Six of Crows is a book about a gang of teenagers who need to break into a well-guarded prison in order to break out and kidnap some guy who invented a magical super drug that imbues magic users with extreme powers like some kind of supersonic heroin.
I did not realize that this was Young Adult fiction when I started reading it. Through my powers of superior deduction I soon figured it out. Indeed, almost every single one of the main characters was seventeen years old. I asked myself why so many of the characters are seventeen
Self, I asked, why are so many of the characters seventeen?
Self, I responded, this is because I think there is a certain demographic this book is targeted at.
Like, such as?
Seventeen year olds and their ilk.
Speaking of seventeen year olds, I do not currently know any seventeen year olds and it has been a long time and a lot of hair ago that I was seventeen myself. I readily admit that my knowledge of the capabilities of seventeen year olds is lacking.
HOWEVER, it takes a helluva long time to master a skill, and even if you are naturally gifted like every one of the main characters in this book, you would still need more time to hone your craft to the level that these characters display. This book felt like an RPG fantasy in which every character had already levelled up to maximum before the plot has even begun. They are all smart, world-weary savants who also happen to be seventeen. I was impressed with Lionel Messi when he came on as a substitute for Barcelona at the age of seventeen and scored a goal. If Lionel Messi had been in this book, though, he would have already won a Champions League title been a runner up for the Ballon D’or and would have been smarter, faster, and more skilled than all of the other, much more experienced and mature soccer players in the world.
Not sure how soccer would make it into this particular book, except that Ketterdam is some kind of unholy representation of Amsterdam and the Dutch know how to play some good soccer. Not recently, but historically. Remember when they used to play in the World Cup? Those were great days. I think my favourite Ketterdam/Amsterdam link was the waffles with apple syrup reference.
No, wait, that was my least favourite. It made me want to walk down “Silverstraat” and push a seventeen year-old criminal mastermind into a canal.
What the author seems to forget is that the pressure and suspense that make a story great are in the possibility of failure. If all of your characters are the best at what they do, it is difficult for a reader to fear that these characters will struggle to succeed. If you’ll forgive me for making another shameless soccer metaphor, it is like watching Bayern Munich in the group stage of the Champion’s League. You are entirely confident that they will advance, the only mystery is in how successfully they will advance. And where is the excitement in that?
Now, if I were to put these concerns aside, is this a good book?
I would say that the writing is generally good with my main criticism of it being that the separate character voices for each chapter do not really feel that different from one another. Their differing perspectives were fairly well represented and their backstories were interesting for the most part. The setting was imaginative and the sort-of-early-industrial-magic-colonial time period was unique. The plot was decent, although I was expecting a little more, I dunno, tension in a break-out caper. This tension was not delivered in a large part because, as noted above, the characters are far too powerful.
There were moments of writing and plot that I genuinely enjoyed. I did feel immersed in the world a couple of times, but I was also bemused by the strange mixture of colonial archetypes with magic and irrationality as well as a truly confusing array of industrial and modern technology. How does the Fjerdan culture, for example, have such backwards religious sensibilities while simultaneously creating powerful military tanks? Sure, the fabrikators or whatever they’re called, can create amazing things with that supersonic drug, but the first self-propelled vehicle is a heavily armoured tank complete with tracks and a large calibre cannon?
I get it, fantasy and science fiction are genres in which the reader must suspend their disbelief. However, I could not suspend disbelief for this culture that worshipped a talking tree, considered wolves sacred while also inventing tanks. TANKS! Tanks, while the rest of this fantasy world is still sailing about the world, the Fjerdans are rolling forward in their tanks. Tanks.
Although I enjoyed some of their backstories, I did not feel particularly connected with any of the characters, especially not the psychopathic eye-ball plucking leader of this misfit crew. Of course, it’s been almost nineteen years since I was seventeen. Basically, I am old enough to be two characters in this book but only skilled enough to be, say, one of the nameless extras milling about in the background.
Would I have enjoyed this book when I was seventeen? I tried to think like my seventeen year old self, but all I could come up with were fragmentary lyrics from Mambo No. 5 and vague memories of a glorious afro. Conclusion: probably not.
Obviously, I am not this book’s target audience. This book was not written for me. If I had to use a culinary metaphor for this book, it would be a gristly pork chop. That is, while it was kind of entertaining to consume and had some tasty bits, a lot of it is just bone and gristle and generally unpalatable.
3 brooding antiheroes out of 6