Release Date: September 29, 2015
Source: BEA ARC
Published by: Henry Holt
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.
My first impression of Six of Crows was that it felt like a much different story from Shadow and Bone. Though they take place in the same world and feature similar elements (i.e. there are some gruesome scenes; the dark themes are still prevalent in SoC), Six of Crows, on the whole, is more character-oriented and driven. Its plot may feel more commercial (i.e. "Game of Thrones"/high fantasy meets "Ocean's Eleven" comparison) than the symbolic light/dark hero's journey of the Grisha trilogy, but it's certainly no less cinematic. Here's where Bardugo's writing shines - and I would prefer, actually, to see this adapted over the Grisha books.
In fact, Six of Crows seems a great improvement on the Grisha trilogy (though those books still remain my favorites). One critique I had seen of the Grisha trilogy, though I did not quite agree with it, had to do with the world-building - Six of Crows is a clear expansion on the world-building of the Grishaverse. These books may take place in the same world, but newcomers need not fear: there is enough detail on the magic to render the Grishaverse comprehensible and not so much that old fans will feel bogged down by details. The details of the world at large paint a vivid atmosphere; it's easy to feel like you're walking beside Kaz and his crew, and things come together in a wonderfully picturesque fashion. This made me wonder if the world was the heart of this novel: the details of Ketterdam and beyond feel well considered in minutiae. Furthermore, the expansion on the magical system established in the Grisha trilogy feels natural -- another detail to make this fantasy world feel real.
Some fantasy novels develop their worlds at the expense of character, plot, and pacing. Not so with Six of Crows - almost every one of the main characters has a PoV, clear backstory, and something they need to change in their lives - which often fuels the tension of this novel, differing and potentially conflicting motivations for their heist. Where other authors might hide the character motivations and make characters feel mysterious (unknowable) for the sake of suspense, Bardugo does not; and instead, plays her characters off one another, having us wait for those defining moments when characters are forced to reckon with each other. Although the main characters have POVs, the book is still plot-oriented mostly. In essence, it captures the same feel of old favorites like Harry Potter, plot-focused but with characters who clearly have their own stories. With all of this in mind, the pacing in the first half is slower to accommodate for us getting to know the characters, but speeds up during their jaunt to the Ice Palace.
If you were unsure or not much a fan of the Grisha books, giving Six of Crows a chance is a wise decision. SoC clearly shows Bardugo's growth as a write and with four starred reviews to boot, it's an exemplary case of YA commercial fantasy done well - and also likely to be well received among Grisha fans. If you liked the Grisha books, you will likely find Six of Crows a cinematically vivid page-turner bursting with sarcastic, witty yet ruthless characters, a motley assortment who will have to make the riskiest theft of their lives but may lose other things in the process. Definitely one of fall's most anticipated YA titles for good reason.