King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1) by Leigh Bardugo (2019)
YA Fiction | Fantasy
“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.”
pooled ink Review:
Note: You really ought to read this book after you’ve read the Grisha Trilogy (now retitled to the Shadow and Bone Trilogy). This is much more of a continuation from that series while shifting the main focus onto previously side characters (Nikolai, Zoya, etc.) as opposed to the Six of Crows Duology which honestly stands on its own despite having the occasional little cameo or name drop. So yeah, although Bardugo does a good job of separating the series I do think you need to read the original trilogy first because while SaB and SoC are two different entry points for the Grishaverse, KoS is a continuation from those two and should be read after.
Now onto my review!
Hmmmm…I have thoughts… Like I LOVE Leigh Bardugo and her writing but yeah, I have, um, thoughts…
The cover is AMAZING and I was screaming for Nikolai’s own duology because I absolutely loved his character in the original Grisha Trilogy so of course I pre-ordered my copy and staked out my mailbox until it was safe in my hands. I jumped onto my bed, wrenched opened the cover, flipped to page one, and began to read! But…well, I have to be honest or else why bother have this blog, I admit I struggled. It took me ages to finish this book because other stories snagged my attention away and that was so crazy to me because normally I’m glued to Bardugo’s books until I’ve devoured them whole. But I struggled. It was slow, too tortured, not enough, and I just didn’t care.
Yeah, I know right?! But it’s true! There are a few POVs in this book including Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina. Nikolai was a standout character to me in the original trilogy and yet he lacked that luster that so captivated me in Siege and Storm, in fact his whole POV/storyline felt overshadowed by Nina’s and Zoya’s which felt weird since the duology is named after him lol. I know he’s going through a lot (his kingdom/country is disintegrating between his very fingers, he’s lost a lot of family and friends, he’s got a monster inside of him cursing his nights, etc.) but even so he simply lacked the full allure of his charm, wit, and cleverness that made him a favorite of mine. Oh of course he was still all of those things, he’s Nikolai for goodness sake, but just a bit subdued version…but I’m guessing it was intentional considering what he’s going through and we’ll see what evolves in the next book…?
I enjoyed Nina’s character in the Six of Crows Duology and yet I honestly felt tempted to just skim through her chapters. Like Nikolai she too is dealing with a lot (*cough* Matthias *cough*) but not only was she in mourning she was irritatingly impulsive. We get to meet some new characters and get an inside view on Ravka’s spy circle which was kinda cool and yet, I dunno, it wasn’t enough to really entice me. In short, I just didn’t care. If her entire POV was cut from the book I wouldn’t mind, in fact it might have improved the book by giving it more time with Zoya and Nikolai and that whole political plot line.
Zoya…If I’m honest, I never liked her. Sorry? I never liked her in the Grisha Trilogy and I didn’t like her in this. We just don’t vibe and that’s okay, she has a ton of fans and doesn’t need my love haha. But for those of you who did love her character you’ll be happy to know that you get a lot more face time with her as well as her backstory (Is it tragic? Of course it is because that’s literally everybody in books these days lol). But I will say that even though I’m still not a big fan of Zoya’s, she was pretty epic in this book and her story honestly tended to overshadow Nikolai’s (I actually wished if we couldn’t have Nikolai at full force then to cut Nina’s chapters and give them to Zoya’s training, etc.). Character-wise I feel like Zoya wins in this book.
Really it seemed like everyone was dealing with a lot. It was too slow and too much. I got bored and I stopped caring. I didn’t really think much about what might happen in this book and yet even without built up expectations I still finished this book wanting more (or maybe just wanting it to somehow be slightly different?) and feeling a bit disappointed. I liked it, I love the Grishaverse and Bardugo’s characters, but it’s not my favorite and I feel so conflicted over several elements in the book (maybe book 2 will clarify how I feel?).
And I won’t spoil it for you but that ending…ugh. I’m sorry beloved Bardugo, you are an incredible writer but that ending was…let’s just say I’m not a fan. Leave well enough alone, yeah? I can see how it’s an unexpected twist (although it wasn’t nearly as “shocking” to me as other readers seemed to be feeling) and will bring all sorts of chaos and complications for the next book and is all clever and stuff but…I dunno, I don’t like it. Largely I don’t like how it affects the ending of Ruin and Rising which felt bittersweet and poetic. Although that being said I do look forward to how it will affect Ravka and be used in the duology’s finale. It definitely has a lot of epic potential, I just…don’t…like it… haha. But as with everything else I feel conflicted about, maybe I need to be patient and allow book 2 to bring it all together.
Look, this book is brimming with the Grishaverse aesthetic, there’s magic, there’s struggle, there are fallen heroes and risen monsters, and excitingly the setting expands our knowledge of the Grishaverse once again, but compared to the level of excellence I’ve come to expect from her books this one unfortunately didn’t stand out from the other YA fantasy books released as much as I’d hoped. This doesn’t make it a terrible book by any means, I know most of you have loved it, but for me it was a bit disappointing and I struggled to get through it. Who knows though, maybe in a year when I’m in a different headspace and I give this a re-read I’ll be dazzled and delighted. Maybe I was just in the wrong headspace when I read it this time? Or perhaps once the second and final book is released everything will come together in sweet harmony and my mind will be blown with my opinion spinning a total 180. Regardless, all I can do is share how I feel in the here and now. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it a lot though when you pick it up! And even if you don’t, your bookshelf will look spectacular with this golden cover shining on it.
King of Scars is a story crawling with monsters both without and within. While a facade of strength and power presents itself to the world, inside the palace walls darkness lurks and the clock is ticking. Political foes grin with razor-sharp teeth and Nikolai must work together with his friends to hold them at bay with their golden facade but even so from behind an ancient vengeance waits to rise. A thrilling continuation to the Grishaverse for fans of Bardugo’s darkly complex characters and worlds.
Purchase Here: King of Scars
Meet Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of fantasy novels and the creator of the Grishaverse. With over two million copies sold, her Grishaverse spans the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns—with more to come. (To hear about new releases, tour dates, and giveaways first, sign up for Leigh’s newsletter here.) Her short stories can be found in multiple anthologies, including The Best of Tor.com and the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer and the forthcoming Ninth House. Leigh was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Southern California, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and even makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Los Angeles, where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.