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 by Leigh Bardugo is the first book in the Nikolai duology. It was published by Orion Children’s Books on January 29th 2019.
Trigger warnings; human experimentation, drug abuse and addiction.
Like everyone else who loves Leigh Bardugo’s writing and the Grishaverse I was so excited when I discovered Nikolai’s story was being released. I re-read both the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology before I let myself start King of Scars (avoiding reviews and spoilers was very tricky let me tell you) and in the end while I did enjoy this book it was a little too slow in places. The first half read like the first book in a new world, like Bardugo was introducing new characters and plot nuances rather than taking us back to Ravka and King Nikolai.
“Lesser animals whined and struggled when they’d been caught in a snare. The fox found a way out.”
Despite coming back from what the Darkling turned him into Nikolai isn’t free, and now the monster that still lives beneath his skin has woken up and is taking control of his body during the night. With Ravka in a dangerous position, broke and trapped between different powers they need to thrive, Nikolai needs to be the strong and capable leader his people see him as, and that means destroying the monster once and for all. Nikolai is one of my favourite characters in the Grishaverse, and in King of Scars while he is still the same character at his core we get to see more of him.
Nikolai wants to be a good ruler, better than his father was and better than his brother would have been. He is a master at presenting himself to people as whatever they need him to be, but he genuinely cares about his country and his people and struggles to do what is best for them. Nikolai is desperate to find a way to kill the monster and when a young monk from the Cult of the Starless, who worship the Darkling, offers an answer he jumps at it.
While I’m not too convinced on the relationship between Nikolai and Zoya I liked how Nikolai could be himself with her, not needing a front to hide behind, and I loved the development we got of Zoya’s character. In the Grisha trilogy we only saw her through Alina’s eyes but in King of Scars we see a girl who used to love the Darkling but who was hurt so badly by him she now despised him, a girl who is determined to be strong because if she isn’t she will lose herself in her grief. King of Scars may have primarily been Nikolai’s story, and secondarily been Nina’s, but Zoya was my stand-out favourite character.
“She wished she had Inej’s gift for spywork or Kaz’s gift for scheming, but she only seemed to have Jesper’s gift for bad decisions.”
King of Scars isn’t just Nikolai’s story, it’s also Nina’s and the book alternates between hers, Nikolai’s and Zoya’s POVs. Unlike Nikolai’s story I didn’t feel like Nina’s was slow in places, we dive right into her journey smuggling Grisha out of Fjerda and follow her as she’s led deeper into the country where her people are being experimented on using jurda parem.
The events of the Six of Crows duology are still very fresh for Nina, she’s still grieving Matthias and unable to let him go, but the voices of the dead are calling to her and she can’t resist following them. When I heard about the development of Nina’s relationship with one of the characters in this book I was a little nervous, I loved her relationship with Matthias and I was worried that would be brushed aside, but that wasn’t the case. Matthias’s death is a large part of Nina’s character but letting him go, accepting his death and allowing herself to mourn him, was a large part of her character development.
“‘Remember who you are.’ Nikolai knew. He was a king who had only begun to make mistakes. He was a solider for whom the war would never be over. He was a bastard left alone in the woods. And he was not afraid to die this day.”
As Nikolai and Zoya travel through Ravka to what was once the shadow fold, trying to kill the monster inside him, we get to see a lot more of Ravka. In the years since Alina destroyed the shadow fold Ravka has been allowed to flourish, but there is still turmoil and now miracles are happening, miracles that started at the same time the monster inside Nikolai woke. In the Grisha trilogy we saw a lot of Ravka, but in King of Scars we see there are still secrets the country is keeping, and we learn more about them and the saints people pray to.
As Nina works out what’s really happening inside a factory in a small town in Fjerda where girls keep disappearing we get a lot more development of the country. Before we’d only seen glimpses of Fjerda through Matthias’s character and through the heist at the Ice Court, but now through Nina’s eyes we see more of the country and their treatment of a Grisha.
“Stop punishing yourself for being someone with a heart. You cannot protect yourself from suffering. To live is to grieve. You are not protecting yourself by shutting yourself off from the world. You are limiting yourself.”
I loved going back to the Grishaverse, being re-introduced to characters I loved from the first trilogy – Genya, David, Tolya, Tamar and Adrik – and meeting new characters I quickly fell in love with – Isaak, Leoni and Hanne. I also loved the references in King of Scars to the previous books, hearing Nikolai and Zoya talk about Alina and seeing Nina’s thoughts of Kaz and the Dregs back in Ketterdam. There are a lot of connections in this book to the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology and I’m really glad I decided to re-read them first.
“Zoya of the lost city. Zoya of the garden. Zoya bleeding in the snow. You are strong enough to survive the fall.”
King of Scars felt very much like the introduction to a much bigger story; as much as I enjoyed this book it felt like there was too much setting up of Nina’s, Nikolai’s and Zoya’s stories. It does promise big things in the second book, and after the cliff-hanger King of Scars ended on I can’t wait for the second book in this duology, but it expected more from this book especially after the build-up of the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology.
Have you read King of Scars, or is it still on your TBR list?
Did you find the beginning of this book a little too slow or were you hooked from the first word? Who was your favourite character; was it Zoya like me, or was it one of the new characters we were introduced to? What are your thoughts on that ending?
Have you read any of Leigh Bardugo’s other releases, which is your favourite?