Book review: The Six of Crows Duology (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) by Leigh Bardugo

If this is your first time reading a Lee’s Notes book review, it’s customary for me to preface every YA novel review with something like, “Now I don’t really read YA novels, but…” or “Sometimes I enjoy YA novels more than I hate myself for reading them, so…” But not today, Satan. I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology at the start of the year and to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. Her duology is so well written and well paced and just all in all charming, it’s easy to forgive the occasional cliche and stretched plot element to root for the romances and boo the antagonists.

Six of Crows and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, tell the story of rising Ketterdam gangster Kaz Brekker and his unlikely band of antiheroes as they try to break into one of the most secure military strongholds in the world, the Ice Court, to retrieve a scientist. The scientist holds the key to jurda parem, a drug that super powers already powerful people with abilities known as Grisha. In exchange for this feat, Kaz and his five accomplices can expect untold riches…

Six of Crows is a heist novel, set around the group’s attempt to infiltrate Fjerdan’s Ice Court. Crooked Kingdom chronicles the fallout. Both books are high paced, but not so much that you’d lose sleep worrying about what happens. Bardugo’s characters are interesting, each with enough backstory to fill their own novels. Romance and intrigue, “will they or won’t they?” and plenty of gore made these books a great read, and I’m sorely tempted to look up the other books in her Grisha verse.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Six of Crows; Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Indigo (2015); Henry Holt (2016)
Rating: 5/5 for both novels (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.79/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s fun, entertaining and generally more complex than your average YA novel.
The worst feature of the book: Bardugo’s written such a great story that it’s easy to forget her characters are all a bunch of teenagers.
Trigger warnings: There are a lot of adult themes: sexual violence, murder, torture, slavery.
You’ll like this if… You like YA novels, or if you’re looking for something that’s absorbing but won’t disrupt your sleeping schedule.

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Book review: The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer

the-lunar-chronicles

I always swear up and down I won’t read any more young adult fiction – my days as a Twihard haunt me still, though perhaps not as much as they should – but inevitably a YA title makes it way into my reading list, and here we are. Sometimes the experience is unpleasant – Jennifer Armentrout’s “Obsidian” and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series both come to mind – but YA fiction isn’t always like being stabbed in the liver.

In that vein, I’ve got to say I enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles without worrying how it would look if I died with these books on my bedside cabinet.

Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and Winter – with a bunch of novellas stopping gaps between the major instalments – follow the lives of various heroines loosely based on old fairy tales. In Cinder, we learn about cyborg Lihn Cinder, mechanic and outcast; in Scarlet, about the red-haired, red hoodie-wearing Scarlet, whose grandmother is missing; in Cress, about a girl with tangles of hair stuck in an orbiting satellite; and in Winter, the final instalment, we meet Princess Winter, the beautiful envy of her evil stepmother…

Half of what makes these stories so intriguing is the ease with which Meyer introduces her story world: an earth far into the future that still feels familiar, teetering, as it is, on the edge of dystopia but not quite there yet, although not for lack of trying on the disease and enemy fronts. Meyer tells you about the society through the experiences of her characters, so the narrative isn’t slogged down with her story world’s history.

The other half of what makes it work are the characters themselves. In many ways they’re your typical YA fare: the misunderstood heroine, spotted – against all odds – by the handsome or misunderstood or enigmatic or blasé-but-really-deep-deep-down boy, with the requisite angst, intrigue and romance. But as in all good YA, while the boy fights for the heroine, these heroines fight for themselves and the people around them. There’s a depth to them that colour them interesting.

And, you know, it’s fun. It’s fun reading Meyer’s adaptation of familiar stories into something else, something unexpected without robbing them of their quintessence, and reading it, I was excited to see how she would sketch all these characters into a cohesive narrative. The plot doesn’t slow down – I finished all four novels inside a week – so it’s fair to say that Meyer did a good job.

Why these novels aren’t more popular – the first I saw of them was a random pin on Pinterest – baffles me. I’m assuming it’s because they were published right between Twilight’s last hard fandom encore, and the then nascent Hunger Games frenzy. Meyer exceeds both Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins in technical writing ability, though I suppose you could say that The Lunar Chronicles had a slightly younger audience in mind. Still, it’s a shame that these books were overshadowed by other series when they have such interesting characters and such an intriguing narrative.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter).
Author: Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4/5 for the whole series (Goodreads rating for comparison: an average of about 4/5)
The best feature of the books: The heroines are all pretty cool. Skimming the reviews on Goodreads I noticed that more than one person disliked Cinder, the main protagonist of the series. She’s hardly perfect, but I found her relatable and well constructed. Also, there isn’t a single love triangle in sight; not a one.
The worst feature of the books: If I had to nitpick, I’d say it’s the fact that Levana could have solved a lot of her own problems, but reading the books you understand why she misses obvious opportunities. She’s a pretty despicable villain, but I find it a pity that her despicableness is so related to the typical “evil woman” stereotype – a lost or rejected lover, etc.
Trigger warnings: General creepiness. While aimed at a slightly younger audience, these books don’t mess around when it comes to mentioning things like rape, and there’s quite a bit of graphic violence. There’s also some serious ick factor when it comes to the Lunar gift (a form of mind control).
You’ll like this if… You like YA fiction in general or need to read something interesting but ultimately harmless.