Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review - Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

What if Grisha could be more powerful? Not to just have their powers amplified but to have them changed. Magnified to a degree that the world itself changes before their eyes and anything is possible. Of course, such a discovery would be desired by the wealthy and the powerful, and especially the military. Bo Yul-Bayur is a chemist who accidentally created Jurda Parem from the common stimulant Jurda. While fatal to Non-Grisha, to Grisha it does all this and more, including making the user an addict after one dose. Afraid of what he has created he attempts to seek asylum in Kerch but is captured by the Drüskelle and taken to the Fjerdan capital of Djerholm and imprisoned in the impenetrable Ice Court. Who knows what the Fjerdan's will do with this technology, seeing as they have been carrying out pogroms on the Grisha "Witches" for as long as anyone can remember. This is where Kaz Brekker comes in. Kaz is the lieutenant of The Dregs and is known as the man who gets things done. So when Mr. Jan Van Eck needs someone to break Bo Yul-Bayur out of the Ice Court he turns to Kaz with the offer of a lifetime. The score from this impossible heist could set him and his crew up for the rest of their lives.

Kaz recruits Inej, the "wraith", Jesper, a born sharpshooter, Wylan, for his demolition skills and the fact that if need be he is Van Eck's son and could be used as a hostage, and Nina, because she's a Grisha who is a Ravkan Heartrender. But more importantly, Nina has a connection to someone who intimately knows Kerch and the Ice Court, former Drüskelle Matthias Helvar. Matthias is in prison because of something Nina said and she's been trying to make it up to him ever since, and breaking him out of prison for a big payday should make them even. Of course their master plan involves sending themselves to prison in Kerch, but at least it will be a change of scene from Hellgate. The improbability and complexity of their plan could go wrong at a million different places, yet it doesn't take them long to be enjoying the hospitality of the Ice Court's prison. This band of thieves will do whatever it takes to get their payday, and whatever obstacles, even those of their own making, must be overcome. They are all good at thinking on their feet, they wouldn't have survived in Ketterdam with all the rival gangs and dangerous alleys if they weren't. But is the payout really worth the risks? And when all is said and done, will they get that payout?

When I finished the Grisha Trilogy I was bereft. I had come to know and love these characters so deeply that I just didn't want to let go. But I could also see that their story was told. It was over and that was that. The light at the end of the tunnel was that Leigh Bardugo was working on a new duology set in the Grishaverse called The Dregs. Eventually retitled Six of Crows with the most amazing cover art I'd seen in recent years I couldn't wait until this book was released and was giving anyone I knew who was lucky enough to get an ARC the side-eye for weeks. OK, months, but you get it, I know you do. I wanted to be back in that world. I didn't care if it was a new country or a new cast of characters, I just wanted more of this wondrous land. And yet, when the time came, I just wasn't swept away. I think of all my book blogging and reading buddies I was the only one who didn't hail it as the best book of last year. In fact, it was nowhere near my top ten. There's even a part of me, looking back, that wonders if three stars was generous. The worldbuilding was still there, and still perfect. Yes it's a little darker, but the void of The Darkling needed to be filled somehow. Yet I just couldn't connect. This heist I had been waiting so long for suddenly didn't seem worth the wait.

The initial problem I faced was there were too many characters given to us too soon. We have six main characters and all their baggage to deal with while certain elements of their backstories are drawn out to excruciating levels with us not finding out answers until the last few pages. To keep this in perspective, A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, has only eight narrators in a behemoth book of teeny tiny print; and we're barely scratching the surface in that book. To expect THIS book to do more with less seems ludicrous. Also confusing. I need a little time to sink into the narrative of a book, have one character lead me into the world and acclimatise me to the environment before being smacked in the face with the whole gang. There's a reason Ocean's Eleven starts with just Danny Ocean and slowly introduces new characters in little vignettes before having the whole crew together. I think for a book SO like Ocean's Eleven: Ketterdam perhaps the basic framework of a heist film or book could have been better utilized. Instead of starting with the small heist at The Exchange start even smaller and then go bigger.

Yet for a book with six main characters I found one thing very very odd. The exclusion of Wylan Van Eck as a narrator. Six characters but only five POVs!?! That just doesn't add up. I mean yes, there are initially too many characters in this book until you finally get to know them, but then why eliminate a certain one? Why was Wylan left out? Yes, part of it could have been to do with the end twist, but, well, just don't have his POV near the end. Because eliminating him entirely versus just eliminating him for a section makes more sense. There's an imbalance in the book created by this omission. It seriously doesn't make sense to me that we never get Wylan's POV. Especially with his connection to the man who hired Kaz and the crew you'd think Wylan's input would be vital, but instead it's left to other characters to tell Wylan's story. Then there's the whole insulting aspect to this. Wylan is dyslectic and can't read or write. To not have his voice heard when he can't write his own story, WTH! It's just adding insult to injury. I can only hope that Wylan has a say in Crooked Kingdom, but I'm not really keeping my fingers crossed. Kaz's nemesis got a POV at the end of this book and still, no Wylan.

My main problem with the book though was the "problem" with the women. Some people might be saying, how can you have a problem with Inej and Nina when they kick ass and take names? My problem is rooted in the fact that once you look past all their strength their character arcs are oddly stereotypical. At times I thought I was having some sort of out of body experience where this book wasn't written by the writer of the Grisha series populated with strong women and a kick ass female in her own right, but a man who just wrote the typical subjugation line of women in science fiction and fantasy as sex objects and bargaining chips. Inej and Nina spend the entire book showing they are more than what Ketterdam tried to make them in the brothels. They are strong and fierce warriors with love in their hearts. And then all of a sudden they're dressing up as whores to sneak into the Ice Court and ending up as prisoners that only the big brave men can rescue. Excuse me? So all their growth, all their development was for naught? Because they just ended up back at the beginning, victims that need saving? This isn't a just fate for them. This is a cliched, hackneyed fate. They deserve better. I deserve better as a reader!

Though in the end I think the biggest letdown is that Six of Crows just shows us the futility of it all. From the very beginning Kaz's crew are given this impossible task, one at which they could fail at any second, but deep down you know they are going to succeed. But in succeeding they fail. And somehow I knew this. I just knew that they'd make it to the end and yet they'd fail. I don't know if it's all the heist movies I've watched over the years, but somehow I knew it would be like that bus dangling over the precipice at the end of The Italian Job, all that work wouldn't really be worth it in the end. We were left hanging, waiting for the second book. And yes, I'm going to read Crooked Kingdom, but I don't have the excitement anymore. I have a determined resignation. I have no hopes for this book, well, minor hopes that I have a feeling will be quashed quite quickly. Six of Crows was a disservice to the readers. We read a book whose narrative didn't matter. It was nulled and voided at the end and makes you wonder, why then did I bother to read it? Yes, we got to know these characters and to care for them, but it took a long time for that to happen and then it was like everything that had been built between the reader and the story was washed away. I also know that my voice is one small voice among the countless that are lauding this book. Yes, this is just my opinion, but I think a valid one. Leigh Bardugo created a world that I love and then diminished it.


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