“Do not think that because I’ve let you live this long, I cannot change my mind. Accidents happen. Even to men of faith.”
After a brief break, I’m back to posting book reviews – and what better review to start with than King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo. This was one of my biggest anticipated books of 2019, and I’m glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint at all. I sped through finishing off the Grishaverse trilogy before picking this up, and would definitely suggest that you read those books before picking up King of Scars, purely because of the amount of referenced material. It also wouldn’t hurt to read the Six of Crows duology too!
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE GRISHAVERSE TRILOGY AND CROOKED KINGDOM.
The boy king. The war hero. The prince with a demon curled inside his heart. The people of Ravka don’t know what Nikolai Lantsov endured in their bloody civil war and he intends to keep it that way. Yet with each day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built.
Zoya Nazyalensky has devoted her life to rebuilding the Grisha army. Despite their magical gifts, Zoya knows the Grisha cannot survive without Ravka as a place of sanctuary – and she will stop at nothing to help Nikolai secure the throne.
Far north, Nina Zenik wages her own kind of war against the people who would see Grisha destroyed. Burdened by grief and a terrifying power, Nina must face the pain of her past if she has any hope of defeating the dangers that await her on the ice.
Ravka’s king. Ravka’s general. Ravka’s spy. They will journey past the boundaries of science and superstition, of magic and faith, and risk everything to save a broken nation. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried, and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.
I don’t know how she does it, but everything that Leigh Bardugo writes is so intricately crafted, with the worldbuilding better than any I’ve ever read in fantasy before. The locations and settings in King of Scars felt so real and established, with the rich history of the land and its characters bursting off of the page.
King of Scars is better if you’ve read the Grishaverse – especially with how the book ends – but if you haven’t read it then there’s enough hints dropped throughout the book for the reader to pick up bits and pieces of the world. It marks a welcome return to the multi-POV chapters that featured in Six of Crows – these are such a great way to get into the heads of individual characters, and to also see how different they are. Nikolai is a wonderful character, and a firm fan favourite, so to have chapters from his point of view were always so much fun to read. Although I loved both Zoya and Nina’s chapters, I found myself getting incredibly excited at the next Nikolai chapter.
These characters have it rough. Nikolai, having been possessed in Ruin and Rising by the Darkling, seems to still carry some of that darkness within him, causing him to periodically turn into a winged demon which isn’t the best when you’re meant to be the King of Ravka. Zoya is dealing with assisting Nikolai in his rule, trying to keep him enclosed when he transforms and also trying her hardest to forget everything the Darkling put her through. Finally Nina, who escaped Ketterdam after the events of Crooked Kingdom, is trying to grieve for Matthias whilst searching for the best place to put him to rest – oh, and trying to smuggle Grisha refugees to safety. There’s a lot on each of their plates.
I think what I loved most about King of Scars was the books ability to completely pull the rug out from under my feet – and continue to do so throughout. Every single time that I thought the dust had settled and things were ok, something would happen to make me gasp or scream or completely despair as to what was going to happen next. Bardugo’s writing has the ability to keep things hidden until the very end, and then leave you desperate for more. By that time, you realise the book has finished and it’ll be another year until the cliffhanger can be resolved… This book is a truly welcome return to the Grishaverse, with twists, turns, shockers and tearful moments. King of Scars feels like you’re constantly on edge for something bad to happen, but even when it does you’re still shocked. It’s beautifully descriptive, and although reading it was an absolute heart attack, it’s some of Bardugo’s finest work.
I don’t want to go into too much detail without spoiling things, but bees are terrible, dragons are cool, Isaak is the best, we won’t talk about that very last page, and Nikolai needs to be able to rest.
Final thought: King Nikolai’s grand return is deserving of all the golden stars. 5/5