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Of Vice & Violence

January 17, 2021

Six of Crows- Leigh Bardugo 
Thriller, Adventure

“When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.”
In Six of Crows, The winding streets of Ketterdam carry with them mystery, deceit and half-truths; where gangs squabble over the ever-flowing coin of tourists, and trade happens in everything from flowers to flesh. A den of vice and not nearly enough virtue is where the story of Kaz Brekker opens. Seventeen year old Dirtyhands, infamous for a lack of conscience and no job being too immoral for the right price. Kaz is a cripple, a boy whose backstory is as gruesome as the crimes he commits; simply the perfect antihero to lead a heist into one of the most ancient strongholds to retrieve a valuable prisoner. A canal rat, governed by nothing more than vengeance and spite unites a crew whose abilities make the grand infiltration possible. 

Kaz and his crew are all driven by unique motivations and histories, yet when they are offered tens of millions to break into the 'Ice Court' of Fjerda to retrieve the political prisoner Bo Yul Bayur, they are united in a cause. Brekker assembles a crew that is desperate and daring; a crew unwilling to shy away from the real possibility that they may never return from this heist. The expertise of each member aids Brekker in his ruthless scheming to invade the Ice Court and wrest Yul Bayur right from under the iron-fisted Fjerdans.

The story is told from the perspective of Brekker and his crew of five: Inej Ghafa, an acrobat sold into slavery at fourteen; Jesper Fahey, a sharpshooter, neck-deep in debt; Wylan Van Eck, a demolitionist, hunted by his own father for his shortcomings; Nina Zenik, a Heartrender who can rupture brains with a raise of her wrists; and Matthias Helvar, a soldier driven by his unwavering patriotism. Multiple perspective stories are often too overwhelming for me to comprehend, yet, Six of Crows is written with such finesse that each character's unique frame of mind only serves to add depth to each storyline. Leigh Bardugo brought to life a cast that is a reflection of what any group of humans fundamentally are- a ragtag collection of fears, hopes, and desires. Through the crew, Bardugo opens up a complicated conversation about slavery, addiction, and mental illnesses in such a way that gives the necessary respect to each complex struggle. As someone who has difficulty relating to characters, it was quite liberating to see some of my own self reflected in each character of this story. Inej and her struggle with finding her purpose, Matthias being blinded by the love he holds for his people; these are both struggles I have also encountered. It was truly a remarkable feat, how I was able to pick up this novel again and again, yet feel connected to a different characters' story every single time. Nevertheless, Bardugo’s literary panache is so profound that even with the elaborate characters' storylines, the main plot of the story is never lost.

Primarily, the universe of Six of Crows revolves around the impossible heist. There is nothing I love more than a story I can solve alongside the protagonists of a novel, and Bardugo delivers the plot for readers to decipher on a silver platter. Kaz is able to look at the Ice Court like the thief he is, and crafts a plan whose success balances upon the crew's deviousness and cunning. Getting locked into prison, climbing through a burning Incinerator, and stealing a scientist worth his weight in gold are all pieces of Kaz's scheme that take place as the story evolves. It is truly a testament to the brilliance of Leigh Bardugo, to be able to create such an intricate scheme that rests solely on the logic of a criminal mind.

The heart of this book is built upon the dynamics and discourse between the six characters. Each of them guard their own stories, and as the chapters alternate between the different perspectives, we get to see the narrator's voice shift flawlessly from one character to another. The language changes so distinctly that it is quite easy to tell apart Inej's steady, calm narration from Nina's satirical, witty voice. It is incredibly endearing to witness these thugs, killers, and canal rats grow to love and care for one another, entrusting each other with their lives, and then some. The characters' bond and banter is one of the foundational pillars of the story. 

"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 multi-dimensional characters, the ingenious heist, and the phenomenal dialogue work together to create a story that is the only book I have ever read for which I have taken the time dedicated to read, and read again multiple times; memorizing entire passages of story as if it were gospel. The morally grey characters, the merciless scheming of Kaz Brekker, the setting in a country where the religion is profit and law is trade helps lay the groundwork for a tale of justice, greed, and desperation. Six of Crows is the perfect balance of fantasy and reality, it offers an escape from the mortal world, yet retains enough humanity that it is still reflective of the reader's own struggles. “When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.” is a quote reflective of the root of the story, of how Kaz Brekker earned his reputation, and why exactly he did so. I would recommend this book to fans of the Kingsmen and Ocean's series plotlines, and fans of the Shadowhunter universe's dialogue. 


 

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