We’ve all got secrets, we all carry shame, and there are things each of us desperately wants, especially things that are wrong for us.
Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows isn’t just a fast-paced, frantically page-turning heist story; it speaks to the complexities of each person, how we’re made of contradictions. Six of Crows is set in the fantasy city of Ketterdam (similar to Holland), where thugs and thieves run the streets and Kaz Brekker is their crippled, trickster king. Multiple viewpoints bring to life the diversity of characters who are all coming together to pull off the impossible: breaking into one of the most notoriously guarded prisons in the world and coming out with not only their lives, but also the prisoner who will make them all millionaires.
While the story shifts between six main characters, Inej, “The Wraith”, is the most prominent. A girl transformed by the hardship of surviving in Ketterdam somehow has an enduring softness of spirit. She has seen the ugliness of the world and has become dangerous herself, yet maintains the best kind of vulnerability: an openness to the beauty of life, a regard for existence. Inej is the type of person that makes me reconsider how I react to situations—instead of jumping in without thought, she exudes confidence and takes the time to reflect. Best of all, she is many things: the frightened girl, the spy, deadly with a blade, thoughtful, honest, alone—she does not fit tidily into a box, which makes her so very human.
This humanness and complexity is apparent in all of the main characters, each of them absolutely distinct and decidedly dynamic. They are each broken in some way, changed by the harshness of living, and yet they are more beautiful for it, for having a vitality of character that has pulled them to this moment where they must work together to make their fortunes and ultimately gain freedom from the internal demons they fight.
Brekker, the thieving leader, is resistant to leaning on anyone. He has had to fight his way to the top and learned along the way that most people are fools, easily malleable with the appropriate kind of pressure: their secrets and shame. Yet one of his biggest hurdles is letting anyone, especially Inej, see any part of him that is not hard edges or tailored sharpness. “Though he’d trusted her with his life countless times, it felt much more frightening to trust her with his shame.” The ‘weakness’ of others that Brekker has exploited is exactly what he will have to meet in himself if he can ever have what he truly wants: closeness.
There are no moments to rest in this story, no chance to catch your breath. Be ready for an intense, consuming experience that fills you with love for the absolute beauty of being human, a reminder of how unique we all are and how much is really going on under the surface of our reputations.
Photography by Ashley Posluns
Amanda Wood is the lifestyle section editor for On the Danforth. She’s an avid reader and reviewer of YA fiction. She has a love for comfy sweaters and all things magical. You can find her on Instagram.