Title: King of Scars
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Nikolai Duology #1
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: January 29th, 2019 (Imprint)
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.
All right, first I just need to take a moment and say how amazing it is to return to the GrishaVerse after all this time. This has been on my most anticipated list for this year pretty much since it was announced. That said, let’s get right to it – mild spoilers but nothing readers can’t figure out from the synopsis.
“The monster is me and I am the monster.”
In the aftermath of the bloody civil war that rocked Ravka, all Nikolai wants is to concentrate on rebuilding and strengthening his borders. But though the Darkling is gone, the darkness inside Nikolai is not – it has awakened, and threatens to take over. Time is running short for both Nikolai and Ravka – with the country in an extremely precarious position, both politically and financially, something such as this getting out would be disastrous.
There are three main POVs in this: Nikolai, Zoya and Nina. The story occurs shortly after the events of Crooked Kingdom, which makes reading both the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows absolutely essential. Nina is in pretty bad shape following Matthias’ death. When the book opens, she is undercover in Fjerda, rescuing persecuted Grisha and getting them out of the country to safer shores. But she’s also sure that something more sinister is afoot in Fjerda, a land where Grisha are hated, and her investigation leads her a small town with suspicious goings on in a nearby factory – a town where girls are said to disappear. Following her brush with jurda parem, Nina’s Grisha abilities have changed, and they come in very handy. All I can really say regarding Nina’s plotline is that she sure has learnt her lessons well from watching Kaz and the gang at work! From a character perspective, I feel like she made some very rash and dangerous decisions. Considering her emotional state, it’s understandable, but it didn’t stop me as a reader from yelling at the book in disbelief. I really liked her last POV chapter in the book and I don’t know how to put into words just how excited I am for the next part of her plotline.
“Zoya of the lost city.
Zoya of the garden.
Zoya bleeding in the snow.
You are strong enough to survive the fall.”
Zoya was so very central in this book and her character growth is amazing, especially in the last third of the book. Zoya has gone through so much in the war – and she goes through even more this time around. All she really wants is to keep the country from falling apart, but as they put it, “This is Ravka. There’s always more.” Zoya is not a character who’s instantly likeable, but being inside her head is an eye-opener! We get to see more of her backstory as her world is turned on its head yet again, and she fights back to rise from it once more to protect her country. Her’s is one of the best character arcs I’ve seen in a while. Zoya definitely steals the spotlight and her portrayal is a work of art!
“He was a king who had only begun to make mistakes.
He was a soldier for whom the war would never be over.
He was a bastard left alone in the woods.
And he was not afraid to die this day.”
And saving the best for last, Nikolai. Where to start…Nikolai has always been a favourite for me, right from when he was introduced as Sturmhond back in Siege and Storm. No one knows the truth of what happened to him in the war, and it’s essential that it remain secret. But it has come back to haunt him, right alongside the truth of his birth which precious few people know about. The Nikolai we’ve known so far is the persona – Ravka’s golden son: witty, clever and all round charming. But he’s no longer the same man, and we get to see a more vulnerable side. Nikolai’s fight in this book is internal. He’s struggling against the darkness inside him. He’s questioning what it means to be himself, all the while trying his best to be the king Ravka desperately needs. And it’s heartbreaking to read. Plot apart, it’s so nice that he has the Grisha triumvirate and the twins whom he can lean on and trust unconditionally through everything. His arc is just so well written and the dialogue, as ever can make me laugh in the middle of the most serious of plot moments. Leigh Bardugo certainly did not disappoint with her portrayal of Nikolai, or indeed, any of the characters. Even after all this, for a book about Nikolai, somehow I feel like we didn’t get enough of him (will we ever?).
I was pretty surprised when I actually liked the hinted main pairing (though I was always an Alina/Nikolai fan to be honest), but it actually fits and I’m really looking forward to seeing this develop in the sequel. I half thought we might get a glimpse of Alina, which would have been really great but the story didn’t head that way.
There’s just one thing that’s really, really minor (mild spoiler alert!): I would have preferred a new villain for this series – the GrishaVerse is one of the few times I’ve actually liked the villain, but it just felt like that chapter was closed and I was expecting something new this time around. But despite all that, OMG he’s back and I absolutely loved the ending to the extent that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after the last line. Ravka is in deep, deep trouble going into the sequel and I’m counting down the days until we get to read it and find out just who is going to make it out of this.
I’ve loved every book of Leigh Bardugo’s I’ve read, and this phenomenal book is no exception. Things went completely next level after one point and it was something so game-changing that I bet no one could have seen coming – I certainly didn’t! So 4.5 stars for this, because I need some room to give the sequel a higher rating which I’m sure it will thoroughly deserve!
Have you read King of Scars yet? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!
Other reviews in this series: