Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Six of Crows after hearing great things about it from friends. I flew through it, and then immediately had to pick up the sequel. It was an incredibly compelling fantasy adventure about plucky young thieves pulling a daring heist. I loved the characters SO MUCH, which my other complaints about the world building and plot even more frustrating. Characters this great deserve the best sorts of books to inhabit, and this wasn’t quite there.

To be blunt, the world building felt lazy. Identifying the inspiration for the different cities and cultures was too easy. If there’s going to be such obvious parallels, I want it to do something interesting with these relationships, lampshade it in someway that feels clever, instead of just using stand-ins. The mishmash of fantasy and steampunk had the possibility to be awesome, and it is cool, but it never really differentiates itself.

I was also frustrated by the muddled politics of the story. It’s possible that I’ve been reading too much China Mieville lately. Not every book is going to be built out of a strong underlying socialist ideology, nor should it be that way, but having something solid underneath helps. These books had some nice Robin Hood aspirations, and wanting to be damage the profits of those in power instead of the lives of ordinary people, but it’s never clearly articulated. It seemed like Bardugo was trying to make a larger point, but didn’t want to straight out say it, which is very valid, it’s generally not a great idea to have your characters talk about the moral of the story. But because of weak world building and an emphasis on characters the meaning got lost.

The three main ships were obvious from a quarter of the way through the first book, which isn’t a bad thing because I was rooting for all of them. But then only one of the relationships wound up being satisfying for me. I understood why Bardugo left them where she did, but I didn’t like it, and wouldn’t have done it myself. The strength of the book is the relationships, and it felt like they were shortchanged at the end. (Killing a character does not automatically make a story more sophisticated or deeper. I’ve seen this problem in YA before, and it bugs me so much).

The thing is, that despite these complaints, I loved reading both books. They were so much fun, and the characters were so compelling, and I wanted to see what happened next. It’s a very fun adventure to be in, even if some of the underlying mechanics were flawed. Also, I’m reading this as a twenty-four year old writer with an English degree. They’re YA books. If I was the intended audience I bet most of the things that bother me would not have been a problem. They’re very cool books, get them for the kids in your life to read before they grow up to be picky old grumps like me.

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Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Team Human was a sharp young adult novel that played with the tropes of popular paranormal romance. I found the beginning rather grating, where the authors seemed preoccupied with making fun of vampire books. It got a lot better when they started making their own world building clear, and getting into their characters as more than just archatypes. Their world building was excellent. They put a new spin on pieces of the vampire mythology, creating a world that felt solid and complex. The characters work best once it’s shown how much they care about each other. They’re shallow on their own, but their connections made me care about them. It’s always good to see a young adult book with a diverse cast in terms of race and sexual orientation. The protagonist, Mel starts out flat, but her voice gets voice gets more developed and more distinct as it goes on. If this is a genre you’re interested in this is definitely worth checking out, it’s fresh and fun.