There’s tons of buzz about diversity in today’s books. Whether you think this is needed or not, you would probably agree that characters should be different from each other. After all, no one wants a cast that’s exactly alike.
The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo is pretty diverse, in the popular sense of the word (including disabilities!), but something that really stood out to me was the diversity in culture.
The Six of Crows cultures are only loosely based on real ones, but the characters’ backgrounds and childhood beliefs, many of which stem from the culture they grew up in, influence their choices and differ from each others’ without taking over the story. I noticed two specific areas where this happened, all of which were relevant to the story and true to the characters’ backgrounds.
For a reminder of who the main characters are, I wrote a list here. There’s also Wylan, the runaway son of a rich Ketterdam merchant.
Not a lot of young adult books incorporate religion, unless it’s to make a point about it- which seems unrealistic to me. After all, a lot of teens are religious and take it seriously. But I rarely see religion as a part of a character.
Although most of the ‘Crows’ don’t think much about a higher power, both Inej and Matthias follow their own religions.
Kaz makes fun of Matthias for his beliefs and ‘superstition,’ but that’s just Kaz’s character- it wasn’t like the book mocked the idea of religion. Along the way, Matthias finds out that his country’s capital wasn’t ‘created’ by the deity he believes in, as he’d been taught, but built by Grisha. Instead of that lessening his faith, he accepts that his god still built it, but by working through human hands. He was also taught that the Grisha were evil, but decides that his country leaders had twisted the faith in their teachings. His faith isn’t looked down on or considered ‘false’ in his world; instead, it’s treated as a valid path.
Inej’s beliefs are even more central to her character. She prays to a multitude of saints, and named her knives after many of them to remind herself that they’re always with her and protecting her. She refers to her saints often, showing that her beliefs are an important part of her.
Inej is also very concerned about doing the right thing- more so than the other Crows. It’s not that she just happens to be a more moral person, it’s that she believes in a higher code and personal repercussions in breaking that. She does kill people, but only when absolutely necessary, and she takes it much harder than Kaz, Nina, or the others.
There’s one scene where she talks about how she loves going to a cathedral in the city. She doesn’t stay for the preaching because it’s about a different god, but she hides and listens to the music and worship as a way to reconnect to her faith. It struck me as a very realistic thing for someone cut off from worshiping with others to do, and made her faith seem very personal and real to herself, rather than just rituals to follow.
Though these religions are fictional and don’t necessarily line up with my Christian beliefs, it was cool to read about teens who identify strongly with a faith, even if their best friends don’t.
The Crows all have very different views of the Grisha powers. Nina finds her identity in her powers, Matthias originally hated the Grisha, and Jesper fears and hides his skills (Kaz, of course, views them as useful tools, nothing more or less).
All of these reactions are very natural to the characters and their pasts. It never seems like their backstories were contrived to explain their present actions, even though their stances vary so greatly from each others’.
Contrasting Nina’s and Jesper’s approaches to their powers is interesting. Jesper’s arc in Crooked Kingdom is accepting that he has Grisha powers, whereas Nina’s arc is accepting that she doesn’t (at least, not in the same form). It’s realistic and a little sad: great for a story.
Matthias grows to view the Grisha more favorably, mostly because of Nina. But it isn’t just because he loves her that he changes his mind; that’d be a flimsy reason, and although it would be a good result in this case, it’s not necessarily a great message to promote completely changing your worldview due to love. However, Matthias changes because he sees that Nina, a Grisha, is selfless and heroic (as well as awesome and loveable). Through her, he realizes that Grisha aren’t inherently evil, and that realization destroys his worldview. If characters are going to change their long-held beliefs, they’d better have a great reason to do so.
People are different- it’s a fact of life. Disregarding that in a story disregards an excellent source of character building. Delving into a character’s culture, including their religion and beliefs about people, develops the character and the world and the plot all in one. Why ignore it?
What are some of the best fictional cultures you’ve seen?
(All pictures found on Google Images. Kudos to the amazing Six of Crows fanartists!)