Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Published: Henry Holt and Co. (September 2015)

In Ketterdam there are things that lurk in the night and city streets are not safe for child or man. Greed is king and Kaz wears the crown as the Barrell’s most notorious thief and gangleader. He’s wily and ruthless and he never lets a mark get away with a full pocket. For that reason he’s been hired to lead a gang of six to break the most wanted scientist in the world out of the most notorious prison in the world. A man who has supposedly created a drug so powerful it turns Grisha (those born with supernatural powers) into drug addled all powerful slaves. If Kaz succeeds he’ll finally have the kind of money to buy the thing he wants most in the world. Revenge.
Six of Crows blindsided me because I hadn’t read her other works in the Grishaverse, but I must say that you don’t need to. It definitely stands alone and if I weren’t knee deep in reading season I’d be pining for the second installment. I felt the same way about The Wrath and the Dawn and its sequel. 
So little time. It’s clocking in at 400+ pages and I read them all. You don’t know how much of a statement that is. I stayed up late turning pages and I dreaded the end. It’s five stars.
There is a lesson being taught here about how to include diversity in your fantasy without being condescending or cursory. Each character is given a full backstory and that includes a racial makeup. What sets this story apart is that the darker skinned characters aren’t subservient to or being oppressed by the lighter skinned characters, nor are they closer to nature in some sort of mystical way that makes them superior or inferior to anyone. They have belief systems that attach them to their country (Inej) without it being some sort or racial quirk. Nor are they more aggressive than their counterparts (I’m looking at you GOT fans). If you’re a white writer and wondering how to include diversity you should definitely take a look. I’ll have to go back and read, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the main character, Kaz, is of color. There are some fan-based illustrations floating around, but that could just be how I’m reading it. 
Of course, I encourage you to play with race as you read any book. Whatever is in your mind’s eye is just fine and can add some flavor to your reading.

This book is perfect for:

  • Those who love impossible odds
  • Anybody itching for an ensemble cast
  • A guy who hasn’t been able to find anything to meld his love of crime novels and Tolkien
Discussion Questions:  (beware of spoilers)
1. Kaz wears gloves because of an aversion to touching human flesh. We know this because of a horrible escape from death he made as a young boy. What other kinds of psychological “ticks” could have emerged from his escape?
2. The Grisha are in hiding in most of the Grishaverse, despite having incredible power. Is there something in human nature that makes us fear those who are different? 
3. The money is supposed to be the draw for the six members of the team, but everyone has their true motives. Discuss the ulterior motive of each member.
4. There are whispers of romantic feelings among all of the members. Which is your favorite couple or potential couple?
5. Matthias is racked with guilt about betraying his country and his order. Are his feelings valid or are they misplaced?
6. Kaz is an anti-hero in that he displays few of the characteristics of a traditional hero in that he is a avowed thief, criminal and killer. Why should the reader root for him despite his ruthless criminality?
7. Kaz has a limp caused by an injury in his past. We don’t often see characters with disabilities, especially those as ruthless as Kaz. What kinds of feelings does this inspire in the reader? Would he seem more vicious without it? What about the need for his gloves? Would he be a hero or a demon without either of these traits?

If you like this, then try:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore has a strong protagonist with a killer edge and you won’t be disappointed with the subsequent books in the series.
At first read I thought something large and circus-like like Panic at the Disco, but soaring vocals are better suited to the dramatic highs and lows of the story.
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