Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Book Review Club - Six of Crows

Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo

It's not the classic horror that I can't seem to stay away from this time of year--little known fact: having the bejeezus scared out of you scares away the Halloween candy calories too--but it is classically, ruthlessly good fiction.

Six of Crows is the story of a gang from the worst side of Ketterdam, a fictionalized Amsterdam replete with canals, ruthless trade and traffiking of every kind, and, of course, drugs. Come on, it's Amsterdam. Even in a fictionalized version, drugs are a must. My favorite quip from my then 12 year old as we were walking out of our vrbo apartment on the Leiedesplein, the last ring of canals around the city, toward Hotel American to catch the street car: "Ah, there's nothing like the smell of fresh pot in the morning!' Amsterdam is Amsterdam.

And drugs drive this story. A gang from the Dregs (think: Redlight District) is hired to break a famous scientist, the creator of a drug called parem, out of a high security prison in Fjerda, a country known for its warrior-soldiers, and bring said scientist back to Ketterdam to the Merchant Council, specifically merchant, Jan Van Eck, who hires them. Supposedly, the Council has chosen a gang, rather than trained soldiers, because they feel a group of criminals has the right experience and deviousness to outsmart warrior-soldiers. Plus, this all must be done far below the political radar.

Gang leader, Kaz Brekker, pools his most-talented members--Inej, the Wraith; Nina, the Grisha (kind of witch); Matthias, a Fjerdan who's fallen out of grace with his command unit; Jesper, sharpshooter; Wylan, disgraced son of Jan Van Eck and bombs expert.

The story is told in close 3rd, moving chapter after chapter among the six characters POVs. It got a little confusing at times since it was close  3rd. I had to scroll back to determine from whose POV the chapter was being told. I'm not sure the always added to the storytelling, but at times, it is clear why Bardugo did it. She needed to get inside the head of a character, and instead of doing that piecemeal, she went Full Monty, and committed for the entire story. That said, Bardugo delivers a fast-paced, action-filled, plot intense tale.

The craft point I found most interesting is that, while Bardugo resolves the initial problem - breaking the scientist out of jail and getting him back to Ketterdam - at the same time, she creates a pressing, new problem that is not resolved at novel's end, So, strings loosened and cut at the beginning are reattached in new and interesting ways, but new strings are undone. This is book one of a duology and my guess is that Bardugo had sold both stories together and had the freedom to end the first book with unfinished business to lure readers into book two - Crooked Kingdom - which I am reading now.  So yeah, it works, at least it did on me, and I am notorious for not reading anything but the first book in any sort of continuing saga. My reason: the author put all she had into book one. Those that follow are just staying in that universe. So far, that's my experience with book two, Crooked Kingdom.  It isn't a bad thing. There are just so many other, new stories to read. I'm hopelessly behind.

The question this leaves me with, however, is how much newly unfinished business can a writer leave at the end of a story? Readers like things tied up neatly if the story is going to be over, but what if we writers purposefully don't deliver? What then? Gabriel Garcia Marquez does something akin to this at the ending of One Hundred Years of Solitude but how far can we push it? And what is the result? It feels like fairly uncharted territory for the novel--varying the degree of satisfaction vs. wondering we leave the reader with at the end of a story. It's almost the very premise of a story -- dissatisfaction and its multitude of forms. Hmm...

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@Barrie Summy