Sooooooooooo. Six of Crows. Yes, well we all know how hype it’s been in the YA-sphere The premise is promising enough and … Ok, well, let me start the the beginning of my affair with Leigh Bardugo’s books.
So back when Six of Crows (SOC) came out, I was well aware of the hype it was getting and it got me curious. I learned that this story was set in the same universe as LB’s previous series, the Grisha trilogy, or as I somewhat affectionately refer to the Greg trilogy, or just Greg for reasons I’ll mention in my Greg review (LINK HERE). So yes, hearing all the advice telling me to read Greg first, I was like I DON’T CARE and started reading SOC first. I got through around 70% through (via skimreading!) and I was seriously considering going back to read Greg because the writing was just not doing it for me and the peppering of the text with ~exotic~ pseudo European flair wasn’t helping.
White people can’t even write other white people right my god…
I consulted one of my friends since she read Greg and SOC already and she told me to go for Greg because of a certain character and that LB’s books usually pick up at the end. Thus, I went back to read ALL OF GREG over my winter break and managed to finish SOC somehow. And like yeah. I found I wasn’t missing anything crucial to understanding what goes on in SOC besides the glory that is Nikolai for like fanservice (which I am glad for). This is just how LB’s books were, and I had to accept it.
But the thing is I couldn’t.
For everyone who’s still here with me: SOC wasn’t all bad.
BUT, with SOC being 70% of my first LB book, I’d have to say I’m disappointed regardless of taking hype into account or not.
1) The Writing – slow and dry af
One of the first things that stood out to me in SOC was how much I couldn’t stomach the writing. Preference in writing style is a very subjective thing, but I found that the writing in SOC was lacking a certain oomph that really immerses me in the narrative. I was quite bored from the get go and started skimming through a lot of text. And maybe this was because I skimmed a lot, but I recall they were TELLING me things more than actually SHOWING me things. This shit was so dry, it was desicating what little enjoyment I could potentially have while reading this book.
The main reason I mention the writing is because this didn’t work well to establish our main boy Kaz. While I know objectively, he’s supposed to be written as this ruthless criminal mastermind and edgy and all that, all I could think was damn, is this a cry for help? A summary of what the narration made me think:
I have the livetweets to show it; I was definitely not enjoying our introduction to our (main?) protag. I can roll with MC’s being bad or morally grey people, but I can’t roll with such a trite way to introduce a character. In retrospect, this may be a manifestation of how he’s trying to maintain his persona of Dirty Hands Kaz, but at this point I don’t care.
The PLOT ahaha ok the plot. There is one but I waited a long ass time for it to get rolling and it wans’t even an exciting heist to read. The plot was moving at such a snail’s pace that all the backstories were just in the way even if they gave me development. Usually I’m the type to forgive a bad or mediocre plot if there’s development, but in this case this book made be flip the fucking flop.
2) The Characters – Well thought out, hit or miss for the exectuion and alsoI resent certain comments because avatar tla is my favorite show. But then again ATLA was also ruined for me by bad writing.
The characters aren’t horrible. I can tell LB put thought into developing backstories for the main squad. In fact, I particularly enjoyed Inej and Nina’s characters most of the time and as much as I resent the “Matthias is a big blonde Zuko” thing, baby Thor’s got a good story too – and it’s probably one of the best IMO because it’s about questioning the country you come from. (at this point many americans would all be Zuko)
SOC has a lot of good things going on for it. The characters are by no means one-dimensional, yet I still can’t get aboard the bandwagon and sing its praises. And that’s because… of perhaps a few single lines. Y’all who’re still with me must be wondering Alice, how can a few lines make a break a book for you? It doesn’t, but these small things accumulate.
3) The Diversity – it exists, which reflects reality. At the same time, I found some issues people may or may not have picked up on because I’m petty as fuck but that doesn’t make it any less true. Most of the problems I found with this are related to the world building. Some things I found are just plain personal. I may or may not overlook some things because this is from my perspective and mine alone.
Get ready for my unpopular opinion: Diversity in and of itself does not make a book good. I know I’m echoing something that Francina Simone has often said in her videos and I didn’t completely wrap my head around this idea until I decided to finish SOC once and for all. Francina herself gave a positive review of the book and while we disagree on this particular book, I get it, man. I get it now (if you ever see this, Francina, Hiiiiiii)
I also have a quote from a classmate from HS: “We’re not racist because we’re diverse.” LOL, right? SOMEHOW THE EXISTENCE OF POC, which is a naturally occuring phenomenon, at least in real life I assure you (bc lol fantasy be white af), just automatically makes us as a society not racist. The kool-aid must taste good, Grace.
SO… SOC is considered pretty I guess groundbreaking in terms of diversity. But m’boy… I seen better. YA can do better than this and it has done better than this (rarely, but it has) IMO.
Stereotypes. Lemme talk about them.
- Inej – Suli = Romani sterotype. Inej isn’t a one-dimensional character, but damn. Recalling how the Suli were portrayed in Greg and comparing it to what we see in SOC
- Comparing it to Captive Prince, where it’s obvious that the racism depicted between Vere and Akielos is IN UNIVERSE and since the author is of Meditteranean descent herself, I find it highly unlikely this reflects how she views people of the modern day equivilant ethnicity. I can see that argument (depiction of an -ism ≠ view of the author) for the Suli as well, but yeah your only brown girl main chara has a sexual abuse tragic backstory. Hmmm…
- Matthias – a pan-Scandinavian flair but with German stereotype layered on top
- I have less issue with this because I see what parallels LB is trying to make, but it’s still kinda annoying.
- Wylan and Jesper – I honestly don’t remember enough about them to pick out any problems. They’re just kinda on the side.
Unlike Sashisa oh wait that’s a shameless plug for my writing sorry.
- Shu-Han stereotypes – ROLLS UP SLEEVES OK HERE WE GO IT GETS PERSONAL HOLD MY NOT SO DELICATE FLOWER
So what’s with this bullshit Mongolian-Shu Han ancient Chinese kingdom hybrid we have here called Shu Han? Just on the basis of historical timeline – Shu Han was a real kingdom back in the romance of the three kingdoms era in China and putting that in the same period of time as pseudo-imperial Russia in Greg… what even?
I did find another review (LINK, LINK) that mentioned these too minus the thing with Shu Han in the first one linked, but the second mentions it.
The same Shu “tilt” is mentioned here, which pissed me the fuck off the first time without knowing that the “tilt” was also in Greg (in Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I believe). You might as well just said slanty-eyed because that’s what you meant, right? Fuck.
- The Shu “tilt” is mentioned in a passage about the house of exotics and it refers to like… something about the way the Shu Han (Gregverse’s psuedo east-asian rep) eyes look. Hmm I wonder what it could be referring to…
- While yes, in universe this passage was meant to show how the brothel takes advantage of fetishization of certain racial features from all sorts of ethnicities, YA OK like of course I see east asian monolid on this list. As if irl we don’t already see this.
- I’d gladly direct y’all to: Writing with color on describing Asian people’s eyes (LINK)
- I haven’t read Crooked Kingdom yet, but if Kuwei gets Asami Sato syndrome I swear…
Yeah, so the Shu Han barbaric warrior also evil inhumane scientist/druglord etc etc shit. Being an Asian-American (still real Asian for anyone who’d inevitably like to fight me) womanchild who’s done with that shit irl and born done with that shit in fiction,that’s not really something I can forgive among other things.
LB has really good PR skills. I’ve seen her write well thought-out responses to criticisms of her books and definitely sells the image of a put-together author by addressing issues people bring up about how she wrote Ravka as pseudo-Russia, so props to her. I’d have to agree with message #47 down there by Emily because she summarizes pretty well how I feel about the Gregverse world-building.
At the end of the day, it’s important to have varied depictions of underrepresented groups of people because they exist and aren’t a monolith. I feel like SOC is on the right track in terms of that, but damn I wouldn’t call it the epitome of diverse YA. I’m not really impressed with the stereotypes of real world cultures I’ve seen in the Grishaverse (I call it Gregverse) because again, it relies on the education of the audience on these cultures. And usually, it ain’t much. Part of me is really sick of fandom nutting over how diverse SOC is. Like shit, my animu son YOI does diversity too (and it’s pretty damn good perhaps maybe Seung Gil being like the outwardly unemotional Korean but still…)
I’ll fucking write my own, guys. I’ll fucking write my own book… to make myself feel better about what I’ve read from LB.
4) Wordbuidling – Same as in Greg, which I hated. Triggers me everytime I see words, which is all the time.
VERY MUCH related to the point I made about our real world sterotypes leaking into Gregverse. I never liked how LB peppers the text in Gregverse with all these European or faux European terms to add flair to the world, as if that somehow is a substitute for actual world building. I actually read Greg and finished SOC while I was in the Netherlands on my winter break lmao.
Interesting to note readers mentioning that for Greg, people mentioned this is written from a Westerner perspective and here I am like YOU GUYS KNOW HOW I FEEL WHEN PEOPLE FUCK UP CHINESE CULTURE IN THESE BOOKS LORD JESUS HALLELUJAH.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars @ Goodreads
Why? Mostly because of the writing and all the extra stuff I mentioned didn’t help it get into my good graces.
Sorry not sorry. Petty? Yes petty.
Will I read Crooked Kingdom? Eventually for my promised Nikolai cameo and pretty much nothing else.
Yeah, I’ve done lots of reading of reviews on Greg and SOC… I could write a thesis.