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


Lucy said...

I think books in a series should all be stand alone books. Books with cliffhangers annoy me and I tend to not continue with a series like that in protest. I also am not a fan of horror, in any form. So I probably won't be checking this one out but appreciate the review. Thanks.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I tend to agree with Lucy. Most readers hate cliffhanger endings. They often feel like they're being suckered into buying another book and resent it. I see this in comments at Amazon all the time.

Great review. Not sure this is my kind of book, but it sounds well-written, except maybe for the ending.

Sarah Laurence said...

Excellent review! I read an excerpt, which was hard to follow, but your review makes me reconsider since I enjoyed Amsterdam, although I prefer books that mostly resolve at the end, even in a series. The cliffhanger ending to buy the next book makes me feel manipulated. If the writing is strong enough, I'll want to read the next book without a trick. I love the craft analysis in your reviews.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I lived in Amsterdam for a year so this one really caught my interest. Thanks.

Barrie said...

Interesting question re how much business can you leave unfinished at the end of a book? I'm not sure Perhaps it depends on the reader. A couple of my kids would be really annoyed. Personally, I'm less stringent. That said, like Sarah, if there's too much left for the second book, I feel manipulated. Thanks for the interesting review...and the tip about working off Halloween calories!

troutbirder said...

A few details left hanging is ok. Emphasize few. But if its a series themes need continuity a significant details can't be left dangling. At least that's what works for me. Thanks for the review...:)

OwlbyNight said...

Cliffhangers are necessary evils in the worlds of books unless you want to purchase 2000 page books. Just a thought.