A&E

Book Highlight: Six of Crows

Growing up, I was never allowed to watch anything with magic in it because of our church’s beliefs. Fantasy was ‘witchcraft’ and a sin. So no Disney princesses, no Narnia, and no Harry Potter. Imagine my surprise when my family left this church and I was suddenly allowed into a world filled with magic. I was a little older at this point and fantasy, specifically young adult fantasy, quickly became my genre of choice. There were the obvious choices, like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson (though those are arguable more middle grade at the start) but it didn’t take me long to find my heart’s true love: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

Six of Crows resides within Bardugo’s larger ‘Grishaverse’ world. It is the first book in the second series that takes place within this universe. Spoiler alert: it is infinitely better than the first series. I love my Queen Leigh: she is definitely an author that improves with each work rather than remaining at a stagnant place. Six of Crows is a duology that centers around a group of teenage gang members attempting to pull off the most daring heist in the land. There’s magic, and romance, and criminal activity, and suspense, and shenanigans. For the trope lovers out there the series features a variety of our favorite tropes: found family, enemies to lovers, bantery boyfriends, grumpy one loves the soft one and many more. There are many selling points for this series. But perhaps my favorite is that this is one of the few fantasy series I can point to that features a large cast of neurodivergent teens.

In fantasy, there has been created this weird phenomenon that no character ever struggles with mental health. Despite many characters in many series going through some truly terrible things (war and violence mostly, among other traumas) fantasy characters rarely show the side effects of this kind of life. Harry Potter is one of my favorite examples of this. By the end of the series, Harry should be dealing with some serious depression and PTSD at least, but he is perfectly fine and healthy because the good guys won. This just isn’t realistic. Six of Crows isn’t like that.

Among our main cast of characters, there is featured a male with a limp and sever touch avoidant PTSD, a female with PTSD from assault-related trauma, a character with ADHD, and a character with dyslexia. The fact that Bardugo features not one, but four, characters with mental health/ disability struggles is revolutionary for the fantasy genre. This story is fantastical with magic that can control the weather and change your face, but the ‘scary’ mob leader still has to wear gloves or else he’ll pass out from PTSD flashbacks. Throughout the two books, each of these characters must confront their mental health time and again in various ways but it never holds them back or colors them as being weak or makes them any less of a fantasy hero. Their stories are also more than their mental health. Bardugo does a fantastic job of weaving these different aspects of these characters into the story without making it feel forced or just for ‘diversity points.’ These struggles are part of the character’s identity’s but they also do not define them or their journeys.

This may not seem like a big deal to you if you’ve never dealt with mental health struggles, but for those of us who have, it is huge. We finally get to see ourselves represented in a genre we love by characters who are real– and characters who are badass despite their struggles. It allows us–allows me– to believe that we can be badasses in spite of what our brains tell us. There is nothing quite like the power of being able to see yourself represented in a genre you adore, especially when you generally don’t. This isn’t to say that Six of Crows is going to be the end all be all of representation in fantasy, but, it’s a step in the right direction.

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