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 was my most anticipated book for months. I read the Grisha trilogy years ago and enjoyed it a lot. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were fantastic and really sealed the deal to make me a fan of Bardugo. A book that continued the stories of two of my favorite characters from both series? How could it go wrong?
It didn’t exactly go wrong, but it didn’t go right. It started out fantastically—the first chapter was so good and exciting and set up a huge, potentially disastrous problem for Nikolai. I’ll be honest, I completely forgot about “the monster” living within Nikolai from the end of the trilogy and it made me think I really should’ve reread it before this. From the beginning, I was hooked. I loved seeing how Ravka was doing a few years after the civil war and what some of the characters we knew are up to now, mostly Zoya. I went into this assuming it would mostly be Nikolai’s book since it’s called King of Scars but it seemed pretty evenly split between him and Zoya and Nina. Zoya’s POV made sense—as Nikolai’s general, she was with him most of the time and played an important role in his life and the future of Ravka. It pains me to say it but Nina’s POV felt out of place in this book. I wanted her to be involved in Nikolai’s life and was expecting her to be important to his story. Instead, she’s sent off with two other people on a mission for the crown in Fjerda. That was massively disappointing. While she was doing important things, none of them connected directly to Nikolai and Zoya and didn’t seem to fit the overall story.
As for the plot, there was a lot more political intrigue than action and it sometimes felt like it was dragging. I wasn’t expecting SoC level chaos and constant movement because Nikolai is a king trying to rebuild his country after war but I wanted more. I enjoyed all of the politics but the action and general excitement was lacking. Nikolai and Zoya’s stories went in a completely different direction than I ever would’ve guessed and I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it. Not that much happened for a while and then the plot took a confusing turn with a rather dull section. It was too long and uneventful, though the end of that particular section was surprising and unexpected, so there’s that. I didn’t enjoy the Saints involvement at all or how Nikolai was meant to solve his biggest, most pressing problem. It came out of nowhere. Nina’s story had some good intrigue and a bit of mystery that I enjoyed, however I was unimpressed by the end of it. I think Nina deserved a better storyline because this was slow and I didn’t care enough—which is somewhat devastating because I love Nina. Some surprising things came to light but they fell flat. I enjoyed seeing the end of her story with Matthias, but it wasn’t as emotional as I’d hoped for. Also, I really disliked the subtle hints at a new romance. It was very subtle and written almost as if Nina herself isn’t meaning to think that way so I might be reading into nothing but I’m not sure. Nikolai’s POV ended with a bang that really surprised and disappointed me. The idea wasn’t original and felt cheap. It undid the importance of other stories within the Grishaverse and felt like it was just something dramatic to do in this duology.
I loved really getting into Nikolai’s head for this book and learning a bit of his backstory and how he thinks, but the real standout in this book was Zoya. I love her. She’s so incredible and her backstory was so unexpected and great. The dialogue and banter was amazing from all POVs, too. One thing that seriously irked me was the amount of little connections made to characters we knew from before. Most of them seemed to come in Nina’s POV but the coincidences were just too coincidental and convenient. I can’t explain them without spoiling but it was frustrating. Of course, I need to mention just how much I still love Bardugo’s world. Her writing and world building are fantastic and have never disappointed. I’m always so invested.
Overall, I enjoyed this book but it was a letdown. I feel bad even saying that because I love Bardugo and was looking forward to this so much but it just didn’t live up to the hype. There were certainly things I liked—the writing, the dialogue, the characters themselves, the world, bits of the plot. I loved Zoya—she was my favorite character in this book—but this is Nikolai’s duology and should’ve focused more on him. I don’t really see why Nina’s story was continued here—it has value in general and I can see that her efforts will have an impact on the future of the Grisha but it didn’t bring much to this particular book. The end was…oof. I think the last scene was impactful and dramatic, I’m just not happy with the turn of events.
I couldn’t avoid mentioning this because I’m irate about it. Nikolai was basically a horcrux for the Darkling which was massively disappointing. It’s been done before and done better. It takes away from the whole Grisha trilogy and undoes the significance of Alina’s story. Why was it so easy for a Saint to involve herself? Couldn’t she have just gotten involved before the Darkling “died” and prevented Alina’s whole story and the war against him? What are the limits to her involvement? I just don’t like it. There should’ve been a new threat/issue for Nikolai. Bringing back the Darkling with the flimsy, easy explanation of the Saint switching his body on the pyre for another is completely ridiculous. Also, the fact that this is only a duology tells me the new Darkling problem will be cleaned up pretty quickly, so what’s even the point?
End of spoilers
I will absolutely be reading the next book in the duology because this ending leaves us at a place where I need to see what happens. There’s no way the next book won’t have more action and excitement so hopefully I’ll like it more, even if I disagree with the overall idea of the threat.
What did you think of King of Scars? Did you love it or were you left wanting like me? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,