Thursday, 19 July 2018

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Another heist book! The Heist theme for my SF/F themed cook club is going well - everyone seems to be enjoying the stories we've been reading, and having a lighter topic in the summer was probably the right decision. This was one of two on the list that I hadn't read, but I took a flyer on it and added it anyway, because it had gotten fairly good reviews from people whose judgement I trust.

And it was a lot of fun!  It's an engaging heist story, in a really interesting fantasy world that has almost but not quite steampunky elements, with characters who are deep in the underworld for varying reasons, and want to or don't want to get out, also for varying reasons. It's Young Adult, which we agreed at the book club sometimes skewed the book in ways that we thought might have been better had Bardugo had the freedom to go all out in some areas that felt restrained. Overall, it was a book everyone liked.

One weird thing, though. My husband and I found that while we didn't always think of the characters as teenagers, it wasn't hard to think of them as young adults - early twenties at the latest. Whereas the other two people in our book club both listened to the book on audiobook, and it seems that because of the narrator, they couldn't help but think of Kaz as somewhere in his forties. It's interesting how that perspective can change based on voice versus print.

Kaz is the mastermind of this particular motley crew, a young man who has come up fast through the ranks, earning a name for ruthlessness, dispassion, and always wearing gloves, no matter what. And walking with a cane.

Wait. Before I introduce you to the crew, perhaps I should introduce you to the world?  I was coming to it new, although there is a companion series to this also set in the same milieu, and, I think, published first. It feels vaguely Scandinavian or Eastern European with some aspects of industrialism, although not all. It starts in a port city, rife with crime. Somewhere else in the world, but not too far away, there were a group of people in one particular country called Grisha. (The Grisha have supernatural powers of several sorts, but I couldn't quite tell if this was a genetic heritage or a random one, and the one country just provided sanctuary for them.)

There are another group in another kingdom who hunt down the Grisha and kill or enslave them for the crime of existing. Someone has recently discovered a chemical concoction that greatly increases the powers of the Grisha while being fiendishly addicting.

Okay, world intro over. Back to the characters. Kaz. When he is brought in by the Merchant's Guild to travel to where the man who discovered the parem jurda (the chemical concoction) is being held by the Grisha-hunters, and offered a truly staggering amount of money to do so, he, of course, amasses a team. This could scarcely be a good heist book without one.

So, we have Inej, the young woman known as...on damn, what's she known as? The Shadow? The name has slipped away from me. But she's sneaky and incredibly good at climbing and thieving. There's Jesper, who is very good with guns and has worked with Kaz for a while. There's Wylan, the son of a Merchant, brought on to be good with explosives and as a guarantee his father will pay up when the job is done.

Then there are Matthias and Nina. Nina is a Grisha, one who can manipulate the body to cause emotions. Matthias is one of the Grisha-hunters. They arrived in this city together, and something Nina did right at the beginning got him thrown in prison. She's been trying to get him out since. He thinks he hates her, but we all know how the next part of that sentence goes, right? It feels a little pat, but it's well written and engaging, so I'll give it a pass.

And off they go to break the scientist out of an impenetrable fortress during the middle of the most important religious festival of the year! The heist is well done, even if I was always waiting for the sudden but inevitable betrayal. The characters are enjoyable, the action bomps along nicely, and if the YA means that all the people who obviously want to be smooching don't smooch, it's annoying but not unforgivable. There's a strongly telegraphed attraction between two male characters, but they get to be even less overt about it than the not-very-covert attractions between Matthias and Nina and Kaz and Inej.

While the heist is very satisfying, the book does end on an obvious "rush out and buy the next right away!" cliffhanger. Like, a particularly egregious one. Again, it's a pardonable literary sin, but not giving us a great resolution for one story before launching into the next is a little frustrating. So, in summary, this is a lot of fun, and the things it gets wrong are not so wrong the book becomes unenjoyable.

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