Six of Crows (2015) and Crooked Kingdom (2016) form The Six of Crows Duology, part of author Leigh Bardugo’s “Grishaverse”. Both novels are written from the third-person perspectives of our six main characters: Kaz, Inej, Matthias, Wylan, and most importantly, my personal heroes Nina Zenik and Jesper Fahey. These characters are often referred to as "the Crows" within the fandom — given the book’s title.
The Six of Crows Duology has everything you could possibly want from young adult (YA) fantasy! The streets of Ketterdam, inspired by a fantastical but rougher and more industrialized Amsterdam, are crawling with seedy criminals, from pick-pockets up to gangsters. Away from the streets, the broader world faces a tense political situation, where a magical drug is giving the Grisha (witches) powers beyond imagination, but also proving lethal as they’re manipulated by the wealthy merchants and dealers. As the street gangs skirmish over territory and their businesses of gambling dens, bars, and brothels, the merchants continue to grapple with the ever-growing crisis that threatens not just Ketterdam, but the whole world.
Meanwhile, our main characters all find themselves, for one reason or another, in desperate need of coin, and Kaz, the group’s leader, knows just what to do. The six are given the opportunity to make 30 million kruge, enough for each to solve their problems and then some, when they’re asked to break into the Ice Court, the world’s most deadly and well-protected prison. Simple enough, right? Not exactly, when no one has ever broken into the Ice Court and lived to tell the tale.
What follows is the mad-cap adventure of a heist novel, where the stakes grow greater with each turn of the page. Bardugo will have you laughing on one page and screaming on the next; all the while, the distinct feeling that no one is ever truly safe looms over everything like a dark cloud. The cliffhanger between Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is jaw-dropping. I want to keep this book club spoiler free, but all I’m going to say is if you know, then you know. But you’re not here just for hilarious antics, a water-tight fantasy system, and characters you’ll fall in love with before you can say "no mourners, no funerals", are you? You’re here for our two brilliant bisexuals... Jesper Fahey and Nina Zenik.
When we first meet Jesper, he seems like the typical comedic relief archetype. He's Kaz's right-hand man and a witty, sarcastic flirt. He’s described as "long-limbed, brown-skinned, constantly in motion", and always carrying his trusted pearl-handled revolvers. A charmer, Jesper is openly bi, something which appears no big deal in the Grishaverse. However, as the books continue and the stakes are raised, we see a different side to Jesper. One that is caring, concerned, and devoted to those he loves. In his blossoming relationship with love interest Wylan van Eck, we see him go from a somewhat selfish and carefree way of living to become considerate of his partner's wants and needs, and how he can help provide them.
The beauty of Jesper, and the thing that pushes him past the cheeky, jack-of-the-lads stereotype he initially seems to be, is that he would do anything to save the people he loves. It's also worth noting that Jesper is a rare example of a black bisexual male character, making his representation on page ever more important.
Nina Zenik, our other bi babe, is bold, loud, and unapologetically herself at all times. She is a Grisha Heartrender (someone who can magically manipulate another person’s blood flow, thereby calming their emotions). Kaz describes her as being "tall" and "built like the figurehead of a ship carved by a generous hand". Nina is proudly plus size, not ashamed of her appetite or appearance, and generally seen as attractive to those she encounters. I found this a particularly pleasant surprise for a YA novel, which typically tend to lack body diversity. Like Jesper, she is openly bi, a matter which is not questioned by any of the characters, even though she (gasp) ends up in a relationship with a man!
From the start, we understand that Nina is self-sacrificing. Her warmth is apparent from the way she shows affection to her love interest Matthias and the consideration she shows Inej. Their friendship as the only two women in the group is truly beautiful; despite all their differences in belief and personality, they clearly care deeply for each other.
Nina also appears as a main character in the King of Scars (2019) and Rule of Wolves (2021) duology, which is set a year after the events of The Six of Crows Duology. Whilst I don’t want to spoil the events of these books in any way, her bisexuality is further explored within its plot, and is definitely worth a read for any "Grishaverse" fans!
The Six of Crows Duology are two of my all-time favorite books. It’s so rare to find a YA series where you can love and appreciate every single character, and where six perspectives truly hold their own unique voice within a narrative. I strongly suggest this duology (and its Netflix adaptation) if you too enjoy excellent bi representation, a found-family motley crew of flawed but loveable characters, high-stakes heist antics, humor, and of course, heartbreak. Until next time...
No mourners, no funerals.
*Note: The Six of Crows Duology takes place two years after the events of the final book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, which was published prior. Though there are some fun cameos and references you may miss if you haven’t read the Shadow and Bone Trilogy first, the Crows can very much be enjoyed on its own. Personally, I think it's better not to have read Shadow and Bone! Controversial, I know. It's also worth mentioning that there is no bi representation in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. The Netflix show meshes the two series’ storylines in a way that stays true to the characters and their causes and is definitely worth a watch too.