I chose to review these books as a duology rather than as individual books since I essentially read them back-to-back. This is a spoiler-free review.
Kaz Brekker is offered a fortune to pull off an impossible hiest — he is to break a political prisoner out of the Ice Palace, an impenetrable fortress has never been breached. If anyone is going to do it, it’s ‘Dirtyhands’. He pulls his team together — The Wraith, who specialises in stealing secrets from the shadows; the Grisha Heartrender, who can stop a man’s heartbeat with the flick of her wrist; the sharpshooter, who loves to play the odds; the convict, a man who hunts and executes Grisha; and the budding demolitionist, desperate to hide from his past. Together, they could pull off the crime of the century, but danger and betrayal lurk behind every corner and they must survive in order to enjoy their reward.
I’ve been thinking that some of the most innovative fantasy over the past few years has been coming from the YA genre and the Six of Crows duology is certainly evidence of that. These two books are absolutely amazing. Seriously, they’re some of the best fantasy I’ve read in ages. Instead of rambling for pages and pages, I’ll list my pros and cons of the series:
A real, actual, believable female friendship
I didn’t realise how few female friendships I had read in fantasy, and probably in general, until this series. A believable friendship between women, particularly badass women, is like a freaking unicorn. Inej and Nina are not catty with each other, they aren’t enemies that have formed a shaky alliance for the sake of this job, they aren’t trapped in a love triangle. They truly love and care for each other. They rely on each other, roll their eyes at stupid boys, and confide in each other just like real girls would. You see all these incredibly strong young women in YA fantasy, but I feel like they never actually have any girl friends (I could be wrong about this — send me recommendations if I am, I’d love to read them).
Strong and complex characters, both male and female
Every member of the team gets a real past and a real story arc between the two books. While Six of Crows focuses more on one half of the crew, Crooked Kingdom brings in the others for equal treatment. As much as I like all of them, I have a huge soft spot for Nina and Wylan. Nina’s past isn’t as gripping as some of the others, but I love how she grows and changes over the course of the two books. Wylan’s struggles through to the conclusion of Crooked Kingdom really gripped me.
A perfect combination of humor and darkness
These books are pretty dark, you guys, especially when you get to the characters’ pasts. But the author manages to balance a lot of this out with snappy dialogue that’s genuinely funny. There’s plenty of banter, particularly with Jesper, but no one serves as comedic relief. The balance Bardugo manages to strike is pretty much perfect.
I know that the world in these books was already established in the Grisha trilogy, which I have yet to read, but she still manages to make the world rich and so visual. I love a good fantasy world with a creative magic system and these books deliver. The Sights, sounds, and smells of Ketterdam are well-written and well presented.
Ocean’s 11 meets fantasy
I love a good heist. A well-written con makes for an amazing read. Six of Crows, and Crooked Kingdom to a similar but lesser extent, is all about the heist. You get sprinklings of the plan, and you definitely see where things go wrong, but you don’t know the whole thing until it actually happens and I absolutely love that.
This isn’t really a con, but I felt that the plot and the back stories would better suit older characters. I felt like mid-twenties would work really well, that way they would have a longer period to have all this terrible stuff happen. I wonder if this was a move to make the book more easily marketable to a YA audience. Maybe I’m just a grumpy twenty-something.
Okay, this definitely isn’t a con. The ending is left open enough for there to be a follow-up, but also satisfying enough for the series to remain as a duology. The author herself has said that she’s going to leave it as a duology for now, but dammit I have questions!
Ultimately, we have a smart YA fantasy adventure that will satisfy readers of dark fantasy as much as those who like their fantasy a little lighter. I can see why these books are so appealing to so many people — they really are deserving of all the praise they’ve been getting.
Have you read these books? What did you think? Want to nerd out about them? Leave a comment below!