Author: Leigh Bardugo
Rating: 4 Stars
Dates read: 29 Jan 19 – 05 Feb 19
Publication date: 29 Jan 19
Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Face your demons . . . or feed them.
Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war – and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.
Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried–and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.
***While this is a spoiler-free review of King of Scars, reading further may result in spoilers for The Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows Duology***
I’ve waited a long time to review this book because I have found it really hard to try and summarise the thoughts I had while reading it. I think, because it’s the first half of a duology where we already know the involved characters, I have struggled a little more to actually articulate how I feel because I know that I will look at the book differently once the second one is released (y’know, like we’re all feeling with Infinity War/Endgame). Ultimately, I was ecstatic to be immersed in the Grishaverse again, and I am all about stories that feature my favourites heavily.
Let’s start with Nina, because let’s be honest, I think we all have a “we don’t know if we want to be her or be with her” kind of complex when it comes to her. She is fierce and fabulous as always, but the grief and personality shift that has happened between the Six of Crows duology and King of Scars is marked and obviously fuels her actions. The death of Matthias would naturally have a large affect on her, and I find her determination to help and find a path to bury him and reunite him admirable. That said, I do find it weird that she is carrying the dead body of her partner round with her (frozen or not, it’s weird to do for months!)
I really liked the storyline that pitched Nina and Hanne against the world. I know that’s a dramatic sweeping statement, but in an investment to try and spare some of the plot, I’m being purposely vague. Their battle against immorality and for the good of those in a difficult situation, especially feeling the effects of Jurda Parem was awesome and showed exactly what is possible when women stick together and when those who are downtrodden fight against those oppressing them. Yes, some of the revelations were somewhat expected/pedestrian, and it was pretty much this alone that reminded me that this was a Young Adult Novel, but I like Hanne, and what she did for Nina, and what they were and are accomplishing together.
I’m not going to lie to you folks, I hope these two are endgame. I am shipping them for sure and want them to be together as a dynamic duo until the end of time.
The new move to the other focuses, and with that to Nikolai and Zoya. Nikolai is still his charismatic and incredible self. He is exuberant even in his role as King, and even though he sometimes plays the fool or the player, he is calculating in a positive way and is a good leader. He has his battles though, both mental and physical, which largely fuel the plot that features him, and his friend/personal warrior Zoya. The physical manifestations of the battle with the Darkling in The Grisha Trilogy is very evident, and his lack of control and the issues he and those around him face drives him to seek knowledge and help from untrustworthy places, and drives the plot down a more mythical, and to some extent religious path.
I enjoyed it immensely, with the only reservation being the hope that Leigh Bardugo wasn’t hoping to somewhat rehash The Grisha Trilogy now that her writing style and prowess has undoubtedly developed. The central theme of the book is reminiscent of aspects of the previous books in which he was a lead character and even though adored revisiting, I am hoping for even more from Bardugo in the next instalment regarding his character development.
The real revelation of the piece was Zoya, and how my attitude toward character representation and appreciation has altered. In The Grisha Trilogy Zoya is depicted as a no holds barred, heart breaking, selfish bitch. The trilogy takes place over the shoulder of Alina, therefore we see what Alina sees, hears what Alina hears, and ultimately think what she thinks, which leaves us with a very one-sided biased point of view. Viewing her from her own point of view, and from that of Nikolai, showed that she is multi-faceted, formidable in the most inspiring way, and has a lot to offer the books and the world she is within that is not being the bitch of the other side of a love rhombus that never occurred.
Her relationship with Nikolai seems to be incredibly complicated. At points they, they toe the line of colleagues and professionalism, sometimes they feel like squabbling yet loving siblings, and other times their banterous flirting makes you either hope or dread a future where they may be together. I have to say, I thought this would happen straight away. I thought that a relationship between them was not only inevitable, but was going to be detrimental. Instead, we are treated to a brilliant exercise in having characters mean a lot to one another, to trust one another, and to be there for one another, but never defining what they are to each other. I now know I would happily see them together as equally as as would seem them coexist in a non-romantic way, and that is a dynamic that I really wish was explored more in fantasy and non-fantasy fiction alike.
The were some odd twists and turns throughout the novel that I don’t want to dwell on for fear of spoiling things, but cannot completely disregard. I found the ‘Gods and Goddesses’ or past incarnations of mythical beings to be powerful and terrifying, something I am quite sure Bardugo intended. I enjoyed Isaak’s humorous and emotional forays into palace life. I think his story, and his impersonation and the weight it puts on his shoulder really re-affirms how complex Nikolai is as a character, and the glimpse of the life of a Prince for someone who is decidedly not, is thought provoking.
I am glad I have finally tried to commit some of my thoughts and feelings onto ‘paper’. As I said at the start, this book is one that I know will change in my mind. What I know and love when the second one comes out will undoubtedly be different to the elements I thought were strongest now. What can be said is that this is a stellar example of character development, and really shows how viewing the story, and your characters from different perspectives can yield staggeringly different trajectories and shows how these can add details to an already incredible and complex world.
It is a book that is definitely best read as a follow up to The Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows Duology but it can be enjoyed as a standalone, again a testament to the story telling prowess of Bardugo. I am itching for the second instalment (in part because I love her writing and in part because that ending was an absolute cliffhanger and I need the second book), and any further Grishaverse expansions that the author will hopefully treat us to.