This week, we’re going a little bit off the beaten path, and talking about a couple that subverts a lot of really popular romance tropes. One that doesn’t even have a lot of explicitly romantic moments on the page, or even (spoiler alert) end up together.
I’m talking, of course, about Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology.
Since it’s been a while since the last book was published, and we don’t know when the Netflix show is going to start, I feel like now is a nice time to show some love to this wonderful couple and talk about some of the things we love most about them together.
The Mutual Respect
I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together – knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.
What can I say? I love it when characters just… respect each other. It’s really not as common as you’d think. It’s pretty nice when it happens.
Kaz and Inej are partners before anything else. They’re a team. Even if they don’t always understand each other’s motivations, they always have each other’s backs. Over and over again in these books, Kaz asks Inej to do incredibly dangerous, almost impossible stunts, knowing that she’s capable of it, and that she would be offended if he suggested otherwise. Every time, he shows incredible concern for her wellbeing, but he doesn’t ask her to be more careful just for his sake. He respects her too much for that.
Meanwhile, Inej knows that Kaz isn’t as bad a person as people think. She’s one of the only people who realizes there’s more to him than meets the eye. Still, she doesn’t push it. Kaz’s trauma is his own, and if he doesn’t want to talk to Inej about it, he doesn’t have to.
The way they bring out the best in each other
He needed to tell her…what? That she was lovely and brave and better than anything he deserved. That he was twisted, crooked, wrong, but not so broken that he couldn’t pull himself together into some semblance of a man for her. That without meaning to, he’d begun to lean on her, to look for her, to need her near.
Alright, yes, “the best” is definitely extremely relative, especially when we’re talking about a character like Kaz Brekker, who crosses the line from “morally grey” into “truly, deep down, a reprehensible person,” but these characters are definitely at their best when they’re together.
Just look at some of these quotes!
I’m going to get my money, Kaz vowed. And I’m going to get my girl.
She smiled then, her cheeks red, her cheeks scattered with some kind of dust. It was a smile he thought he might die to earn again.
Yes, that is Kaz Brekker, the Bastard of the Barrel, going full heart-eyes as he thinks about the woman he loves. This man tries so hard to seem tough, and then Inej comes along and it’s just softness. I love this trope. I love them.
Inej is a much better person than he is, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have anything to learn from Kaz. Around him, she’s more resourceful, more self-assured, more willing to do what’s necessary. Given everything Inej has gone through, I personally think she’s earned a bit of moral ambiguity.
That’s right: not only does this series not have a redemption arc, you could argue that it has several corruption arcs. We love subverting tropes.
Nina glanced from Inej to Kaz and saw they both wore the same expression. Nina knew that look. It came after the shipwreck, when the tide moved against you and the sky had gone dark. It was the first sight of land, the hope of shelter and even salvation that might await you on a distant shore.
This ship is the ultimate slowburn. You think YOUR ship has angst? These two can’t even touch each other. The books are full of them clearly wanting so badly to be together, but being unable to actually do it because they’re both dealing with their own issues. It’s a really interesting look at the way trauma works.
The way Inej never tries to justify Kaz’s actions
She would fight for him, but she could not heal him. She would not waste her life trying.
I’m going to end on this note, because I think it’s the most important one when it comes to this couple.
I would have been so, so easy to write this as a story about a woman healing a man. Inej could have jumped into a relationship with Kaz when he suggested it, hoping that with her help he could become a better person, that they could deal with their trauma together.
But she didn’t.
Instead, Inej looked at him, and decided that she could not be in a relationship with him as he was. Not only that, but there was no guarantee that he would be able to change, and no use waiting around hoping for it. She was not going to settle for anything less than the best version of Kaz, and it was up to him to become that person.
I know it may seem weird to say that my favourite thing about this couple is that they’re not actually together, but I think this is such a refreshing spin on a much-too-common trope. It also shows how much respect they have for each other. Inej is one of the only people in the world who sees the good in Kaz. She knows he’s better than this. She knows he can change.
As for Kaz – and this part is crucial – he never acts like he’s entitled to a relationship with Inej. He knows how incredible it is that she even cares about him, trusts him, given his reputation. When she turns him down, his reaction isn’t “I guess if I work on myself, I can be with Inej as a reward.” Instead, he understands that Inej cares about him and wants him to be better, and that he needs to work on himself if he ever wants to be capable of loving someone.
I honestly believe that these two will find their way to each other