November Reads: Six of Crows

23437156A few weeks ago,
Nicola recommended Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy to you. Like Nicola, Alyssa and I both loved the trilogy and were very excited to learn that Bardugo would write another series in the Grishaverse. Turns out that Six of Crows was a little different than what we expected — and what a lovely surprise it was!

As a reminder, our discussion posts often reveal spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, better go do that before forging on. If you have read the book (lucky you!), leave us your thoughts in the comments!

Allison: So, like both of you, I loved Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising). I’ll admit that I was a *wee* bit worried, but also crazy-excited that she decided to write another series in the same “verse.”

What I loved about this book was that it sets us down in the same world as the Grisha trilogy, so we know how the “magic” works, but since the Grisha books don’t give us a full picture of how the world is getting on outside of Ravka, Ketterdam is new to us. It’s a fresh perspective.

Nicola: I think setting it in a different part of the world was a good idea, as it helps distinguish Six of Crows from the Grisha trilogy, and because the events of the Grisha trilogy only peripherally impacted the characters in Six of Crows you can pick it up without having read the prior series (though if you read the Grisha books after you may be a little confused by Inej’s Sankta Alina dagger …). Similarly, the Grisha trilogy is about big ideas like civil war and oppression, while Six of Crows keeps to the edges of those concepts and is instead more focussed on the personal aims of the crew.

That being said, I found that the new setting made it hard to connect with the story at first. I picked it up right after Ruin and Rising and expected to feel like I was sinking into a familiar world, as you do when you start the fourth book in a single series. Instead, it was a different culture entirely, and after the prologue-esque first chapter there’s barely a hint of any Grisha until Nina appears.

Allison: I had a similar reaction. I read the first chapter and it didn’t hit me quite right. I actually read another book in between before returning to it. I’m so glad I did! I think this is always the risk of staying within an already-structured world, but plopping characters and readers down into unfamiliar territory.

It reminds me a little of how I felt about The Infernal Devices series, by Cassandra Clare. I loved The Mortal Instruments and was at first a bit put off by the completely new aspects Clare introduces by setting her satellite series in the past of the first series. In the end, I liked The Infernal Devices better. I can see the possibility for the same thing happening here.

Alyssa: I also really like that Six of Crows is set in a different part of the Grishaverse than the Grisha trilogy and that you don’t have to have read the trilogy to understand the characters and events of Six of Crows. Honestly, I was surprised by how much that’s the case, and it also took me a little while to adjust to a different series.

I re-read the Grisha trilogy right before Six of Crows because I thought that having the events of Ruin and Rising fresh in my mind would be necessary. I assumed Six of Crows would be a continuation of the Grisha trilogy and take place simultaneously or right after the events in Ruin and Rising. I thought Nikolai, Alina, Mal, etc, would have more of a presence in Six of Crows, even though it focuses on different characters, setting, and events. I assumed Six of Crows would be more obviously related to the trilogy, but I was wrong. Six of Crows is really the beginning of a stand-alone series, and while I recommend everyone read the Grisha trilogy before picking up Six of Crows, it’s not necessary. At first I wanted Six of Crows to be more obviously connected to the Grisha trilogy, but now I’m really glad Bardugo chose to write such a different companion series.

Nicola: What did you think of the ensemble cast in Six of Crows? It’s quite different from the first-person narration of the Grisha trilogy.

Alyssa: I generally like ensemble narratives, but even so…six POV characters is often too much! (I can only think of a few authors who do ensemble narratives really well: George R. R. Martin, Sarah J. Maas, Marissa Meyer, Morgan Rhodes, and now Leigh Bardugo.) I really enjoyed getting inside Six of Crows’s multiple characters’ heads versus a main character’s head, such as Alina’s. Even so, I usually don’t like third-person narration as much as first-person narration and, at first, I missed the first-person narration of the Grisha trilogy. But I’m really glad Bardugo wrote Six of Crows with a third-person ensemble cast, which makes adventure and romance dynamic, thrilling, and fun–perhaps even more so than in the Grisha trilogy.

Allison: Ensemble narratives with multiple POVs are really hard to pull of and this was excellently done. I can see how it will build momentum for several subsequent books.

Nicola: It took me longer to really get into it because of the ensemble POV, but once I did I really loved the characters – as individuals and as members of the team. The only one I didn’t really feel like I knew at the end was Kaz, but I think he’s meant to be a bit of an enigma, in the same way we never fully get into Poirot’s or Sherlock’s mind as it spoils the fun.

Allison: Yes, I agree that Kaz was a bit of an enigma — I cared about him a lot more at the end than I did at the beginning, though. My first favorite was truly Inej and I still think she’s probably the most well developed thus far, which is brilliant, given the ending. If we’re most invested in her, then we definitely care about the Dregs getting her back! I loved Nina from the beginning, and I think she’s our link to the the Grisha trilogy. She feels like a very familiar character, even though we don’t know her from previous novels.

I have to say that liking both Matthias and Jesper was a bit of a surprise for me. At first, it seemed like Jesper just wasn’t that interesting, but he really started to shine in the second half of the book. Matthias on the other hand… I hated him at the beginning. Witch-hunters aren’t high on my list of people to care for and I tend to dislike oppressed/oppressor relationships, but I think it becomes clearer in this book that the fear of Grisha is somewhat justified.

Nicola: Yeah, I hated Matthias, too, to start with. That said, I’m a sucker for bigot-sees-the-light narrative arcs, so him growing to respect the Grisha and view them as human beings was something I really enjoyed seeing.

Allison: That moment where we think he’s sold Nina out in Fjerda was so poignant for me. I truly believed he’d turned her in, that he’d finally chosen a side and it wasn’t hers.

Nicola: Speaking of the ensemble cast, wasn’t the diversity of it great?

Alyssa: Definitely. I love how Six of Crows has a diverse ensemble cast, but not in a stereotypical way. Their diversity seems natural rather than forced.

Allison: Yes. Yes. Yes. There’s been such an ugly discussion of diversity, tokenism and “agendas” in the YA world lately. I think this is a fantastic representation of how diversity should and could be, with a little effort. Bardugo’s playing with a lot of slow reveals here, and one of my favorites in this book was Jesper’s sexuality — I got the impression he might be bi, but we’ll have to see.

Nicola: Yeah, it’s not clear on if Jesper’s attracted to women or not, but he definitely likes men. I’m not sure Ketterdam/Grishaverse have the same kind of distinctions as we do, though, so it might be that Jesper’s never really considered a label for it.

Allison: That’s one of the nicest things about fantasy. Even when you’re working with a world inspired by the “real” world (like the Russian/European influences in the Grishaverse), there’s absolutely nothing saying you have to replicate it exactly. If you want fluid sexuality to be a part of things without a label, you got it. It’s fantasy, anything actually can happen. You just have to choose it.

Alyssa: I agree. I love that about fantasy, too…that Six of Crows doesn’t label sexuality or diversity.

Nicola: Speaking of diversity, I thought the treatment of Wylan’s learning disability (dyslexia?) was well done. I love how it’s so obvious to everyone but Van Eck that Wylan has an absolutely brilliant mind. It’s a really good example of how some people look at someone like Wylan (or Kaz!) and see nothing but the disability.

Allison: Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s dyslexia or another kind of processing disorder, but the reveal that Wylan couldn’t read was astounding to me. I can’t remember the last time I saw disability portrayed quite this way. One of the things about writers is that we prize literacy so highly that being literate often makes its way into our narratives as the ultimate flag that a character is “smart” or that another character isn’t. To allow a space for Wylan to be absolutely, out-of-this-world, crazy smart and then drop that he can’t read, was one of the best shattered-perception moments I’ve seen in a long, long time. I actually did a little “woo-hoo” arm pump for Wylan (and Bardugo).

Nicola: That’s a really good point, about how readers and writers subconsciously equate literacy with intelligence. The other thing I appreciated about Wylan’s characterisation is the way he brings a lot of more feminine traits to the team: it’s his brains, not brute strength, that are his biggest asset, and he also tends to serve as the moral compass or ‘heart’ of the team, which is usually a role assigned to female characters (often the only one in an ensemble). All in all, he defies expectations and stereotypes.

The thing I loved about the Dregs is that the diversity of their group actually reflects the kind of friend group many teens have these days. There’s still this assumption that the average reader is straight, white, cis-gendered and able-bodied, which erases all those readers (more than a quarter of the population of the US) who aren’t, but by populating the entire cast with them it doesn’t reflect the realities of the readers who are, either. Teens from all backgrounds are more likely to see their circle of friends reflected in the Dregs than in a monochromatic cast.

Allison: I agree. As someone who works at a majority white, American university, I can say that even in that very limited scope, most of my students have friend groups that have more diversity than a 100% normative crew. It’s nice to see diversity represented by a white author in a way that isn’t tokenism or god-forbid, have an “agenda,” but rather as a nuanced portrayal of how different people from different backgrounds have a variety of of strengths and weaknesses based on those backgrounds. That’s, like, the way real human experiences work and it’s nice to see a white author being careful and thoughtful with these ideas.

I’ll also applaud Bardugo for incorporating intersectionality into this whole idea. Instead of taking a “one of each” approach, it’s more of a “everyone is a mixed up mess for lots of complicated reasons” — which I think is really realistic feeling. So even though this novel has a very fun, heisty feel to it, there’s a deeper level of emotion here. With each gradual reveal that the cast is more than just what they bring to the crew, Bardugo draws us into the story, giving us multiple levels to identify with her characters and we become very invested in each of them.

I know I speak for all three of us when I say I’m looking forward to the next book, Crooked Kingdom, in Fall 2016. Bardugo has promised that one of our favorites, Wylan will get his own chapters and Nicola especially is looking forward to those moments.

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, have a wonderful holiday and if you’re not, then have a great Thursday. Thursdays are wonderful whether you’re stuffing your face full of food or not. Until next time.

Yours in magic, mayhem and merry adventures, 

Alyssa, Nicola and Allison



One thought on “November Reads: Six of Crows

  1. Pingback: What’s Ahead: Coven Chat | Coven Book Club

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