Goodreads: King of Scars
Series: Nikolai Duology
Published: January 29, 2019
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.
Potential spoilers for the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology. Very minor spoilers for King of Scars itself. (As in, don’t read the review if you want to know literally nothing about the story, but it’s safe if you don’t mind basic facts like who’s in the story, where it’s set, etc. being revealed.)
King of Scars takes readers back to Ravka, where King Nikolai, Zoya, Genya, and other favorite Grishaverse characters are dealing with the aftermath of the civil war and the death of the Darkling. It’s a novel that begins by backing away from the high stakes plot Bardugo gave readers in Six of Crows to ask how a king and his advisors hold together a crumbling country that might be at risk of going to war again and how the leaders who just survived a war deal with their own scars. This might not be what readers were initially expecting, but the introspective approach is thoughtful and engaging, while it lasts.
Because the story also takes readers to Fjerdan, where Nina is completing a dangerous undercover mission for the king, while trying to bury some of her grief for Matthias. Her story is more action-packed, following her deep in enemy territory as she tries to complete her tasks and learn about her the way her new magic works. Nina’s plot line is fascinating, as it shows readers more of Fjerdan and Nina’s struggles to overcome her dislike of the country’s oppression of Grisha to try to see what Matthias might have loved about it, and it introduces a great new cast of characters. However, her plot also means that King of Scars is not exactly “Nikolai’s book,” which is how it was marketed. In fact, even the events that occur in Ravka with Nikolai are frequently narrated from Zoya’s point of view. I didn’t have a problem with this, and I thought all the POVs were well-written, but I think this is going to be surprising if readers were expecting an exclusive focus on Nikolai.
One part of the book I did struggle with was the constant allusions to the original Grisha trilogy with Alina. I didn’t particularly care for the first two and never read the third one, and it didn’t fully occur to me that Bardugo is created an entirely cohesive universe where it is necessary for readers to have read all the books before King of Scars to understand what’s going on. If she continues to do this with future series, I think it’s going to create a real barrier to entry to her work for new readers, partially because (sorry) the original Grisha trilogy is mediocre compared to her most recent work, and readers (like me) might not want to read through three “meh” books to get to the good ones. As it was, I was vaguely confused about some references and what was happening and realized I probably needed to consult a Grishaverse wiki to really understand what was happening, even though I could see that Bardugo tried to include just enough explanation of previous events to keep readers on track.
My other reservation is the ending of the book, which I feel is actually a bit unoriginal and undermined a lot of what was set up as the focus of the story in the beginning of the novel. I don’t want to be more specific, however, to avoid spoilers.
Ultimately, King of Scars is a well-developed epic fantasy with imagination and scope and a complex, compelling cast of characters. Bardugo is really becoming a force to be reckoned with in the fantasy world, and it’s always nice to find a book that reminds me of why I love the genre.
Look for Krysta’s upcoming discussion post about the ending of King of Scars!