Literature

Six of Crows Review: How Kaz Brekker Breaks the Male Hero Trope

October 9, 2019

Six of Crows: the books that made me fall in love with reading again.

The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo is among the most compelling and magical I’ve ever read – from the characters, to the dialogue, to the writing style, to the plot. I devoured the series.

I actually had Six of Crows sitting on my shelf for over a year before I finally read it. And I’m a little angry with myself for not reading it sooner.

Characters from left to right: Wylan/Kuwei, Nina, Jesper, Kaz, Inej, Matthias

As you may or may not know from my previous life update post, I lived and worked at the beach this past summer. And aside from waves, sand, and eating way too much Italian ice… a huge part of my summer revolved around reading.

There is something ingrained in being at the beach that makes people want to read. The Summer of 2019 was the summer I fell back in love with books.

I didn’t even realize until halfway through Six of Crows that it’s a separate sequel series to a trilogy set in the same world. I also didn’t realize that Netflix is making Six of Crows and the original Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone, into a TV series… which starts filming next month. And the first casting announcement was just released with a few familiar faces that had me screaming. Suffice to say, I’m now completely consumed and enamored by this world.

Since I only owned a copy of Six of Crows, I had to hop on to my Nook to buy Crooked Kingdom, the second book in the duology. And this sparked a heavy domino effect.

After Six of Crows and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, I blazed through The Secret History, and then I finished out my time at the beach with the Folk of the Air. Stay tuned for a review on the Folk of the Air series… because I have a lot of thoughts.

But I missed the world of Six of Crows too much, so now I’m on to the rest of the Grishaverse books to see where it all began with Shadow and Bone.

So now on to the review of the books that changed my life and reignited my love for reading… The Six of Crows!

This review is spoiler-free. Although there will be plot points discussed vaguely and out of context. 

The Plot

Six of Crows is definitely more character driven than plot driven, which I love. The plot is compelling, but it’s slower than you’d expect.

The premise is six people are brought together to form a team with the daunting mission of breaking into the Ice Court. Although Six of Crows is typically described as a heist book, there’s so much more going on than just that.

A lot of preparation comes before the heist… Once it begins though, the plot moves like a roller coaster.

“Where do think the money went?” Kaz repeated.
“Guns?” asked Jesper.
“Ships?” queried Inej.
“Bombs?” suggested Wylan.
“Political bribes?” offered Nina. They all looked at Matthias. “This is where you tell us how awful we are,” she whispered.
He shrugged. “They all seem like practical choices.”

Crooked Kingdom is a bit harder to explain. The first half is a rescue mission, and the second half is all about revenge – with a lot of other narrative lines woven in along the way. Overall, the entire duology leans heavily on its characters to carry the story, which is why the interchanging POVs work so well.

six of crows kaz

Kaz Brekker in Ketterdam – Art by Davood Diba

The Main Characters aka The Crows

Each crow has a backstory that is gradually told through rotating POV chapters. It reminded me of the first season of LOST, where we see flashbacks for each character.

Kaz Brekker – “The Bastard of the Barrel”

Even though I absolutely love all of the crows, Kaz Brekker has an edge. He’s such a compelling character, and I adore him to the very end. He’s my brand of character.

Kaz is what Severus Snape fans think their favorite is. He’s always one of the heroes, albeit one with ample moral ambiguity at times.

All of the crows have tragic backstories, but Kaz has one of the most vivid and well-written. Unwinding the mystery of Kaz Brekker is one of my favorite subplots of Six of Crows. 

“I don’t hold a grudge. I cradle it. I coddle it. I feed it fine cuts of meat and send it to the best schools. I nurture my grudges.”

He’s an angsty, brooding male lead… there’s no denying that. But it isn’t romanticized.

Kaz’s disconnect with expressing emotions becomes a weakness and flaw that holds him back. He habitually cuts his feelings off and tries to keep all of his personal relationships strictly business. But with the Crows, this completely backfires. You can see just how much he does care about them, even in the most subtle ways.

Kaz envies the goodness that he sees in Inej, regardless of the life they live, and fears that he’s lost that goodness within himself. His self awareness is what sets him apart from the typical brooding male lead.

Additionally, he is a badass lead who is disabled and suffers extreme PTSD. None of this is romanticized or glossed over. His PTSD manifests as an aversion to physical, skin to skin touch. This comes from his traumatic origin story, but it’s not what you initially fear it will be. Trust me.

His trauma is inherently linked to the person he is now, and it haunts him every day. Like Daenerys Targaryen, Kaz starts to become the very thing he originally sets out to destroy. Once he realizes what he’s slowly becoming, he takes a step back.

The Six of Crows duology ends at a turning point in Kaz’s character arc, which is why I believe there is more story for him in the future.

Inej Ghafa – “The Wraith”

How do I put into words how much I love Inej Ghafa? She is such a spectacular character, and her POV chapters include some of the most beautiful prose in the series. From her skillset, to her kindness, to her named daggers – everything about Inej’s character is amazing.

“We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

Inej names her daggers after Saints. She literally names the weapons she uses to kill and fight after her Saints. And she calls them by their names, like a prayer. She speaks to them and ponders her own morality frequently, fearful that the life she’s chosen to survive will be deemed unforgivable by her Saints. I think her religion and her “Sankts” are one of my favorite aspects of the book as a whole.

And the juxtaposition of Inej’s character with Kaz’s character… it’s golden.

Nina Zenik – “The Heartrender”

Since Nina Zenik is from Ravka, which is where Shadow and Bone takes place, she is the series’ main connection to the original Grisha trilogy.

She’s also the only Grisha among the Crows, and is one of the characters I was most intrigued by at the beginning because I didn’t know anything about the Grisha. I admit, I did a little bit of googling, especially when the subgroups of Grisha were mentioned (squallers, heartrenders, fabrikators).

If I was going to selfishly put myself in the shoes of any of these fantastic characters, Nina would be the one. She’s the one I can relate to the most, even though I can’t stop a man’s heart from the across the room. I definitely wish I could sometimes.

“You wouldn’t know a good time if it sidled up to you and stuck a lollipop in your mouth.”

The great thing about Nina Zenik is that she’s always unabashedly herself. Honestly, I would read an entire prequel just about her and Matthias before Six of Crows. Their star-crossed dynamic is definitely my cup of tea.

Wylan Van Eck – “The Runaway”

I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hug a character as much as Wylan Van Eck. He’s the epitome of the “beautiful cinnamon roll, too good for this world” meme.

“Music. Numbers. Equations. They’re not like words. They … they don’t get mixed up.”

I’m so glad Leigh Bardugo made him a POV character in Crooked Kingdom because in the first book he’s the only Crow who isn’t one. And that lack of POV made it harder to connect with him. I already adored him by the end of Six of Crows, but knowing more about his backstory is heartbreaking and necessary.

In Six of Crows, You don’t even see Kaz recruit him. He’s just there and introduced to the rest of the team. So even though he seems like a random side character at first, his backstory is actually the most relevant to the plot. His father is one of the main villains in the story, and Wylan’s personal narrative drives the plot forward.

Jesper Fahey – “The Sharpshooter”

Jesper Fahey is definitely the funniest character in Six of Crows, but he’s much more than comic relief.

“If any of you survive, make sure I have an open casket. The world deserves a few more moments with this face.”

Jesper’s a talented sharpshooter with a serious gambling problem who dropped out of college and joined a gang to survive. And he’s lying to his father about the whole thing. Honestly, he’s probably one of the most relatable characters to a modern reader.

He brings an essence of light and joy to an otherwise dark narrative. Yet, his chapters always balance the light with the dark. His dialogue is hilarious, but it’s fitted right alongside meaningful, emotional scenes.

Matthias Helvar – “The Fjerdan Traitor”

Matthias Helvar is another character who also breaks the typical male hero trope. Physically, he’s exactly what you expect from a male lead. But everything else about him is different. He’s a bit of a goody two shoes, awkward around girls, and struggles to battle with his own perception of the world.

Wanden olstrum end kendesorum. Isen ne bejstrum. The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.”

For context, and without spoiling much, Matthias is from Fjerda, a kingdom that hates Ravka and hunts down Grisha for being “abominations”. Up until he befriends Nina, he believes in this cause. Throughout Six of Crows, he grapples with the lies, propaganda, betrayal, and personal trauma that instilled these beliefs in him.

six of crows

Art by Sonich Reads

The Highlights: What Makes Six of Crows So Good?

Six of Crows has a lot of hype. I know that I’m extremely late to the party, but it fully lives up to its hype in every way possible. I haven’t fallen in love with a series this much since The Hunger Games, and I was ahead of the hype for those books.

I’ve read plenty of books that I love, but none have stuck with me quite like Six of Crows.

If you’re still thinking about a book months after you read it… If you still feel the characters with you… then you know you’ve found a beloved favorite.

The Writing Style

The writing style is an integral part of what makes this series so amazing for me. It has a large cast of characters, yet the story gives them each unique storylines and POV chapters.

There weren’t any POVs that I found boring either. In fact, they all blend together perfectly or create an effective cliffhanger between storylines.

The Romance

Another highlight about Six of Crows is that there are fantastic, believable romances with ample amounts of angst, but there isn’t a love triangle in sight. I’m not even someone who hates love triangles. However, it’s refreshing to see a story that integrates romantic storylines without bringing in a love triangle.

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together -knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

Each of the three Six of Crows couples have a lot to battle through to be together, and each “conflict” is unique to the characters and their relationships. The tension between Kaz and Inej is completely different to the simmering history between Nina and Matthias. And both of those couples differ from the fresh, budding romance between Jesper and Wylan.

And before you start thinking this series revolves around romance, it doesn’t. The romances are all subplots, yet still significant to the main plot without taking centerstage. It’s a great harmony of storylines.

The Grishaverse & World-building

The world-building is a little difficult to grasp at first because it’s a sequel series to Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy. I found myself looking at the map a few times and genuinely fascinated by all of the different nations.

After reading Shadow and Bone, I’m almost glad that I read Six of Crows first for the world-building alone. Bardugo’s dazzling Grishaverse comes alive through each page, especially in Crooked Kingdom. The story dives headfirst into political conflict and intrigue, which help to flesh out each nation in colorful detail.

For reference, each nation in the Grishaverse is loosely based on a real country.

Ravka = Imperial Russia 

Wandering Isle = Ireland

Shu Han = China and Mongolia

Novyi Zem = American Colonies 

Kerch = Dutch Republic, and Ketterdam is based heavily on Amsterdam and Victorian London

Fjerda = Scandinavia

The Ending of Six of Crows:

It’s satisfying, and also not. Crooked Kingdom doesn’t end with a sense of finality. It feels more like an ending “for now”. And after reading that Nina is a POV character in the King of Scars, I understand why Bardugo ended it the way she did. There are some characters who do get a proper farewell, but I definitely don’t think we’ve seen the last of Kaz and Inej… and I’m beyond grateful for that.

Bardugo actually recently answered a question about continuing Six of Crows with a third book on Twitter. She basically said that a third book does fit into the future she’s planned for the Grishaverse, but years down the line. 

You know what? I’ll take it!

Want to hear more about Six of Crows?

Since I’m not a booktuber (yet), I’m also going to link an awesome video review about Six of Crows. She touches on everything I love about this series and more.

No Mourners, No Funerals…


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