Unmarked spoilers for the book below! Continue at your own risk.
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, mainly because I’ve been busy and because I wasn’t sure how to put my thoughts into the proper words.
Considering I didn’t care for Bardugo’s debut effort, I never intended to read Six of Crows. After people telling me that it was better than her first series, however, I decided to give it a go and get it from the library. I did end up liking it well enough at first, and as time has gone on, it’s grown on me — I still quote a few lines to myself. It’s definitely a well written novel and I grew to love the characters.
But it’s also the characters that kept me from really flat out loving the novel. Now, I could be totally off my rocker on this, and if so I invite people to slap me with a fish. But hear me out:
Out of the cast of characters, two are non-white, two are gay, and one is open about her sexuality and extremely powerful. That’s great, I love diversity in my fantasy… except when:
Inej, a n0n-white girl who is likely this universe’s version of an Indian or Roma girl, consistently spouts off what’s called “mysterious,” wise sayings, and acts reserved/mysterious herself.
Jesper, a black (very likely) gay boy, is the comic relief character and accidentally betrays the group. While every character has their comedic moments, Jesper is the one whose personality is based on him being funny and snarky.
Nina, a white Ravkan Heartrender who is the more openly sexual/emotional of the two girls in the cast. She ends up saving the crew by taking a dose of the drug that makes Grisha really super terrifyingly powerful… and then becomes addicted to it after the single dose and will likely spend the rest of her life suffering from withdrawal and that addiction. She also gets slut shamed at times.
Wylan, a white gay boy that Jesper continually flirts with, but isn’t textually declared gay until late in the book. Until then the book veered close to queerbaiting between him and Jesper, and they still don’t get as romantic a subplot or development as, say, Kaz and Inej, or Nina and Matthias. (They better kiss in the sequel, all I’m saying, or else I’m gonna be wroth.)
Now that’s not to say that the characters are flat, one-dimensional, or complete stereotypes. Quite the contrary, they’re all fleshed out with their own histories, and they all have their shining moments and weaknesses. Like I said, I came to really love them. It’s just those things I mentioned above that kept standing out to me in a bad way. (And of course I don’t think Bardugo set out to fall into racist/old stereotypes when she crafted her characters; I believe she really did put a lot of thought into what their personalities were, how they bounced off each other, and how they worked well or not so well together. But unintentional racism is still racism.)
I could be totally wrong and talking out of my ass. I haven’t had the time to seek out other reviews to see if anyone else picked up on these details. And again: I liked the book well enough! I’ll even read the sequel, and I’m looking into buying a copy of my own. But I can’t deny that these things did bother me.
Otherwise this is the kind of YA fantasy I love: Layered, complicated, morally grey but still with hope, with a great cast of not-so-heroic characters. The stakes are high, the plotting is tight without getting in the way of the characters developmental arcs, and there are some great (and some easy to guess) twists that keep the tension palpable. A good book, just one I’d hesitate to call great due to my issues mentioned above.