Six of Crows follows the adventures of six teenage criminals hired to undertake a dangerous heist, while searching for love and redemption along the way. The leader of the group is Kaz Brekker, the cunning, ruthless leader of the Dregs, one of many street gangs in the port city of Ketterdam. Kaz is joined on the mission by Inej, a former acrobat who was kidnapped and sold into slavery before coming to work as a spy for the Dregs. Kaz and Inej have an unexpressed love for each other that is continually thwarted by the traumas of their respective pasts. The other members of the crew include Nina, a Grisha Heartrender who has the power to alter people’s physical and emotional states, as well as her nemesis and love interest, Matthias, a disgraced Fjerdan soldier whom they must first break out of prison. Jesper, an impulsive marksman with a gambling addiction, and Wylan Van Eck, the estranged son of the merchant who hired them, round out the team of outcasts and misfits. Together, these six pull off an impossible heist, face the ghosts of their dark pasts, and find unlikely love and connections with each other. 

The inciting incident occurs when Councilman Van Eck abducts Kaz in order to hire him to break the scientist Bo Yul-Bayur out of the Fjerdan Ice Court. Van Eck claims to have pure motives, arguing that the Fjerdans will exploit the scientist and the drug he invented to make an invincible Grisha army. Although Kaz doesn’t trust Van Eck or believe in the mission, his abduction destabilizes his normally fierce façade and he faces his own vulnerability. This moment of vulnerability gives him something to prove to Van Eck, the other Dregs, and himself, and contributes to his decision to take on the heist. However, Kaz’s main reason for accepting Van Eck’s proposal is the allure of a massive financial reward, which will help him achieve his singular goal in life: to destroy Pekka Rollins, the gangster and con man he blames for his brother’s death.  

The story is narrated in the third person, with each chapter told from the point of view of a different character. The chapters rotate primarily between Kaz’s, Inej’s, Nina’s, Matthias’s, and Jesper’s accounts of events. This narrative structure weaves together each of the main characters’ perspectives, providing access to the inner thoughts, dreams, and memories that develop their individual origin stories over the course of the novel. The use of multiple perspectives allows each character to tell their own story while also allowing the reader to see each character through other characters’ eyes. The narrative structure also provides readers with multiple versions of certain events, inviting the reader to consider the action from vastly different angles rather than a single point of view. As outcasts and loners, none of the gang seems to be the main character in their own story, paralleling the way that each of them has struggled to be seen and appreciated within society.  

The rising action occurs as the crew begins to form their plan and execute the heist. On the voyage to Fjerda, each of the narrators explores memories from their past. Kaz, haunted by his brother’s death, finds his thoughts split between seeking revenge and wanting Inej. Inej, traumatized by her forced servitude in the Menagerie, feels lost and confused and seeks a purpose beyond the distant boy she follows into danger. Nina and Matthias battle to reconcile their romantic feelings with their mutual hatred as enemies on opposite sides of a race war. Jesper struggles with his impulsiveness as well as his desire to be trusted and loved while keeping his Grisha power hidden from the rest of the team. In short, each character seeks a higher purpose while looking to satisfy the need for love, acceptance, and belonging. By the time they reach the Ice Court, they are vying for much more than a cash reward. Each has something to prove, a dark past to conquer, and a heart to win, and their success or failure in the cold walls of the prison will reveal who they truly are. 

The climax of the novel occurs when the crew successfully breaks out of the Ice Court with Kuwei, Bo Yul-Bayur’s son. Matthias, Nina, and Kaz escape through the underground river beneath the Ice Court, nearly drowning in the process. This escape route bears significance because each of these characters had nearly drowned at pivotal moments of their past lives: Nina and Matthias after their ship capsized, and Kaz after his ordeal on the sick boat. In the underground river, these characters symbolically face the trauma of their pasts and emerge outside the Ice Court with a new sense of purpose. The other half of the team, Inej, Jesper, and Wylan, steal a tank, which they use to break through the supposedly impenetrable walls of the Ice Court. Notably, these three characters have all struggled with powerlessness and lack of purpose. Inej carries the scars of her captivity and enslavement, Jesper feels unvalued by Kaz and neglects his Grisha powers, and Wylan struggles with the shame of his illiteracy and his father’s rejection. By using their powers to forcefully bust out of the Ice Court, these characters conquer their fears and insecurities and assert their newfound strength. 

The falling action occurs when Van Eck reneges on the deal and double-crosses the gang, negating the success of the heist and denying the crew their anticipated reward. Although Kaz anticipates the betrayal and prevents Van Eck from killing the whole team, Van Eck manages to take Inej hostage, returning her to a state of captivity. Despite pulling off their impossible heist, Kaz has failed to get the reward and he has lost the girl he loves. All his best efforts have come to nothing. However, the novel ends with a cliffhanger as Kaz strikes a deal with Pekka Rollins, his mortal enemy, who provides the money he needs to go after Van Eck. It’s clear that Kaz, always scheming, already has a new plan to rescue Inej, get his money, exact vengeance on his enemies, and reunite his crew.