Guys, you know my deep and abiding love for a good heist or caper story. Especially when mashed up with a good second world fantasy. The most popular and critically acclaimed books in the “Oceans 11 meets Game of Thrones” vein is probably Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, beginning with The Lies of Locke Lamora. Although personally, I prefer Patrick Weekes Rogues of the Republic series, beginning with The Palace Job. Lynch got a little gruesome for my taste, and as a person with a goofy sense of humor, I appreciate Weekes’ ability to work recurring “yo mama” jokes into a fantasy novel.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is young adult take on the fantasy heist novel. It’s set in the same world as her popular Grisha trilogy, but not a part of that series. The main setting is Ketterdam, the Grisha world’s stand-in for Amsterdam. It’s a port city run by powerful merchant guilds, with a dirty, dangerous underbelly ruled by rival gangs. True to the trope, we are introduced to the different members of the heist crew (all in their late teens), and given intriguing glimpses into their gifts, pasts, and personal reasons for taking on an impossible, virtually suicidal job.
Despite being a YA novel, this book felt closer in tone to Lynch’s series than the more lighthearted Rogues of the Republic. Even though the characters are teens, this is a harsh world, and they have experienced some grim realities, including sex trafficking, warfare, death and violence. That said, as with Locke Lamora, there were also moments of humor. The magic system from the Grisha trilogy is touched on, but the main focus is on “criminal prodigy” Kaz Brecker and the seedy world of Ketterdam’s gangs. There’s almost a Gotham feel to the setting which really appealed to the Batman fan in me.
While the stakes eventually turn out to be much bigger than the crew’s personal agendas, the story never takes that sharp left turn into epic fantasy. Bardugo maintains the feeling of a smaller scale, even as the potential consequences grow, which keeps tensions high and makes the story feel more immediate and intense.
I enjoyed Six of Crows, and will probably read the follow up Crooked Kingdom when it comes out this September. I’m less sure I will eventually get around to the Grisha trilogy, since it’s really the “Suicide Squad, bad guys saving the world” thing I enjoyed more than the world itself – although Bardugo’s writing is excellent.