How Kaz Brekker Saved My Life; or A Very Personal Review of Six of Crows

While this blog post will also contain my review for Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, it will also contain subject matter some reader my find triggering. Therefore, there is a content warning for suicide and suicidal ideation.

Should you only want to read the review, simply scroll past the first section.


It has taken me a long time to get to reading the beauty of the book that is Six of Crows. With it’s beautiful cover art, and stunning black sprayed edges, it’s a treasure on my shelves even if only to look at. There’s no real reason why I haven’t read it before now, but I will admit to reading it now primarily because I was told I’d get more from King of Scars (Bardugo’s latest book in the Grishaverse) if I did. I went into it thinking I knew what I was signing up for: a teen version of Peaky Blinders with more diversity and a touch of magic. As usual, I got a lot more than that, but I wasn’t expecting just how much more I got.

As followers of mine may know, I lost my 12-year-old cousin a year ago to suicide and it’s something I’m not ashamed to admit I’m still very much struggling to handle. As someone who has suffered very serious and very chronic depression along with being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, suicide is something that is constantly haunting me.

Does this mean that I, myself, am suicidal?

At one point it did but I’ve gotten a little better at handling the dark days to the extend it’s more like intrusive thinking on it’s own rather than an impulsive urge to follow through on said intrusive thoughts. It’s background noise that gets louder on bad days, but still background noise. Since losing my cousin to something that I’ve thought about so intensly over the years, the noise is harder to quiet. Considering my life is not nearly where I was hoping and wanting it to be right now, it’s especially hard to ignore.

My day job is not ideal. The feeling of being a burden to those around me is suffocating. Being 24-years-old and not even really knowing who I am in my own head, let alone to the world around me, feels embarrassing when I see those around me who are younger and still more successful. These are things that make the noise loudest and sometimes it’s to the point where it’s hard to breathe.

In the past I’ve tried to keep thinking of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or even hyper focusing on anime like Naruto, Bleach and Full Metal Alchemist for motivation to keep moving forward (a prominent line from FMA) but those things always taper out and fade away and I’m stuck scrambling to find something else to chase away the overwhelming pressure of depression.

So where does Six of Crows come in?

Right now.

The moto of the gang (essentially) run by Kaz Brekker is “No mourners. No funerals.” To paraphrase the book itself, this passes between members of The Dregs as “good luck”. But to me, it spoke to the background noise telling me “Hey, wouldn’t things just be easier if you stepped in front of the bus?” It told this voice, this noise, “No. There will be no mourners. There will be no funerals.”

6c413a0f076a683ae908f290fdbe95dbTo me, it’s a reminder of the hardships that come with death. It points at my cousin’s still mourning family and says, “Do you really want that to happen instead?”. There are many books I can get lost in for hours at a time to simply forget what’s going on around me or to help me ignore the storms of conflict that are raging in my head. No mourners. No funerals. can calm the anxiety that tightens my throat when the last thing I want to do is be a cashier. It can remind me that there are people who care about me without sounding patronizing. It’s a warm blanket in the rain that pushes me to make things better myself. And that’s what Leigh Bardugo has given me.

She has taken spite as motivation and given it a strength and a voice that I can hear in my own head and use with my own strength.

Mental illness is different for every person who deals with it, but that’s the thing. We deal with it. And sometimes it’s impossibly hard to just deal with something that makes us legitimately considering the possibility that ending our lives will make it easier for those around us and even for ourselves. Let that sink it. Death as something easier. Coping is hard no matter the healthy or unhealthy method being used, because coping isn’t a solution. But it’s something that can keep us going which is so important.

Therapy and medication are proven to help, but therapy isn’t always accessible and medication doesn’t always provide ideal help as often the side effects outweigh the positives. If you are capable of trying either of these methods, I encourage you to. But if you are unable to find at least one thing to keep you moving forward. It doesn’t matter how small that thing is or how insignificant you think it might be to someone else. It does not matter what it is long as it matters to you. For me it’s this quote. It’s not wanting to put those I care about through mourning and funerals.

So this is the story of how Kaz Brekker, the Bastard of the Barrel and a very seriously fictional character, showed me that spite and perseverance can be enough. That it’s okay if that’s enough. Because as long as there are no mourners and no funerals, everything will still be moving forward. And maybe that will be okay.

And, please, if you are depressed: tell someone. If you want to die: tell someone. If you have no one to tell, I will listen to all venting. Just send me an email. If you’re struggling, there is no need to struggle alone.


THE BOOK REVIEW

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk on my personal experiences coping with mental illness. If you skipped it, thank you for coming to this review.

Six of Crows takes The Grisha Trilogy to the level the world truly deserves. The third person perspective makes the narrative so much stronger and using what I’ve been calling “the A Song of Ice and Fire method”, switching between characters every chapter is great (and with a much more manageable cast size than ASOIAF).

The Dregs we meet in this book are Kaz Brekker – the ring leader and best known criminal in the slums of Ketterdam, Inej Ghafa – Kaz’s secret finder and Wraith of Ketterdam, Jesper Fahey – gunner, gambler, and secret Grisha, and Nina Zenik – ex-member of the Ravkan Second Army and known Heartrender. We also get to know the latest Dreg still proving himself, Wylan Van Eck – son of a promenant merchant and explosives expert, and Matthias Helvar – a Fjerdan Grisha hunter.

This band of misfits joins together for the biggest heist of their careers and wind up stuck in a trap bigger than they planned for.

I loved the way each character bonded and how their motivations were all so entirely different and yet they were still so supportive of each other. I loved how this book had my heart racing at every twist to the point that it actually took me almost three weeks to finish it (something unheard of when it comes to how fast I normally read).

The diversity of the characters and even how their different cultures kept clashing just made the world feel so much more real and alive than it did in The Grisha Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a supporter of the original trilogy, but the growth in Leigh Bardugo’s writing is an absolute honour to see.

I do think that the best part of the book is definitely Kaz. I felt a real connection to him and his constant anger hidden behind fierce nonchalance and sass. I related to his dislike of being touched and appreciated that while his emotions changed throughout the story, that his ticks remained the same. He’s come to mean a lot to me, even if he is fictional.

While being very late to this party, I adored this book from cover to cover and once I have recovered from the ending, I look forward to the beauty that is my red sprayed hardcover of Crooked Kingdom that has been sitting on my shelf since release day.

Do I Have To? A reluctant reader’s guide to The Grisha Trilogy

With the excitement surrounding next week’s release of King of Scars, I’ve seen a number of people asking “Do I need to read The Grisha Trilogy first?” As a huge fan of Nikolai, my answer is yes, but the series is definitely not for everyone. So here’s an abridged guide to the books.

Shadow & Bone

Book one starts with soldiers Alina and Mal, best friends from their childhood in an orphanage, as they head towards a nightmare in the land of Ravka called “The Fold”. The Fold is a dark, dead sea of sand that’s populated by monsters called the Volcra literally made of shadow. When the army is attacked, Alina discovers she is actually one of the beings in Ravka known as The Grisha, people who have control over very specific elements of the world, but her power is the only of it’s kind. Alina can control light.

With her power being so incredible, it attracts the attention of The Darkling, head of the Grisha army. Their powers are the polar opposites, light and darkness, but Alina quickly becomes smitten with life as one of the Grisha and with The Darkling. The fantasy is broken, however, when Alina becomes aware that The Darkling’s only wish is to use her power to take over the world. She flees the castle and only narrowly avoids being caught when she re-crosses paths with Mal and he saves her.

This is where a fairytale comes to Alina and she decides to track Morozova’s beasts – rare creatures all over Ravka said to be amplifiers of unimaginable power to those of the Grisha. It takes forever, but Mal and Alina finally find Morozova’s Stag…only to have Alina decide against killing such a beautiful creature. Her mercy does not last long, however, as Mal and Alina are ambushed by The Darkling and his men. The Darkling kills the beast and makes Alina an unremovable collar, therefore putting her powers under his control.

Forced to follow The Darkling, Alina is brought back sound and into the Fold where her power is used to protect the ship from the Volcra. While inside, The Darkling uses his own powers to destroy the towns on the other side by expanding the Fold as well as pushing Mal off the ship to his death. In Alina’s pain, she realizes that by sparing the Stag, it has granted her the strength to break free from The Darkling’s hold and rushes to save Mal, destroying the ship as she does so.

Narrowly escaping The Fold, Mal and Alina seek to escape for good, using golden pins in Alina’s hair to buy their way across the True Sea to freedom.

Siege & Storm

Siege & Storm is Alina’s fight to really be-rid of The Darkling as she continues to hunt for the rest of the Morozova beasts. It is within this book that Alina learns The Darkling’s powers have changed since he was left at the mercy of the Volcra and he can now create Volcra-like creatures that can only be killed if Alina uses her power is a very specific form called The Cut. She and Mal are found and kidnapped by The Darkling and taken aboard a ship owned by the infamous pirate, Sturmhond, and his crew. The pirates have been hired and instructed by The Darkling to go into the icy northern seas to hunt for Rusalye, a dragon like sea serpent said to be the next amplifier.

After the dragon is caught, The Darkling is overthrown by Sturmhond and they are able to escape his grasp. Sturmhond then has one of his Fabrikators make a cuff out of the scales for Alina. The group then make their way back across the Fold and into Ravka, crashing near where the First Army has made camp. It is here that Sturmhond reveals himself to actually be Prince Nikolai Lantsov, the rumored bastard of the throne. Having achieved Saint status, it is a long journey back home to the castle for Alina, Mal, and Nikolai – who keeps saying that a marriage alliance between himself and Alina would be a wonderful thing and unite the First and Second (Grisha) armies. Clearly this is where Mal does not approve of Nikolai.

Returning to the capital ends up being not as easy as Nikolai planned, his elder brother being more determined to hold the throne than expected. Vasily’s true intentions come out during Nikolai’s birthday as he has made a deal to relax security posts around the nation of Fjerda and therefore giving The Darkling – who has been hiding there – the perfect moment to attack. Even as the two princes fight, The Darkling attacks, ruining any chance they had at fighting him off.

Nikolai escapes with the few people he can, while Alina stays behind to fight The Darkling and protect the remaining Grisha, things come to an explosive face-off that results in Alina using a power called merzost. While saving far more people than she could otherwise, merzost drains her of the majority of her power and turns her white. The loss of power weakens her body greatly and she is brought, along with other Grisha, underground to the White Cathedral where a cult-like leader known as the Apparat also holds his followers.

Ruin & Rising

The final book, we follow Alina on her hunt for the firebird as she seeks out revenge on the Darkling and hopes to restore the world alongside Nikolai, Mal, and a handful of other Grisha who escaped the attack. The hunt is a lot of walking around aimlessly on Alina’s part once she finally escapes the overbearing Apparat. At one point in their journey, The Darkling attacks the group and, as revenge for rescuing Alina, he uses merzost to infect Nikolai from the inside out, turning him into a Volcra-like creature himself.

In the aftermath, Nikolai is rushed back into uniform and brought to the remnants of Ravka’s First Army. He is able to take control and finally return to Os Alta to claim the throne, while a story spreads that he had been kidnapped and tortured by the Darkling. This is used to explain the dark scars on each of his fingers – actually marks left from where his talons had grown. After the rest escape, they make a plan to destroy The Darkling.

Alina and her group travel to the Fold to face The Darkling, but Alina knows she can’t defeat him without all three amplifiers. To be blunt here, I honestly can’t remember when, but at one point Alina realizes that the firebird is actually Mal and he would need to die for her to have the third amplifier. He convinces her to kill him and Alina’s power leaves her to manifest in any normal person surrounding her (think like how Buffy made a bunch of other Slayers at the end of the the show). While The Darkling is pissed that he no longer has his Sun Summoner, Alina uses the same knife she killed Mal with to kill The Darkling.

The new Sun Summoners destroy the Fold and Nikolai returns to normal at the death of The Darkling. Mal is brought back to life by two Heartrenders and Alina denies Nikolai’s final alliance proposal before “faking her death” and running away with Mal to live happily ever after while Nikolai – who everyone believes to have been tourtured and scarred by The Darkling – assumes the throne of Ravka.


So there you have it. You can also find more in depth information on Tor.com as they did a Grisha reread not too long ago.

The most important information about Nikolai can also be found on the Grishaverse Wiki page but I think I got most of the important details in there.


r.j. richardson (2)Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

KING OF SCARS Cover Reveal

So if you know a single thing about me, you know just how much I adore my sweet sobachka, Nikolaj Lantsov of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. He is honestly the best part about the series and after finally finishing Ruin & Rising earlier this year, all I could think was “Nikolaj deserved better”.

I just about died when Leigh announced she was writing a trilogy spin-off all about the greatest ruler of Ravka and yesterday we finally got a cover!!

36307634

LOOK HOW GORGEOUS THIS COVER IS!!

The fact that it looks like gold-leafing you’d find on doors or walls of an old palace is so extra and so entirely Nikolaj, I can’t wait for when we get to know more about what he’s actually up to.

How hyped are you for this new series? What do you think of the cover? Let me know in the comments!

SERIES WRAP UP: The Grisha Trilogy

After about three years, I’ve finally finished reading Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. I’ll start this post with a quick review of Ruin & Rising and then move onto an over-all review of the series. WARNING: This will contain spoilers.

Ruin & Rising

14061957
Ruin & Rising (Henry Holt & Co., 442 pages) ISBN: 9780805094619

The Story

In the last book of The Grisha Trilogy, we follow Alina on her hunt for the firebird as she seeks out revenge on the Darkling and hopes to restore the world alongside Nikolai and Mal. As a result, much of the story reads like The Hobbit, meaning there is a lot of walking around aimlessly. After finally escaping from the Apparat’s overbearing control – an opening that felt far longer than it really was – Alina and her small band of Grisha go out into the world and nearly get themselves killed a number of different ways. By the time Nikolai finally shows up – only to be wrenched away not long after – I was relieved to get to the action that ended up being short lived anyway as the walking aimlessly continued.

The Characters

God Alina was annoying in this book. I honestly don’t know who was worse, Mal or Alina. Their playing around each other the whole time was more tiring to read than Jim courting Pam in The Office or Jake and Amy in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I was basically yelling – pardon my language – “Oh shut up and fuck already” at my book. A sad note for me since I enjoyed both of them in the previous two books.

The Darkling, too, felt a little anti-climactic this time around. It probably doesn’t help that I keep comparing him to Kylo Ren but still. He was so almighty and powerful the last times we saw him that having him just kinda die didn’t feel like the death of an antagonist. A point made more clear by the fact that we didn’t really have an antagonist in this final chapter. With Aleksander “redeemed” in Alina’s eyes and the Apparat non-existent after the gang left the underground church, there wasn’t really a bad guy? Maybe that’s just my view.

Lastly I want to talk about my poor, sweet Nikolai. My prince that deserved far better. His presence in the story was a small blip that just pushed Alina towards power. Possessed by the Darkling’s power and turned inside out, I honestly think Nikolai was the one who got the shortest end of the stick by the time everything was all done. He deserved so much better and I hope he gets the story he deserves in the rumored spin-off series.

Conclusion ★★★★

Now I know it looks confusing that I had so many issues with this book, but at the same time, I enjoyed the final epilogue. No I didn’t like Mal and no I wasn’t a huge fan of Alina’s by the end of things, but knowing that she was safe and happy and helping the children learn and be loved in home that used to run on fear got to me. So yes, I had problems, but I felt something by the end. And even though he wasn’t around for most of it, Nikolai adds a star to the rating for just being there.

The Grisha Trilogy Wrap-Up

grisha-trilogy-limited-edition-poster

I started reading this series years ago because it was one of those YA series that came out when I felt too high and mighty about my reading preferences to go near it. By the time I picked it up again, it had reached this level of fandom standard for YA and I figured it was time to give it a try.

I loved the first book because of how different it was from most YA fantasy novel’s I’d read, at least in terms of how the magic worked and the world building. I enjoyed the characters and how the Darkling’s dialogue was so cleverly twisted that I still can’t help but love him despite how terrible he is.

Book two took a longer time to get through. One, because of my realization of how close the new Star Wars films are to the characterization of Alina and the Darkling (being Rey and Kylo Ren respectively). I know the books were written well before Disney even bought the franchise, but even now, Siege and Storm is so close to The Last Jedi I’ve begun to wonder if they bought the option for it for the sake of not getting sued (like what Darren Aronofsky did with Perfect Blue when making Black Swan so he could use full sequence recreations without getting ripped apart for “theft”). Regardless though, this was the book where I really started disliking Mal, but fell head over heals for Nikolai. And let’s be real here, he made the story.

The last book, as mentioned above, I felt conflicted over. Alina was just as obnoxious as Mal was and there wasn’t really an antagonist. However, the ending fit wonderfully. I don’t think I would have ended up enjoying Alina marrying Nikolai if it actually happened after her behaviour in Ruin and Rising. Nikolai deserves more than someone who is selfish in a way that’s similar to Katniss in Hunger Games as she struggles with the Peeta vs Gale debate (although for Alina it’s a tug-of-war match over wanting Mal but not wanting him to be with someone else). So no, I didn’t like Alina’s arc in the end, but I loved the ending because of everyone else. Sure, no one came out without their losses, but everyone ended up safe, which is what matters. I care so much for the side characters, that my dislike of Alina is irrelevant. Not my favourite series, but one of my favourite worlds for sure.