, ends with more than a few strands left untied, setting us up for what I hope will be an equally brilliant sequel).

I guess I've made it pretty obvious that you don't have to have read the Grisha trilogy to enjoy this book. Having read Shadow and Bone I was already aware of the Grisha 'magic' and I guess this did slightly enhance my understanding of some of the plot strands, but it certainly isn't essential. I've already said I enjoyed Shadow and Bone, but with it's mix of The Dirty Dozen, Leverage and The Lies of Locke Lamora I really, truly loved Six of Crows. Definitely one of my books of 2015.

Six of Crows was published in the UK today and my thanks go to those wonderful people at Indigo for sending me a copy.


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