In Case You Haven’t Heard: Blurb for Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
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. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction — if they don’t kill each other first.
I sat on this one for a while after I read it because I didn’t really know what I thought. Partially, that’s due to the fact that I sat on it for so long before I read it, too. I remember spotting it in a Chapters store the year it came out, and since then it’s been on my to-read radar but I never did anything about it until recently. I have to stop doing that. I think the bloom was a bit off the rose with this one and it left me struggling to formulate my impressions in review form.
Actually, what helped illuminate my thoughts about Six of Crows was watching the Shadow and Bone Netflix series. I never really had a desire to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy though it is the beginning of the Grishaverse, and I’d heard booktube discussions in which the Darkling featured as a “problematic” love interest. I didn’t even have a desire to watch the Netflix series too badly, even if I was interested in continuing the Six of Crows duology. But then I saw that Ben Barnes was cast as the Darkling and suddenly I was interested. And then I watched part of a review in which it was made clear that the Crows appear in the series, so I figured why not? I watched it with my sister, who, knowing nothing of the story, found it predictable enough to follow along. And I, knowing not much more than her, found that the integration of the Crows actually contributed coherence to my thoughts about the Six of Crows book. So, without further ado, this is my review of Six of Crows, with mention of things from the Shadow and Bone series as they interact with it.
Right off the bat, Six of Crows had me hooked. Having never read about the lore of the Grisha, I was sufficiently intrigued as I struggled to process what was going on in the first chapter. Then, I was off-balance again as the scene and character switched for the second chapter. And here we meet some of the Crows, along with the dynamic of the gang life in Ketterdam, with a few hints of politics and international relations thrown in. I was here for it—until I wasn’t.
And it’s not that I didn’t like the story, or the characters themselves. I was mostly irritated by the way in which it was written. Not even the writing style—which I can’t complain about—but the structure. It is simply a personal dislike of mine to have neatly alternating chapters of character perspectives. At first, I was resigned to thinking that it would just be between Inej and Kaz, which it was for most of the first part. I could have put up with that, even though I thought the inclusion of Kaz’s perspective was too soon and undermined his reputation.
But then it just keeps revolving like the chambers of Jesper’s handguns—Inej, Kaz, Nina, Matthias, Jesper. When Matthias’ perspective heralded in the second part, I groaned inwardly. We barely met this man, I want time to formulate my own opinion about him from a bit more psychic distance. Please don’t throw me into his head yet! (Or at all, as it turned out being in his head was quite boring and uncomfortable.) And Jesper’s perspective should have come much sooner if it was going to be included.
But, my preferences went unheeded, given that the book has already been written for the past six years, and it soon became clear why the perspectives shifted about in this unsettling manner—backstory. Yes, the reason we get alternating perspectives from different people in the group, while they’re all together, in the same place, is in order to provide a “logical” vehicle for backstory in the form of flashbacks from the different characters. And this is another thing that isn’t my cup of tea—detailed backstory spelled out in its own scenes. Heretofore, we’d gotten delicious hints, teases, tantalising tidbits about characters like Kaz, but halfway through, the whole story is spelled out in black and white, losing any mystique or potential for further revelations to emerge. It just makes everything the character then does more humdrum because we know the exact point from which those reactions stem.
The exception to this is probably Kaz’s actions regarding Pekka Rollins later on in the story, which, because we have the backstory, makes it suspenseful having to wait to find out what Kaz did. However, I would question whether knowing specifically why Kaz hates Pekka is necessary to the suspense—wouldn’t the fact of his hatred and hints about its personal nature be enough to unsettle us about his actions, without knowing the details? Maybe, maybe not. So, I suppose having the backstory explicitly spelled out in all its detail doesn’t always misfire, only the majority of the time.
As proof that withholding backstory adds mystery and interest, Bardugo left one main character without chapters from his perspective, and therefore, he had no explicit backstory when the other characters did. As a result, it could emerge piece by piece, leading a trail of crumbs to the revelation at the end that had a critical impact on the plot. It was done really well, and I just wish the others had been treated similarly. In essence, less is almost always more when creating interest in a character and their backstory.
Shadows of Crows
Shadow and Bone as a series did everyone a favour and plugged some of the Crows backstory into its plot as concurrent events with what is going on with MC Alina. That way, it isn’t back-story at all, but actually what’s happening as it happens. It was a masterful move on the part of the show creators and prevents the potential of having a Six of Crows show sometime in the future that consists of 50% backstory, per Once Upon a Time or Arrow. Obviously, some of the events, such as Kaz’s story, have to be saved for a later season or show, as it happens when he’s much younger. But particularly having Nina and Matthias’ backstory all wrapped up in the first season of Shadow and Bone is the smartest thing they could have done with it, as it was the subject for the majority of the backstory scenes in Six of Crows, given that it involved two characters so we had to get it from both perspectives (we didn’t really have to, but we got it anyway).
Flesh on the Bones
Something else that the show did really well was capture the feel of the world, which was something I liked about Six of Crows—the worldbuilding. The different places, the Barrel, the Slats, the Crow Club, Hellgate, even the Ice Court, all have a good feel to them. I really liked the integration of almost 19th century industrial town aesthetic to Ketterdam, and how technology is in development, like Jesper and his guns. I like that about fantasy worlds, when they’re not strictly medieval and integrate cannons and guns, etc. like in the Queen’s Thief books. But the show completely solidified this almost steam-punk aspect to the world with the train across the Fold and Jesper’s guns being straight-up six-shooters when I had pictured something like revolutionary war single shot pistols.
In fact, there are at least two more things I liked that made the world feel real and reminded me of the Queen’s Thief books—politics and religion. It took me a while to figure out all the different countries and their respective characteristics, alliances, and so forth (I probably still haven’t figured it out), but I got a definite feel for the reality of the international relations and the scope of the world. In the Shadow and Bone show, there is more elucidation about the war and political climate, given that MC Alina is part of the Second Army. Also, religion and mythology is integrated into the world via several characters from different places and varied as to how they are portrayed, positively or negatively. The show translates it really well in Inej particularly (which, to be fair, is probably the strongest portrayal in Six of Crows, too) and it makes for conflicts within the Crows and their goal, not simply as a token “oh, she’s religious” and never having it come up again. These aspects helped flesh out the world.
I gather that the whole kidnapping the Sun Summoner plot is not part of the original Shadow and Bone trilogy, given that the Crows aren’t in it, but I think the way it sort of echoed in advance the structure of the Six of Crows heist is smart. That was something I liked about Six of Crows—the heist storyline and how there were obstacles and plans going to pot almost every step of the way. It forces the characters to improvise, giving us not only added tension as one thing after another goes wrong, but also insight into how the characters react under pressure, which is Character Building 101.
A slight peeve under the category of believability or suspension of disbelief: I was a bit put off by how many “fears” and “weaknesses” Kaz got saddled with. First, he has a noticeable limp, which limits his mobility, but this is counterbalanced by the advantage his specialty cane gives him by way of a weapon, so that’s not such a big issue. But having several debilitating phobias stemming from the same traumatic event, and then putting yourself in a position where those phobias are going to be a problem on a dangerous job is not really a sign of fearsome intelligence. We know he’s supposed to be our favourite underdog, our broken hero, but he also has to be believable as a somewhat feared criminal gangster. Yes, you need your characters to be #relateable and have some fears or weakness to overcome so you can claim some #charactergrowth, but the timing and development just seemed a bit off to me given his reputation.
In the Shadow and Bone show, there’s less emphasis on Kaz’s phobias, which leaves room for them to crop up as obstacles later and I think that’s a good thing. They did highlight his difficulty trying to walk without a cane and conceal his limp, which was a nice touch without taking centre stage. The competition for a lucrative job in Ketterdam also helped highlight Kaz’s underdog character as he almost begs to be given a chance, proving his potential by stealing the heartrender before Pekka can get to her. This struggle for a living highlighting his determination is something that was a little bit lost in Six of Crows as he begins in a position of relative strength. Even though there are hints that some people still don’t take him seriously, it’s clear that people already respect him and his mythos enough to approach him about possible jobs, rather than the other way around.
I’m titling my last section after the last chapter of Six of Crows because it is yet another example of an unnecessary change/inclusion of perspective. I’m still salty about it. (I should have named my first section “Joost” for all the relevance his perspective has to the story.) In the end, I enjoyed the Shadow and Bone Netflix series, perhaps more because I had read Six of Crows. It gave me a new perspective on them, and I have to say the casting for the Crows and the way they acted it was pretty much the best it could possibly be. (I say “pretty much” because I didn’t care for Matthias—then again, I didn’t much like him in the book either, so maybe the casting was actually perfect?) I will definitely be continuing both the Netflix series and the Six of Crows duology, though I didn’t gain the desire to read the Shadow and Bone book trilogy.
4 thoughts on “The Shadow and Bone Netflix Series Helped Me Review Six of Crows”
Loved how you did this review. Six of Crows is one of myu favourite books of all time!
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That’s awesome! I’d been interested in it since before the hype, but the hype train came and never seemed to slow down enough for me to get on—I finally just decided to make a leap for it, hobo style. XD
I liked your video review of Shadow and Bone too—brought in a lot of things I didn’t consider when watching the show because I haven’t read those books.
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Thank you so much ❤ I spent a lot of time on that video because my love for the series is so deep.
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