What do you get if you combine the clever heists of Ocean’s Eleven with the multi-POV and superpowers of Zeroes? It’d look something like Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, a new series set in her existing Grisha universe – just make sure you’ve read Shadow and Bone first.

I regret reading Six of Crows before Shadow and Bone. As an introduction to Bardugo’s Grisha-verse, Crows offers a very poor explanation for the magicians and their powers. Snippets of backstories and references to events I’m unfamiliar with are scattered throughout Crows, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed Crows more with the benefit of reading the original series first.

That said, most of the book is easy enough to follow. It centers around Kaz Brekker, a young rogue who runs a powerful criminal gang in Ketterdam – a gambling and tourist destination that barely operates above-board. Kaz agrees to his riskiest gamble yet – to lead his gang into a foreign nation and abduct a scientist working on a powerful drug that amplifies ordinary Grisha magicians into near-godlike beings.

Crows really nails the gritty Industrial-London-inspired vibe, complete with dodgy businessmen, seedy taverns, gambling houses, and slave prostitution. Ketterdam is not a good place, and its inhabitants are not good people – at least, not on the surface. At the heart of every crooked gang member is a softie with a complicated backstory.

Despite the magicians and guns and gangs, Six of Crows is really a character-driven novel. Each of the five Point-of-View characters has a complex backstory that intersects with at least one of the other characters. There are a few twists and turns hidden away in those histories – but after a while, endlessly exploring these backstories becomes a little tiresome.

The actual ‘heist’ can, at times, feel complicated and confused. With so many people in different places, it’s far too easy to lose direction, and almost every sticky situation is revealed as another planned deception. The first few times, it makes me think that Kaz is an expert schemer; by the hundredth time he ‘knew this would happen’, I can’t help but roll my eyes in disbelief.

That doesn’t mean Crows is a bad book – in fact, I really liked the book. Unfortunately, everything fell slightly short of my own expectations. I wanted something more that Crows simply didn’t deliver.

Of course, every reader is different, and I quite enjoyed Six of Crows, so I do recommend you read it – the cliffhanger ending will leave you wanting more, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out of the sequel, Crooked Kingdom. 

The Good

Complex backstories and layered characters, with plenty of action and a touch of magical powers. Vivid world description and very memorable characters.

The Bad

Might need to read Shadow and Bone first. The actual heist feels overtly complicated and the genius foresight wears thin after the characters escape trouble so many times.

The Verdict

An enjoyable fantasy/heist hybrid that offers memorable characters and a gritty industrial feel – just ignore the sometimes-unreasonable logical leaps.

3/5 Stars