I've been a fan of Leigh Bardugo since Shadow and Bone, which I bought by accident thinking it was somehow related to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone. A happy mistake as I quickly fell in love with the Grisha trilogy. So when I heard she was writing another book, a brand new story set in the same universe, I placed my pre-order and began the seemingly endless wait before the book finally thudded onto my doorstep. And thud it did. If I'd had the hardback version I'd probably be able to kill someone with it and perhaps it's a testament to the wonderful writing style and story that kept me hooked til the bitter end that I didn't once experience the temptation to skip pages.
The plot is pure Ocean's Eleven, with the gang assembled to extract a prisoner from the impenetrable Ice Court to stop the escape of the formula for jurda parem, a devastating drug which makes grisha all-powerful, unstoppable monsters before finally killing them. Are they doing it to preserve the fragile "peace" in the realm? To protect their loved ones? For a greater good? Nope, they're doing it for a huge pile of cash.
The strength of the book lies not in the story, but the rich world Leigh Bardugo has created and the fantastic characters that inhabit it, the titular six "crows" in particular. From the slums of The Barrel, the dregs of the city where the story begins, which is written so well you'd swear the author had been there, the sense of corruption, hopelessness and prevailing dread ratcheting up the tension before the heist has even begun, to the bowels of the Ice Court fortress, this is a whole new world in the grisha-verse. It's a world a million miles away, but one so believably real you'll feel like you've been to another place when you stop reading. Leader and sort of protagonist Kaz is pretty insufferable, an at times unbearably smug seventeen year old, whose plans always come to fruition, at times stretching incredulity to breaking point. Think The Joker's bank heist at the start of The Dark Knight and times by ten. Then add a few curve balls, and Kaz still comes out like he expected the whole thing down to the tiniest detail. Secondary protagonist, skilled and deadly spy Inej, aka The Wraith, is my favourite character. A former slave now working her way slowly towards freedom in the gang, her burgeoning relationship with Kaz is one of the hearts of the novel. Flawed, human and very real, Inej kicks a whole lot of ass in the book. Elsewhere, loud, brassy Heartrender grisha Nina and witch hunter Mathias deal with their own tangled past, Ex lovers, polar opposites, hunter and prey, this pair have scorching chemistry. Rounding out the six are happy go lucky sharpshooter (and my lastest book crush) Jesper and demo expert/insurance policy/hostage Wylan. The chapter POVs dance between five of the six (Wylan gets shafted here!) crows, giving the whole story from all angles, and it's a credit to the author that you never feel like she's repeating herself or going over the same ground from different viewpoints.
If you're hoping for anything more than vague, passing references to the grisha trilogy here, you'll be disappointed, but Six of Crows stands on its own as a twisty, turny heist story with five (I still don't feel Wylan as much more than window dressing) brilliant characters, each perfectly capable of being a protagonist in their own right. If you're waiting to read Shadow and Bone etc before starting this one, you can read it quite happily without spoilers. I only spotted one slight spoiler and it's so mild I almost missed it.
There's been a lot of talk in the blogsphere lately about diversity, or rather the lack of it, in YA, so it's nice to see the crows a mix of ethnicities and, it's hinted, sexualities. It's not earth shattering, but it's a step in the right direction at least.
My only slight gripe came in the final chapters of the book. I was yelling "oh come on!" for two reasons. One was that the book ends on one hell of a hook that will now leave me dangling until next year, but the other was story-related frustration. I'd rattled through the book at breakneck speed, loving every page until the very end where my beloved Inej, who's been nothing short of a total badass the entire way through, veers dangerously close to damsel in distress territory, with Kaz even proclaiming he's going to get his money, and get his girl. It's a minor niggle in the grand scheme of an amazing book, just a shame it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth at the very end.
The perfect read if you want an engrossing, edge of your seat read with a little magic, more than a little mystery and the best group of characters you'll find in a YA book this year, Six of Crows is an absolute must read. Now begins the interminable wait for the sequel...