“A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.
It was Jesper who spoke first. “No mourners,” he said with a grin. “No funerals,” they replied in unison.”
Taylor Swift is almost always relatable. The chart-topping artist has a song for nearly everything a person can go through, and that’s one of the reasons why so many of us adore her. And it’s hard to say what her most relatable song is, but I’m sure a good chunk of us can agree that it’s “You’re On Your Own, Kid” from Midnights. Certainly, the Six of Crows could.
The essence and heart of a found family that often draws viewers and readers in is this idea of people finding a safe place to belong. It’s about the people who tirelessly feel alone, seeing themselves in a group of individuals who find solace together. In every way where it matters, each of the crows (and other characters within the Grishaverse) know what it’s like to be on their own. They know what it’s like to look from the outside—to want and hope and dream, even if they mask their pain.
This article will briefly break down each character’s arc and then address how becoming a family doesn’t change the fact that healing takes time and patience.
From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes
I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this
It starts with a leader, grief, and a will to keep fighting. Both in the books and in Shadow and Bone, Kaz Brekker‘s heart turns to dust after Pekka Rollins cons him and his brother, Jordie, from all the money, resulting in no place to stay during a plague. It leads to Jordie’s death and Kaz’s haphephobia. The loneliest people have the darkest lives, but they’re also the ones willing to give the most. And in his own twisted way, Kaz Brekker gives everything he can—for an empire, for vengeance, and for the girl whose laugh he wants to bottle up. He gives for the kids living on the street, stops his best friend from gambling, saves a Grisha from her own losses, and finds a way to make peace with a presumed enemy.
But one of the best parts of Six of Crows is that the heist Leigh Bardugo expertly crafts is a showcase of desperation. It’s a need to get out of their own heads and do something that feels bigger. Kaz pretends it’s all for money. He uses much of his resources for revenge, but deep down, in more ways than one, he’s also a kid looking for a place to fit in. He’s a kid wanting an escape from all the pain within him.
I didn’t choose this town
I dream of getting out
There’s just one who could make me stay
All my days
The brutal reality is that Inej Ghafa is taken from her family and sold to a brothel. She’s sexually assaulted, abused, and mistreated. She might be the only Crow whose relationship with her family is a blessing, but fourteen is still too young to lose so much—to become someone you no longer recognize—to swear off killing but do it anyway because it’s what’s necessary to survive in the Barrel. However, she’s the one metaphorically making the friendship bracelets and holding on and continuing to believe despite living with horrific trauma every single day. She’s the one who also flinches from a touch, but she allows herself to comfort others when they need her. She fights and she protects and she cares with such compassion that when Leigh Bardugo calls her the lodestone, it results in a perfect description. And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: she is the glue that keeps the Six of Crows together. Kaz might be their leader, but she’s their heart, and she is why they don’t have to feel alone even though they are.
And it’s characters—people, rather—like Inej who feel most alone. The ones constantly standing beside people while they fight the most brutal battles. She’s the one people sometimes call selfish when they finally choose to stand up for themselves and go out for the things they want. She’s often the one people are wrong about. She’s the selfless one, giving even while she herself needs so much more.
‘Cause there were pages turned with the bridges burned
Everything you lose is a step you take
Gambling is a serious addiction, and Leigh Bardugo doesn’t exactly sugarcoat it, but she doesn’t emphasize it either. But what often leads people to addictions is sadness and the need to chase something that provides adrenaline. Jesper doesn’t utilize his powers as a Grisha because it’s what took his mother. And it’s later that he has to reconcile with his father. The grief in their family not only brings immense heartbreak but also isolates Jesper and his father, putting them at odds with each other. A boy from a village unlike anyone else there.
Of course, he’d chase what feels thrilling because he can’t utilize what’s inside. But Jesper’s losses lead him to acceptance, friendship, and a loyalty unlike anything else. He cracks jokes, he loves with his entire heart, and he deflects. He gives and gives like everyone else, putting his life on the line for the people worth risking everything for. Jesper’s love for his friends is fiercely intense, beautifully rewarding, and so genuine. It’s part of the reason why his humor is such a balm within a darker book. Jesper Fahey makes Six of Crows palatable because he lets us laugh when everything else hurts too much to comprehend. And so often, the happiest people conceal the most, which is why Jesper’s character journey is so rooted in a loneliness he wants to pull away from.
Wylan Van Eck
Something different bloomed, writing in my room
I play my songs in the parking lot I’ll run away
The heartbreaking detail about the Six of Crows is that they each carry trauma in a way that’s so different, and yet, they each have a capacity to love that’s all-encompassing. We don’t know much about Wylan Hendricks in Shadow and Bone, but we understand that he probably doesn’t have a home to go to, and like in the books, he’s a genius in more ways than one. Whether his story matches the one in the books with everything his father did to him and his mother, only time will tell, but with Wylan, it’s all about finding a community to belong. In a lot of ways, he’s the one the song matches most for.
“And Wylan knew that even if he’d had his pick of a thousand companions, these would have been the people he chose.” With his bombs, Wylan saves the Crows time and time again, but in more ways than one, they save him by giving him love and a place to belong. In bringing him into the crew for selfish reasons, Kaz ensures that he’s not on his own. He has a family and people who’d do anything for him. He has love all around him, appreciating every little thing about him, allowing his songs and his bombs to create the kind of light that’s rare.
My friends from home don’t know what to say
I looked around in a blood-soaked gown
And I saw something they can’t take away
A lost Grisha…a woman entirely on her own, searching for something bigger than everything she’s ever known because even in a society where she is meant to belong, Nina, like Taylor Swift’s “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” is entirely on her own. She’s alone when we first meet her and she’s alone when we leave her at the end of Crooked Kingdom. (She thankfully finds love and happiness again, but before all that happens, Nina loses so much of what she gives.)
There’s also the fact that Nina never feels like she fits in with the Grisha, partly because of the opposing wars and because much boils down to her upbringing and heartaches. She’s the target of Matthias’ hatred for so long that when they finally get together, there’s still so much to unpack and dissect with her. We only get glimpses of it in the show, but there’s far more in the King of Scars duology for her. Yet, like all of the crows, once Nina chooses to be loyal to someone, it’s forever. It’s a steadfast part of how she gives herself because she knows what it’s like to be on her own, to feel less than, and later in life, to know a profound, horrific loss.
Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss
If we don’t talk about Chapter 40, it never happens, right? It doesn’t exist. It’s not real. Because Matthias Helvar might be the only person who truly ends up alone when he begins knowing what it’s like to have a community. Only does he truly when everything he knows fills him with hatred, horror, and no ounce of love? What Matthias uncovers with the Six of Crows is that even though he might not be saved, he’s given a second chance to do right—a chance to be saved by a perfect kiss—and an ideal companion despite all odds.
There’s a plethora of pain in Matthias’ life as well, and for all we know, as a Fjerdan, he knows losses, too. He’s done things he isn’t proud of, and it isn’t until his final breath that he gives to save the people who saved him. The people who welcomed him in, insults and qualms included, because they needed him. But that’s sort of the thing about the crows and Taylor Swift’s “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” No one is perfect, and no one is entirely blameless—it’s about the mistakes people make and the lengths they go through to feel seen. And while sometimes they aren’t, while some stay alone until the end, the song is about embracing everything we have.
It’s about making friendship bracelets for what might be one night or tens and thousands. It’s about choosing to give ourselves to the people who need us, and it’s about accepting that we can have those people in our lives, too, when they come knocking. It’s heartwarming that the song about loneliness so many of us related to is the song that jumpstarted making friendship bracelets to trade with strangers at concerts. It’s a song that brings people together, forcing us to reflect on the times when we were, in fact, alone, wishing for where we are today. And it fits the Six of Crows because what they find together isn’t something words can convey. It’s bigger than they ever thought possible, giving them people who’d turn the world inside out if and when they learn of the horrors they’ve lived through. Yet, emotions run high, and sometimes still, help is hard to accept, and we have to give people more than one chance to understand what’s necessary.
As of November 15, 2023, Shadow and Bone has been canceled, and we’re deeply heartbroken over the news.