Six of Crows #1: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt and Company)

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.

Heist fantasy novels are always fun to read. The most popular example in the genre may be Brandon Sanderson’s awesome Mistborn books and it’s good to see another instalment in the subgenre, with Leigh Bardugo’s young adult Six of Crows, the opener in the trilogy, being labelled as Game of Thrones meets Ocean’s Eleven. As I love both of those, and the praise for Six of Crows was mostly positive, I thought I’d give it a shot and as it turns out I was blown away, with it rapidly becoming probably my favourite young adult novel of 2015, because this book really is that good, even if there are a couple of problems that it has to overcome at the same time.

The book itself is set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy but I wasn’t aware of that until shortly after I brought the book and didn’t need to know anything about what went on, even though I’m fairly sure I missed a few references. The new cast and characters make an interesting jumping on point for new readers as the epic fantasy genre continues to encompass young adult books. The characters themselves that are presented here and interesting, with a gang known as the Dregs run by Kaz Brekker, a criminal prodigy, brave and bold. When he’s ordered to rescue a scientist who has the power to break down the walls of the Ice Court, Kaz recruits a group of fellow thieves to participate in the job with him. Sounds simple enough, right? However, the characters that we met don’t always get along, despite the fact that they all work for Kaz.

We link up with a vast group of characters for the heist. Nina and Matthias both share a linked story that often comes heavily with the clichés of the genre, particularly in the forbidden romance angle, however their abilities as a magic user and Witch Hunter respectively benefited the team.  Wylan acts as the wild card, the Matt Damon of the series if we’re sticking with the Ocean’s Eleven comparisons, whilst Inej brings stealth to the table and finally, Jesper brings along a combination of long range cover and comic relief. The story however suffers from the same trap that Ocean’s Eleven fell into by only making us care about certain characters, with the rest feeling not as well developed as they probably should have been. However, equally Six of Crows avoids being a simple fantasy clone of Ocean’s Eleven, spending plenty of time with flashbacks to explore the characters’ past. However, given that this book is the first in a trilogy, I’m sure that there will be plenty of opportunities to explore more characters going forward. The ones that are given the most depth here all seem to be the most developed, and refreshingly in young adult fantasy are flawed humans that often develop well.

The world building on display here is fantastic and Six of Crows really immerses you in the atmospheric fantasy landscape from the get go. There are plenty of twists that propel the story forward and it moves at a nice turn, with the character shifts working well. Sometimes poor heist movies and books can rely on deus ex machina to leave the audience feeling cheated but thankfully, Six of Crows doesn’t fall into that trap. Something else that it also brings to the table is an actual diverse cast of characters that’s refreshing in a young adult novel, and works really well.

You’re going to want to get on the hype train that’s surrounding this book as soon as possible if you’re not on board already. It’s easily the best young adult novel of 2015 and will leave readers eagerly anticipating the next book in the trilogy.

VERDICT: 9/10

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