While King of Scars didn’t land true for me, it is still filled with the beautiful writing and character building that we have come to expect from Bardugo.
FYI: While this is a spoiler free review for King of Scars, there are BIG spoilers for the Six of Crows duology.
King of Scars
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Synopsis: 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.
King of Scars is going to be a hard book to review. On one hand, Leigh Bardugo’s writing continues to be beautiful and full of fantastic imagery. On the other…King of Scars was 500+ pages of set up with not much pay off. But it was set up with some endlessly amusing characters and that’s what made it good.
The thing with Bardugo’s writing is it can make you forgive all manner of sin. With Bardugo’s words I can walk the halls of the Little Palace, laugh at Nikolai’s failed attempts at flirting with Zoya, and cry with Nina as she buries Matthias. Bardugo writes in a very immersive way and sometimes that makes it hard to see the cracks in plot and pacing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I could probably read a grocery list by Bardugo and still be entertained.
That being said, after I was done with the book, I thought about the story a bit and realized I was unsatisfied. I still enjoyed reading it, but I expected more. Some of the expansion to the Grisha mythology didn’t sit well for me. It just felt like it was made up solely to advance certain plots. The big twist at the end really wasn’t that big of a mystery. I still liked it, but I don’t see how anyone could think what happened was that big of a surprise. And this is coming from the most clueless reader ever, who almost never guesses plot twists.
I also hated that Nina was separate from Nikolai and Zoya for the whole book. It made this feel like two separate books. I feel like a judge on Chopped, chiding the chef for making a non-cohesive plate of food from the basket ingredients. I liked each individual plot line, but they really needed more cohesion past fleeting mentions of each other. I’m hoping that in the next book we get more interconnection.
So, let’s talk about the good: the characters. Yes, we all love Nikolai and the book is called King of Scars, but this story really belongs to Zoya and Nina. Bardugo explores the depth of Zoya and I am finally brought to care for her. I was not a fan of Zoya in the Grisha Trilogy, but getting more of her backstory and internal thought process in King of Scars really let me understand her a little better. Then there is Nina. She remains one of my favorite characters that Bardugo has ever created and seeing how she has grown since the events of Crooked Kingdom is wonderful and heartbreaking. She has taken her new powers, and the body of Matthias Helvar, with her to Fjerda where she works with other Ravkan Grisha to help Fjerdan Grisha trying to escape the horrific persecution they face. Certain parts of her plot were predictable, but again, I still enjoyed the heck out of them. I cannot wait to see what mischief our headstrong, waffle loving queen of sass gets to in the next book.
King of Scars was not what I was expecting in any way, shape or form. I am glad that I read it after the hype had died down because I know that really killed it for some people. I will always read what Bardugo has to offer, but that doesn’t always mean the books are always going to land true for me. I look forward to seeing where Bardugo goes from here with this duology.