Thoughts on the Ending of King of Scars

Potential spoilers for all six books currently in the Grishaverse.  Read ahead at your own risk!

The ending of King of Scars is certainly dramatic.  Reviewers have reacted with stunned gasps and increased excitement for the sequel.  I have to admit that my reaction differed.  Initially, I thought the ending was cheap drama, an easy way to create shock without regard to the cohesiveness of the story.  Upon reflection, I understand more clearly why I felt this way.  The ending of King of Scars is shocking–but it also undermines nearly everything that happened up until that point.

King of Scars is a thoughtful depiction of how a handful of individuals are dealing with the aftermath of Ravka’s civil war.  Nikolai is fighting the monster the Darkling left inside him.  Zoya is attempting to come to terms with the adoration she once felt for the Darkling–and working to make amends for the ways that adoration made her complicit in Ravka’s suffering.  Their struggles make clear the lasting effects of a corrupt leader and of war.  The Darkling may have died, but his influence remains, both in Nikolai’s condition and in the cults that have sprung up to declare him a Saint.  Fighting evil is never as easy as simply killing the villain.

Resurrecting the Darkling takes away from the power of this narrative.  The focus moves from the struggle to face the personal demons of the past and back to the traditional fantasy narrative of toppling a dark lord.  This is perhaps more exciting.  It gives the characters something physical to punch, someone personal to direct their anger towards.  But it also lessens the poignant depictions of how Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina are attempting to accept what they did in the past, both to survive and to save a nation.  In real life, enemies do not typically return to give people something to hate. They have to learn to live with themselves and to move forward– without having someone onto whom they can transfer their anger and their self-loathing.

Maybe Leigh Bardugo feared that the story of a king trying to fight his own anger and save his country from economic collapse simply is not compelling.  Maybe it would strike readers as shabby next to the romanticism of the previous trilogy, complete with its seemingly all-powerful dark lord.  But there is something compelling about Nikolai’s journey and about Zoya’s.  Those journeys remind readers that the fight never ends, that sometimes the important moments are the quiet ones.  King of Scars is very different from lot of fantasy books–and that is its strength.

I was sorry to see the Darkling return because I do not want to see the focus of the duology shift from the personal journeys back to yet another quest to kill the Darkling.  We have been there, done that.  Even King of Scars was a quest to kill the Darkling(‘s monster) once and for all.  I really hope that the sequel will surprise me.  But, in the meantime, I’ll be mourning the return of a villain I do not think the story needs.

18 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Ending of King of Scars

  1. littlebookynook says:

    I am so glad I am not the only one who felt this way. I actually didn’t find the Darkling’s return to be a shock as it was hinted at the whole way through the book. I was *hoping* that I was wrong, but unfortunately I wasn’t. I am really disappointed with the ending to be honest. So many characters made massive sacrifices in the Shadow and Bone series, and it feels like it was all kind of pointless. I would have preferred if this series was more of a personal journey rather than having to have the Darkling return again.

    I actually ended up skimming over the last 70 pages because I knew where it was heading and it was making me cranky. I think this book was one of my biggest disappointments. Great post!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! What was the point of the first trilogy, exactly? People’s lives were destroyed for–what? And, honestly, the Darkling’s return just feels boring. How many times do the characters need to defeat him?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas Hunt (@Writing_Rabbits) says:

      I don’t feel like she’s setting him up as a villain. Ravka has enough villains, enough enemies. What Ravka needs is its own monster. The Darkling was very much a revolutionary character, he wasn’t just a dark lord, that’s an oversimplification, especially if you’ve read the short stories—The Demon in the Wood, When Water Sang Fire.

      I’m excited to see what she does. *sign me up for the Cult of the Starless One*

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krysta says:

        I think plenty of dark lords see themselves as revolutionary. In my mind, the Darkling is a villain who tried to take over the country for himself. He failed. I really don’t want to see him try again.

        I also don’t think one’s story should be dependent on “extra” matter for readers to understand it. Novellas can be nice bonuses for hardcore fans, but everything readers actually need to know should be in the main books.

        Like

  2. dreamingofcats says:

    I haven’t read this series, but read your post out of curiosity for insight into the book that has the whole book community captivated. that’s so interesting, without any investment in the series whatsoever so being relatively objective, your point makes complete sense and resurrecting the villain does cheapen the journey so far when the characters should’ve been coping with the aftermath. but from what I know of fandom, the Darkling is super popular? I feel like he’s a fan fave and often shipped with one of the girls, so I can see why it was tempting to bring him back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think people shipped him with Alina in the first series. But…he’s clearly the villain so I’ve always found that weird and a bit icky! He’s evil! Stay away! XD

      We’ll see how the sequel goes, but I feel like we’re retrodding old ground here. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dreamingofcats says:

    it’s funny because I’m often partial to villain/heroine ships, but I’m VERY picky about how it’s handled. like Warner/Juliette from Shatter Me is so popular, but I can’t get further than a few chapters in because he’s SO awful to her and I don’t know how it can be justified? :/

    hopefully the next book is more your speed and the author course-corrects because I’ve read a few other reviews and people have mentioned the same thing. I think this one is going to be polarizing. I mean, if she has a vision, it’s probs not going to change, but if she did bow to popular demand in bringing him back, maybe she’ll see that wasn’t the best choice and focus more on the character development rather than rehashing the previous books’ arc.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think it depends on the characters how viable a villain/hero romance seems. The Darkling never seems genuinely invested in anything but his own power, though, so it’s hard for me to think Alina should end up with him. She deserves someone who cares about her and respects her!

      Yeah, I’m just going to keep hoping there’s a fantastic master plan I’m just…missing. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  4. marydrover says:

    I felt the exact same way! It was shocking, yes, and I reacted much like most people did at first, but when I took time to step back and discuss it with friends, I realized I felt kind of sour about the ending. We literally had an entire trilogy devoted to killing him, and not only does him coming back now diminish Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina’s personal journeys, it completely undermines everything Alina went through previously. It makes it seem like her sacrificing literally almost everything was completely pointless. He came back, so why did she have to go through all that?

    And not only that, but I felt like it fell kind of false? Would Nikolai honestly keep him alive? I really don’t think so. No matter what was at stake, keeping the man alive that ruined his country in the first place seems like just asking for it to happen all over again, and probably worse.

    Sorry for ranting on your post, haha, and thank you for posting your thoughts! I’m glad I’m not the only one that was a little bummed at the ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Don’t worry! Strong reactions are welcome! XD

      Yeah, I agree. This does make the Grisha trilogy seem pointless. I don’t know if there’s some overall message there about the pointlessness of fighting evil or…what. I wonder, however, if this will affect people’s desire to reread the trilogy. Why bother when it does seem pointless? Why watch Alina go through everything for seemingly nothing? (Especially since I get the impression few bloggers like Alina as a character.)

      And I’m not sure Nikolai would keep him alive. Unless he’s not sure how to get rid of him. But I doubt there are moral scruples there. I’m sure there are more than enough grounds for a legal execution.

      Like

      • marydrover says:

        I briefly thought about rereading the trilogy because there were a few details I forgot. And I think I may be one of the few who like Alina, so I was immediately kind of thrown off that idea.

        Haha, definitely more than enough grounds! I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I didn’t hate Alina like a lot of people do. I know she’s unsure, but I would be, too, if I were thrown into a weird situation like she is!

          Like

  5. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    This is such an interesting take! I have to admit that it didn’t strike me that way at the time – but I totally see where you’re coming from. It was the internal struggles that were the most interest throughout the novel, so you do have a point that in literally reviving the Darkling it does undermine that somewhat. I have to say though, I do trust Leigh and I think she’ll find a way of working it all out that makes sense.

    Like

  6. AlenaV says:

    I agree with you. I was really dissapointed with this development. It wasn’t clever in execution.
    The all-mighty Saints suddenly appearing, changing the whole game, Elizaveta conveniently swapping Darkling’s body… Part of the demon going back to Nicholas, part creating a new Darkling… it just wasn’t believable.
    It’s great to have magic and mystical things at your disposal as a writer because they are a part of the world you’ve created. But you shouldn’t use those thing as an excuse for any bullshit you come up with.
    The whole ressurection seems gimmicky.
    As much as I love Bardugo’s work, this is my least favourite book from her.
    Maybe she will surprise us in the second part.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I wasn’t sure I really followed how the Darkling was resurrected. It seemed way too complicated. I liked the idea of his legacy living on in Nikolai. That seems realistic. War changes things. Problems linger. But resurrecting the Darkling? Meh. We already fought him. Why must we do it again? I thought the plotline of trying to keep the country running was already interesting enough and, well, different. We don’t need a standard “kill the Dark Lord” quest in every fantasy.

      Like

  7. AlenaV says:

    Actually, more I think about it… why would Nikolai and Zoya let him live? I really hope there’s some clever Bardugo twist.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, that made no sense to me and seems wildly out of character for both of them. The Darkling is too smart for them to outwit. They couldn’t stop him the first time and they’re just going to let him take charge again? He already has a following he can use to try to overthrow the government. He’s too high risk to let free.

      Like

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