This review at The Fantasy Review of King of Scars is spoiler-free, but will contain spoilers for the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology.
Although I was thrilled that Bardugo was expanding the Grishaverse with what is called the Nikolai duology, I had actually lowered my expectations for King of Scars, as I had already seen mixed reviews.
The events of this book take place about two years after the end of Crooked Kingdom, and mostly follows King Nikolai Lantsov and his struggles to strengthen the nation of Ravka. Apart from Nikolai, we also get POV chapters from Zoya Nazyalensky, a powerful Grisha Squaller and Nikolai’s general. We also get chapters featuring Nina Zenik, a Grisha Heartrender who was once part of the Dregs.
I have expressed my love of the Grishaverse with regard to its world-building, and I do like how Bardugo expands on this. In King of Scars we get to see more of Ravka, as well as the nation of Fjerda. We get a lot more of the world’s history, with stories of the saints and details on the cultural differences and the governments of different nations.
I also think it was interesting to see how Bardugo presented the sort of modernization of the nations. The Shadow and Bone trilogy felt more like a solid, old school fantasy with soldiers that had powers akin to magic (but don’t let Zoya hear you call it ‘magic’ because she will most likely hurl a lightning bolt through you). Then Six of Crows gave readers more of an urban feel to the story, featuring guns, explosives, and mechanically enhanced soldiers. King of Scars was a sort of melding of the two, with the world still feeling magical but with just that hint of more modern details.
The magic of King of Scars remains the same as what was presented in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, though this time around more people have become Sun Summoners after Alina Starkov sacrifice. Nina’s new power over death is also shown here. In my opinion, we don’t actually get enough scenes covering magic in this book, so that’s a *sad face* for readers hoping to get that here.
Grishaverse fans who loved Nikolai and Zoya from the Shadow and Bone trilogy will greatly enjoy seeing these two try to navigate the complex politics of Ravka. I am a huge fan of both Nikolai, with his radiant charm and sharp with, and Zoya, with her no-nonsense attitude and ruthlessness. I LIVED for their banter, and if you love character duos where one is all “sunshine and daisies” and the other is a “grumpy goose”, I’m certain you’ll enjoy the parts of this book that feature Nikolai and Zoya.
I was excited at first to get chapters from Nina’s POV, but I struggled to understand their significance. Her story felt a bit disconnected from that of Zoya and Nikolai, and truth be told it didn’t even feel like I was reading about the awesome Nina Zenik we met in the Six of Crows books.
There were a few new characters here as well, but I did not feel particularly attached to any of them. If anything, I’d say a couple of them I genuinely hated, and I don’t really like what their presence brought to the story.
King of Scars is a book that very much focused on politics: how Nikolai dealt with Ravka’s lack of funds while being on the brink of another war, how he and Zoya needed to forge alliances with the other nations, all while trying to root out traitors and thwart assassination attempts. Nina’s parts ran along a similar vein, though I was not too invested in that part of the book.
With all that in mind, King of Scars makes for slower reading than all the other books in the Grishaverse. I personally didn’t mind this much, as long as I was following the story through either Nikolai or Zoya’s POVs, but I know this book might not necessarily become a favorite of many Grisha fans.
I have commented on Bardugo’s inconsistencies with pacing in my review of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and I wasn’t expecting such inconsistencies to be present in this book! Probably because Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, being fast-paced reads that had 0 dull moments, made me think the author had solved the pacing issues I found in her first trilogy.
I felt that the whole beginning of the book moved at a slower pace, and then within the last quarter of the book a pretty huge plot twist was introduced, giving very little time for all those involved in this twist to be properly fleshed out. Which is a shame because this twist was something that I was very intrigued by, and then it just kind of…faded.
The pacing was just very off with this book, so I’m not surprised that a lot of readers were a bit disappointed. *cue more sad faces*
I’m tempted to just type in “HAHAHAHAHAHA WHAT” and leave it at that.
The ending of King of Scars is THE DEFINITION of “love it or hate it”, and I sadly fall under the “hate it” category. Like, I hated it so much that I just spent the next few hours after finishing this book giggling at myself over how WEIRD this ending was.
So this was not the best book ever, but it wasn’t too terrible either. I’m not sure I like where Bardugo is going with this story, but I’ll be sure to read the next book just to find that out.
Thank you for the thorough review. I read King of Scars a while ago and honestly can’t remember that much of it, and I had to rack my brain for past details when I read Rule of Wolves. Maybe that’s saying something? ??♀️I’m a huge fan of the Six of Crows dualogy, so it’s hard not to compare her other books to these.
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