Book Review | Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Genre : Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy Fiction
Date Published : September 29, 2015
Publisher : Henry Holt and Company

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows (the first in a duology) was lended to me by Emory when she came down to visit in February, because, as she put it many times, “You’re going to love it!” (And spoiler alert, I 100% did). Reading Six of Crows made me so grateful that Emory and I started this blog, because I honestly don’t know when I would I have read the book if we didn’t. When she initially lent it to me, I was still in my spring semester of classes, then after that I started a new job and internship, and I think if I didn’t have a deadline to stick to, I wouldn’t have been motivated to pick up a book and read it. But once I picked up Six of Crows, I didn’t want to put it down, and I sped through it in a span of four days and already want to read it again!

When I first started the book and found out that it was told through a total of six different viewpoints (with the opening and closing chapters being told through the POV of two minor characters) I did have an “oh no” moment, because getting into the minds of even more than two characters can sometimes be difficult. But Bardugo more than pulls it off, and utilizes the shifting POV to show that characters are not only keeping secrets from each other, but from the reader as well. And what is even more impressive is that I found myself equally invested in everyone’s chapters, never wanting to speed through one character’s chapter to skip to the next one (which I often find myself doing in multiple POV books).

The six main characters are made of up Kaz, an infamous thief known as Dirtyhands, Inej, a spy who is known as “The Wraith” because of her incredible stealth, Wylan, the rich kid of the group who also has impressive engineering skills, Jesper, a sharpshooter who spends a lot of time gambling or flirting with Wylan, Nina, a Heartrender in the Grisha army, and Matthias, a Grisha hunter (who, you know, of course has a crush on Nina). It’s an eclectic and diverse group, and Bardugo not only includes LGBTQ+ characters and characters with disabilities within it, but showcases them (which is something that is severely underused in the fantasy genre). I was worried going into the book that there were going to be too many characters to juggle, but Bardugo’s knowledge and love of her characters is clear throughout the entire novel, making it easy for a reader to care about the characters just as much.

This group of six criminals are pulled into a plot that sets up a classic heist story that I am 100% on board for. There a secrets and betrayals and plot twists, but also banter and romance and action, and none of it ever felt overwhelming or unnecessary, because Bardugo goes to great lengths to give each character depth and a backstory that explains their actions. What’s even more impressive is how amoral all of the characters are, and yet, you still care about them! And the prose is just as good as the plot – Bardugo is a master storyteller, and I was honestly blown away by this book in almost every aspect.

“Nina made herself face them. She had her reasons, but did they matter? And who were they to judge her? She straightened her spine, lifted her chin. She was a member of the Dregs, an employee of the White Rose, and occasionally a foolish girl, but before anything else she was a Grisha and a soldier.”

Chapter 30, page 244

It’s almost hard for me to pick a favorite character, but I have to say that Nina was the standout for me (with Kaz and Inej close behind). While her storyline did revolve around romance a little too much for my taste at times, Nina is still the character I wanted to follow into another adventure after finishing the book. She’s complex and she’s tough and, as the above quote shows, she can also be “a foolish girl” sometimes. She’s also one of the funnier characters in the book, with lines that had me laughing out loud. Her love of food (especially waffles!) and her terrible singing voice were additional traits that made her super relatable to me. It was so refreshing to meet a character that is made up of all of these things, because it made her feel incredibly real. I definitely wouldn’t complain if Bardugo were to do a spin-off with Nina as the main character!

Six of Crows technically takes place in the same world as Bardugo’s Grishaverse books, but in a different time frame and location, so it can be read as a standalone. There were a few worldbuilding details and language/vocabulary that I was confused by, but overall you don’t need to be familiar with Bardugo’s other works to love this one. And I did love it! When a book has a big, dysfunctional group of amazing characters going on one big adventure together – there’s nothing that hooks me faster! I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, Crooked Kingdom (Hey, Emory, mail it to me!!! Lol).

My rating:

9 crows out of 10

-Sara

Book Review | King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Genre : Fantasy, Young Adult
Date Published : January 29, 2019
Publisher : Macmillan

I first heard of Leigh Bardugo when I attended the amazing Sirens conference in October 2018. Bardugo was one of four amazing keynote speakers at the conference, and I immediately fell for this extremely witty, badass, and inspiring writer. She talked about Mediocre White Men, the extra work that women have to put into the world in order to be seen and heard, and how it’s never too late to chase your dreams of being a writer. I was (and continue to be) blown away by her honesty and openness about the writing and publishing world ~ and if you don’t follow her already on Twitter, you absolutely should.

During Bedtime Stories on the first night of Sirens, Bardugo read an excerpt from her (then) forthcoming book, King of Scars, the first installment in the Nikolai Duology. It was HILARIOUS and cheeky and I was just so taken with her that I vowed to read everything Bardugo had ever written. In the talkback after her keynote, someone in the audience asked what order they should reader her books in if they were new to the Grishaverse. Bardugo responded: Start with Six of Crows, then Crooked Kingdom, then King of Scars – and if you’re still in love after reading those books, go back and read the Shadow & Bone Trilogy. Following her suggestion, I devoured Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in just a few weeks (they were SO GOOD!!), then waited (im)patiently for King of Scars to release in January.

Like the Six of Crows duology, King of Scars is written in shifting POVs, this time following the stories of Nikolai Lantsov (King of Ravka/monster boy), Zoya Nazyalensky (Grisha general/general badass), Nina Zenik (Waffle-lover/Death witch/My One True Love), and Isaak (Ravkan soldier/total sweetie pie). Nikolai and Zoya’s storylines flow together, following them as they work to maintain peace, stability, and power in Ravka – all while searching for a cure to the curse that turns Nikolai into a bloodthirsty monster when he falls asleep at night. Nina’s storyline is a bit disconnected (physically and thematically) from the others, following her on her mission as an undercover agent in Fjerda, where she is helping Grisha refugees flee to Ravka.

“The monster is me and I am the monster.”

Chapter 30, page 446

King of Scars is a hefty book – at just over 500 pages, it was the longest book I’d read in awhile, and it took me about two weeks to get through. I was a bit intimidated by the length at first, but Bardugo paces the novel so expertly that it never felt like it was dragging (if anything, by the time I was finished I was wishing there were even more chapters to read!). There were a few moments while reading where I wondered if it would have been better to start with Shadow & Bone trilogy first, making the moments dealing with Ravkan history and the Darkling a bit more more digestible. Luckily, Bardugo does such an excellent job at positioning us in the story that I never felt truly overwhelmed by the worldbuilding (looking at you, Lord of the Rings).

The one issue I had with King of Scars was the sometimes overwhelmingly large cast of characters (I still can’t keep the twins Tolya and Tamar straight) but each character is so lovingly constructed that, in the end, I was OK with it. Bardugo makes everything so goddamn enjoyable to read that any issues I had quickly faded into the background as I read on to find out what happened next.

We briefly met Nikolai and Zoya in Crooked Kingdom, and I loved learning more about these characters up close. Zoya is so fierce and amazing and I loved watching her come into her power and learn more about her backstory. Nikolai is such an absolute doll, and all of his interactions with Zoya were a delight to read. Even though Nina’s chapters sometimes felt separate from the story as a whole, they were probably my favorite chapters to read – they made me so nostalgic for Six of Crows! I loved watching Nina learn more about her new Grisha powers – and I am so very excited about her blossoming crush and friendship with Hanna.

The tension in Nina’s storyline was heightened by the reintroduction of Jarl Brum – the baddie from Six of Crows, and one of the most terrifying villains I’ve read in awhile (even moreso than the Darkling). I’m eager to see how Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina’s storylines converge in the next installment in the series – I can already tell it’s going to be amazing. While I wait for the second book, I definitely plan on catching up on the Shadow & Bone trilogy and then snatching up Bardugo’s new thriller Ninth House when it comes out this October!

If you’re already in love with the Grishaverse, King of Scars definitely does not disappoint. If you’re looking for a new series to read, I highly recommend starting first with Six of Crows and then working your way to King of Scars. Trust me – it is so very worth it.

My rating:

9 Ketterdam waffles out of 10

-Emory