Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Six of Crows Duology (including Six of Crows, #1 and The Crooked Kingdom, #2)

The Six of Crows duology is comprised Six of Crows (#1) and Crooked Kingdom (#2).  Six of Crows is set following the events of the Grisha trilogy (aka the Shadow and Bones trilogy), also written by Leigh Bardugo.  

To preserve the book timeline and avoid spoilers, it is best to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy (reviewed here) followed by the Six of Crows duology.

I had a lot of time to read this summer (hallelujah) and fell headlong into all things Leigh Bardugo, so I've decided not to torture you and included both books in this review.  You'll find our review of Crooked Kingdom just below our review of Six of Crows.  

Happy scrolling!

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Summary: 
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

Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction -- if they don't kill each other first. 

(Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

A NOTE:  Although wildly popular in its own right, Six of Crows has found renewed success with the release of Netflix smash hit series Shadow and Bone (2021), which incorporates several of the characters from Six of Crows operating within the Shadow and Bone timeline.  I plan to discuss both story mediums later in my review, but first I'd like to focus solely on the book version. 

My Review:  Have you ever picked up a book and known within minutes that you're going cover-to-cover?  The stars have aligned, there's nothing else on the agenda, and you feel it in your bones; today is the day.  That's how I felt when I picked up Six of Crows.

First off, Six of Crows is literally gorgeous.  The silver-toned hardcover is stunning -- I especially love the font -- but that's really just the beginning.  It's the first book I've ever read where the edge of the paper (the part of the text that is visible when the book is closed) is completely black.  It makes the book look rather sinister, which is entirely fitting.  Open the book, expecting more black, and the inside cover (or endpaper) is a vibrant red, the only color in the entire book if you don't count the subtext on the front cover which reads: Six dangerous outcasts.  One impossible heist.  Throw in a few beautifully rendered maps (I'm a sucker for those) and, I mean, how could I not read this book ?

Six of Crows tells the story of Kaz Brekker, a brilliant but ruthless conman with a skilled crew of cutthroats, sneak thieves, and spies at his disposal.  Kaz and his associates make their own way in a brutal world, trading in secrets, stealing for their own gain, and never looking back. When the Merchant Council hires the crew to retrieve a high-value target from the clutches of the Fjerdan Ice Court, they jump at the chance to earn a small fortune.  As the group attempts to infiltrate the enemy stronghold, problems of the hell-in-a-handbasket variety arise.  Thankfully, if there is one area in which Kaz excels, it's improvisation. 

Where the Shadow and Bone series gave readers access to the upper echelons of Ravkan society, Six of Crows dives deep into the Barrel, the roughest sector of Ketterdam on the isle of Kerch.  Bardugo uses five main characters to narrate the story and, at least initially, doesn't offer much in the way of explanation or character introduction.  I was a little confused at first -- like, am I supposed to know what happened between these two characters? -- but soon realized that Bardugo was weaving backstory into the present predicament, revealing each character more fully as the plot progressed.  I began to look forward to these revelations as they often gave me a greater empathy for the characters and an entirely new perspective on the story.  Overall, Bardugo's writing is strong, brimming with fascinating characters and a thoroughly unpredictable plot that held my attention from start to finish.  

I would give this book 5 Stars based solely on its entertainment value and nothing else.  It never stopped moving -- ambushes and escapes, romance and betrayal, hidden agendas, explosions, trickery, and shenanigans galore. Some books have one plot twist, maybe two; this one had a gazillion.* I never knew what the plot was going to do and I loved it.  Add to that excitement some thoroughly engaging characters with some fairly spectacular chemistry, and you have a book that is nearly impossible to put down.  The main characters -- Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, and Matthias -- are complex and relatable, and I love them all for too many reasons to innumerate here. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd probably land on either Inej or Nina (but probably Inej) because they are just too cool for words.  The character arcs and interactions were an absolute pleasure, often humorous, and for those with a romantic bent, there are plenty of 'ships' to sail on, if you know what I mean.

The list of things I didn't like about Six of Crows is rather short and mostly has to do with things I feel obligated to write about in the 'sensitive reader' section.  Overall, I think it was quite tame for what the genre has become but there are a few situations that contain slightly adult themes that could potentially lead to more adult themes in the next book.  There is also a little bit of profanity, some innuendo and non-graphic discussion of brothels (and the things that happen there).  

Overall, I loved my time with Six of Crows, getting to know the characters and follow along on their adventure.  It was fairly intense and though the ending offered some resolution, it left several loose ends that will hopefully see some tying in the next book.  Readers who are chomping at the bit after having devoured the Grisha trilogy and binged the first season of Shadow and Bone, should definitely put Six of Crows at the top of your TBRs.  I am desperately trying to finish this review so that I can *allow* myself to start the next book, Crooked Kingdom.  I am in line for a hard copy at the library (my preference) but I also checked it out on ebook and audiobook, just in case, because I am not waiting.

*okay, sliiiiight exaggeration.  But you get the idea.

My Rating (of the book):  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some violence.  A handful of swear words.  Some innuendo, discussion of brothels, and what occurs there.  There is a flirtation between two male characters.  For the most part, everyone's clothes stayed on unless it was absolutely necessary for the conservation of body heat.  

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You can scroll right over this next bit and head straight to CROOKED KINGDOM, if you aren't interested in how the Grishaverse books relate to the Netflix series.

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THE GRISHABOOKVERSE & THE NETFLIX SERIES

As someone who read the Grisha trilogy and watched the first season of Shadow and Bone prior to reading Six of Crows, I wanted to make a few post-review comments about how the story mediums relate to each other and my experience with them.    

In the book series, Six of Crows is set several years after the events of the Grisha trilogy.  Other than a shared history and a few minor characters, the two books don't interact much.  Not so with the Netflix series, which blends the characters from both series together in one season.  Thankfully, people who have seen the show first do not need to be worried about reading the same story in print (which is chronologically impossible anyway); the gang is on a new adventure. The Netflix series does not 'spoil' the Six of Crows experience, nor does the Six of Crows experience spoil the Netflix series.  It's all rather cleverly put together so that each story medium adds to the enjoyment of the other.  I was delighted to see some of my favorite Crow moments from the Netflix show appear on the page in the form of character backstory, but not all of the backstory makes it onto the screen (at least, it hasn't yet), so readers still receive a bigger dish on all the characters.  

As I was reading Six of Crows, I started to recognize aspects of the show that I hadn't realized were nods to the book when I watched it (There are so many).  Now that I've read the book, I've gone back and watched the series again (yup, I did that) and I have found even more, as well as some fore-shadowing that I did not pick up on.  Six of Crows and the Grisha trilogy have vibrant characters and the show honors that achievement with incredible casting (even if the show aged them up a bit) and creative blend of both stories.  Fans of the show will see some of their favorite 'scenes' played out on the page and see some of their favorite Ketterdam characters in a whole new light.  Personally, I plan to keep reading my way through the Grishaverse, but I am also rather excited to see more of the story play out in the Netflix series.  

___________CROOKED KINGDOM____________


Summary
: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive.  But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives.  Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope.  As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the teams fragile loyalties.  A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets -- a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

WARNING:  Six of Crows doesn't spoil much of the Shadow and Bone trilogy (aka Grisha trilogy), but Crooked Kingdom goes a bit further.  Four characters from the original S&B trilogy make an appearance, so it's obvious they don't kick the bucket in the other series.  What can I say?  If you don't want those spoilers, I suggest reading S&B first.

My Review:  After the events of Six of Crows, I was desperate to read the sequel, Crooked Kingdom.  I thought I might read it straight through like Crows, but ended up having to take a break halfway through, partly because I wanted the story to last a little longer and partly because, a certain someone was in imminent peril and I needed to calm down a little. It was so intense! Just when I thought the story would zig -- it zagged.  Just when I though the crew was in the clear -- betrayal, explosion, imminent peril!  And, for a book that isn't really billed as humor, I sure laughed my butt off! 

Crooked Kingdom picks up soon after the events of Six of Crows -- Kaz and the Dregs have been betrayed and the Wraith has been taken.  Kaz is determined to rescue her, recoup the crews lost bounty, and exact bitter vengeance by ruining both Van Eck and his arch nemesis Pekka Rollins. Meanwhile, someone or something is hunting Grisha, Matthias is worried about Nina (who is battling parem withdrawl), Jesper's past comes back to haunt him, Wylan's got a new face, and Inej is, well, busy trying to escape her captors.  On top of that, all the major players are intent on 'acquiring' Kuwei and the secrets he might hold. When the unthinkable occurs and it seems like all is lost, Dirtyhands must decide -- should he cut and run or stay and fight?  

Crooked Kingdom has a lot going on.  Like, a lot a lot.  Kaz's plans usually have a million moving parts and a million contingencies* that require the crew to pair off or split up and go their separate ways.  This means keeping track of who is doing what, where, and why.   Thankfully, this book has a gorgeous map of Ketterdam that makes it all a little easier. The story is told from a variety of viewpoints, including all the main characters from Six of Crows and one familiar addition.  As with her other novels, Bardugo continues to offer illuminating backstory and knows exactly how to end a chapter in a way that makes for riveting late-night reading.  Even though much of the story is action, there's still plenty of time for humorous banter, and some slow burn romance on a variety of 'ships'.  

I probably sound like a broken record by now (if you've read my Crows review), but I don't know if I can adequately convey how much I love Bardugo's characters, so I guess I'm just going to keep saying it -- I love them.  There were so many moments when these characters would say or do something that had me howling with delight and/or proclaiming my adoration of them to all within earshot.  For me, the story is sweet but the characters are golden.  Excuse me while I elaborate.

Kaz is billed as this hard-edged, no-nonsense criminal, who schemes faster than you can say 'Ketterdam,' but under all that sharpness, he's actually incredibly sweet (though he would strongly object to that characterization).  Despite his attempts to be stubbornly unknowable, it becomes clear to the reader (if no one else) that Kaz Brekker actually cares about his crew and what happens to them, especially *ahem* if they happen to have long dark hair and an affinity for knives.  

Speaking of knife-wielding warriors, Inej is equal parts strength and, in this book, vulnerability.  She's incredibly skilled, principled, and devoted to helping others, but is dealing with her own personal trauma and finds herself in a position that makes her question her value to the crew and to Kaz.  Her devotion to Kaz, and his to her, is the stuff of legend.  All I will say is that if certain 'Kanej' moments from this book don't somehow make their way onto Netflix's Shadow and Bone, someone is getting an angry letter.  

Jesper's backstory gets a major boost in Crooked Kingdom and I felt like I got to know his character so much better.  He is infinitely more than a charismatic sharp-shooter or gambling addict and this time around we find out why.  When a figure from his past comes sniffing around, a whole new window into Jesper's world opens up and I loved the insight it offered into his character.

Watching Nina and Matthias interact was one of the highlights of this book.  Bardugo's phrasing made me laugh so hard, my daughter actually came upstairs to ask me why I was, in her words, 'cackling'. Matthias is this intense but honorable guy, utterly devoted to Nina, who is headstrong, intelligent, and, on occasion, wildly inappropriate.  He is nearly incapable of subterfuge and she could sell glasses to a blind man in six different languages.  Together, they are the oddest sort of couple and yet, it works.  

By now, you're used to me singing the praises of all things Bardugo, but there were a few aspects of Crooked Kingdom that fell a little flat for me (hence the lower rating).  Even though I liked his basic storyline, Wylan was the character that I connected with the least.  I always felt like he was on the fringe of the group despite his presence in the narrative line-up.  I was unable to picture Wylan as anything other than a young boy in his early teens, whereas the other characters appear significantly older in my head (thanks to Netflix casting 23-39 year old actors).  This mental 'age gap' wasn't really a problem in the overall story until he ends up kissing someone and then, well, it wasn't my cup of tea. On that note, there were some more 'adult' thematic elements that I could have lived without (see 'sensitive reader' section), a minor villain or two that seemed superfluous, and one devastating event that I am actively attempting scrub from my memory.  Thanks to an accidental Instagram spoiler, I spent the whole book bracing myself for it.  All I will say is, not everyone gets their happily ever after. Prepare yourself for some bitterness amidst the sweet.  

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Crooked Kingdom.  The story offers resolution to the main conflict, but also leaves the author room to tell other stories.  As it relates to Netflix's Shadow and Bones series, I'm hopeful I will get to see some of my favorite moments from this book played out on screen.  Although I am forced to wait a while to see if those prayers are answered, I don't have to wait to read more in the Grishaverse.  King of Scars is sitting right next to me, calling my name. It's sequel, Rule of Wolves, will be joining us shortly.

*slight exaggeration

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Violence.  Some profanity (5-10 instances, give or take).   A man and a woman kiss and later make out (clothes stay on).  Some same gender and cross-gender flirtation.  Two men kiss, twice (non-graphic).   Some innuendo, discussion of dead bodies, human trafficking, brothels, and rape (not overly graphic but potentially triggering).

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