Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

TL;DR – In the world of Grisha (individuals with magic powers), there is rumour of a drug known as Jurda Parem surfacing in Ketterdam. The drug enhances Grisha powers exponentially but at a terrible cost. The Grisha becomes addicted to Parem and will eventually die from it.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Kaz Brekker (leader of the Dregs) is hired by merchant, Jan Van Eck, to rescue Bo Yul-Bayur, the inventor of jurda parem (an addictive drug that kills Grisha while temporarily amplifying their magical powers). Bo Yul-Bayur is being held at the Ice Court, the stronghold and capital of Fjerda. No one has ever breached the stronghold and lived to tell the tale, so Kaz demands an enormous sum to undertake the mission. He also trusts Van Eck about as far as he can kick him with his dodgy leg (Kaz uses a crow’s head cane), so he convinces Van Eck to have his son, Wylan, join his crew on this mission as Wylan has a talent as a demolitions expert.

Kaz and crew infiltrate the Ice Court and discover that Bo Yul-Bayur is dead. Instead, his son, Kuwei Yul-Bo is being made to make parem in his father’s shoes. Kaz and crew, along with Kuwei Yul-Bo, manage to escape and return to Ketterdam only to be betrayed by Van Eck who reneges on their deal.

The ensuing stand off reveals that Van Eck does not care that Kaz has his son because he has disowned Wylan from the family for being unable to read and could never run the family business. Van Eck thinking he has Kuwei Yul-Bo in his possession discovers that it is actually Wylan who has been made to look like the scientist through the use of Grisha magic. Enraged he captures Inej (Kaz’s assassin and expert spy for the Dregs) and gives Kaz a week to deliver the real Kuwei Yul-Bo otherwise he will torture Inej.

Thus ends book one of the Six of Crows duology. The story concludes in the Crooked Kingdom.

Review

While Shadow and Bone introduced us to the Grishaverse and the wonderful imagination of Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows delves into characters that I found far more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading about Alina Starkov, Mal Orestev and the Darkling, and you can go to my book reviews page to see what I thought of Shadow and Bone. But in Six of Crows, Bardugo introduces us to a cast of characters that are a delight to read.

There is Inej Ghafa, a Suli spy known as the Wraith. She has acrobatic skills and a set of throwing knives that she names and uses with deadly accuracy.

Jesper Fahey is meant to be studying at a university funded by his goodwill farmer father, Colm Fahey. However, he develops a gambling addiction and falls into severe debt. He is an expert marksman and carries two pearl handled revolvers wherever he goes.

Wylan Van Eck is the son of a wealthy merchant, but is disowned by his father because he struggles in his studies and cannot read (turns out he’s dyslexic, but his father deems him a failure even though he is good at maths and music). Wylan also has an aptitude for making chemical bombs.

Matthias Helver is a Fjerdan witch hunter and has been taught to hate and kill Grisha. He is strong, muscular and reminds me of a Viking (which I am sure is where Bardugo drew inspiration when creating the country of Fjerda).

Nina Zenik is a Grisha Heartrender who has a complicated relationship with Matthias Helvar. She initially served the Ravkan second army but is captured by Matthias and his fellow drüskelle (Fjerda holy soldiers that hunt Grisha) and is thrown in a cage with other Grisha aboard a ship. The ship sinks during a massive storm and she saves Matthias from drowning using her Heartrender abilities. Forced to work together to survive, they slowly develop an attraction to one another though their world views often bring them into conflict. This is made worse when Matthias believes Nina betrays him and is sent to Hellgate (a prison) even though she did it to save his life.

This motley crew are the primary characters that make up the Dregs led by Kaz Brekker.

And it is Kaz that is the pièce de résistance. In Kaz, we have a multi-layered character that has a backstory as intriguing and complicated as the rest of the Dregs if not more so. Bardugo has created a lead that will have you wanting to digest every little detail to decipher what might be going through Kaz’s head.

The plans and safeguards he hatches, and how he uses the individual skills and talents of those around him is done with calculated brilliance. His motives and drive are slowly revealed throughout the book, and you will come to understand that he is a survivor driven to see the downfall of Pekka Rollins (leader of the Dime Lions and rival to the Dregs). Rollins used Kaz and his older brother, Jordie Rietveld, when they were younger and conned them out of everything they owned, leaving them to live a life of poverty on the streets of Ketterdam. Jordie later died of a plague that tore through the city, and Kaz sees Rollins as the man responsible for Jordie’s death.

Six of Crows builds upon the established world created by Bardugo in Shadow and Bone and will have fans eagerly awaiting for further tales from the Grishaverse. I devoured this book with a hunger that matches Kaz’s thirst for revenge on Rollins. Onto the Crooked Kingdom for the conclusion of this magnificent duology.

4.5 out of 5.

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