King of Scars

King of ScarsNikolai 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.”

King of Scars Aesthetic

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.


ReDesign Four Stars Rating

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?

19 thoughts on “King of Scars

  1. Hey Beth!
    Yeah I’ve heard similar things about King of Scars, especially about the slower pacing and in general not as engaging as Six of Crows. I am a bit nervous to read this book since I am easily bored when the pacing is slow haha, but maybe I will wait for the right mood to read this one. Glad to hear that you liked it overall 🙂
    Also, I haven’t read the Grisha trilogy yet, would you recommend to do that before reading this book?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it does seem to be a common thing mentioned in the reviews. Even before I picked up this book I was hearing similar things. I think if you go in with lower expectations you should still enjoy it, it’s a good book but it’s not as great as Six of Crows. I’d definitely recommend the Grisha trilogy before King of Scars, all the characters we meet in this book have background stories in that trilogy and I do think it will add to your overall reading experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s good to know! I will make sure to start off with the Grisha trilogy then, before I delve into Kings of Scars. That’s what reviews are for right? As much as they can hype up a book, reading reviews also give me realistic expectations (such as for this book) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I really liked this book! I didn’t love it as much as Six of Crows but it was very well-written and did a great job of setting up events to come. The pace suffered for it and the excitement was dimmed as a result, but the characters were given some time to blossom, especially Zoya and Nina. I loved their parts, and I always love Nikolai, no matter what. But yeah, I was a bit bored with this one, but I have high hopes that the next book will be much more action-packed and entertaining! Still, this was a great start, I think! Wonderful review as always, Beth! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No neither did I, I think Six of Crows maybe set the bar a little too high in my opinion, but King of Scars was still a good book in my opinion. I guess after so long since the Grisha trilogy we maybe needed a refresher on the world and I loved the development of the characters I just wish there’d been a more balanced character development/plot dynamic you know?
      Same here, I can’t wait for the second book to be released that’s for sure.
      Thanks. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, SoC is a little YA masterpiece. Would be very hard to surpass it. King of Scars was good and I think it did well in executing what it set out to do, which was to reintroduce us to Ravka and her people. I agree that a more balanced approach would have definitely been more satisfying though! But really excited to see what happens next. I hope that maybe Alina and Mal will make a cameo appearance 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly, and after the time spent away from Ravka I think we kind of needed the re-introduction. A lot had changed since the Grisha trilogy in the country.
        I feel like this book did a lot of setting up so I’m sure there’ll be less of it in the second book, and yes I’d love an Alina and Mal cameo, I’d settle for even just a mention of how they’re doing! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am definitely pumped for this book! Nikolai was never my absolute favourite character but I think that will quickly change after I read his story 🙂 I was intrigued by Zoya from the beginning as I always thought there was so much more to her than meets the eye and of course seeing her from Alin’as perspective results in a very biased opinion – so I’m glad she proved to be an amazing character after all!
    I think I’ll read Six of Crows first and maybe even re-read Grisha before I dive into this one, just so I can get all the references 🙂 It’s been a long time since I’ve read the trilogy and I barely remember a thing! I don’t want to miss out on all the good stuff (but I also dread rereading anything XD Choices choices!)
    Brilliant review, as always Beth! ❤ Hopefully, book two will be a 5 star experience for you ^^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was definitely one of my favourite characters in the Grisha trilogy (I think my favourite character was the Darkling). Zoya was brilliant in this book, there was definitely a lot more to her than meets the eye and we see so much of that in this book, I did the whole re-read of the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology before picking up King of Scars and it was worth it. Plus Six of Crows is my favourite of Leigh Bardugo’s books. There is a lot of references. I feel like re-reading and reading the other Grishaverse books is the best choice if you’re looking for recommendations. 🙂
      Thanks so much, and yeah that’s what I’m hoping but based on the way King of Scars ended it will be a 6 star experience! 😀 ❤


  4. I was unsure about Nikolai and Zoya but I think that they will be able to open up different sides to each other. But I think the next book will confirm if I really like them together or not. And I really liked Zoya as well– she was a great character!!
    I agree that Nina and Matthias’s story was touched on beautifully and not forgotten about at all. It was so emotional– I was surprised how emotional I felt reading it because you felt like the worse had past already. But dealing with death it just as hard as the actual death– so I thought it was dealt with really well.
    Yes I definitely felt like the next book in the series is going to be the bigger plot and will have a lot happening in it!! I think it was the 100 page mark when I really, really got hooked in this book!! And I can’t believe that ending– the line and everything!!
    Great review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I was a little the same actually. I liked seeing their relationship develop in this book but I loved the development of Zoya’s character the most. We got to see her in a completely new way to how we did in the Grisha trilogy.
      I was glad they did that with Nina and Matthias. In a way the worst has passed but in other ways for Nina the worst was still passing. It was definitely emotional and I was just glad it was so well handled because I loved Matthias and I loved his relationship with Nina in the Six of Crows duology. I didn’t want that to be brushed off for a new love interest for Nina.
      It’s a brilliant ending, and even though King of Scars was a slow paced book that ending has left me beyond excited for the second book in the duology.
      Thanks so much. 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This whole ‘verse has been on my TBR list for ages and I still haven’t started them yet. Definitely eager to having read this review, it sounds like they are really great reads with some fantastic characters. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Grishaverse series is incredible. 🙂 You can really see how Bardugo’s writing improves as you go through each book and while the Six of Crows duology is my favourite honestly all the books are great reads.
      I hope you enjoy the series, and this book too.
      Thanks so much. 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. 🙂 Yeah I get that, there’s been so much hype for King of Scars it can be a little nerve wracking actually starting it. I think the amount of hype is what let this down for me. It was a decent story I just expected more. Maybe if you go in with lowered expectations you’ll enjoy it more. King of Scars is a good book, just not as good as the Six of Crows duology in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome! And yeah I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s not as good as Six of Crows. I definitely have to lower my expectations before I jump into it. I also feel like I have to be in the right mood to pick this up cause I really want to enjoy it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’d recommend that. I re-read the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology before picking up King of Scars which was good because I picked up on some of the small cameos but on the other hand I think going into King of Scars directly off Six of Crows meant my expectations were too high in a way.
        Hopefully you will end up enjoying it though.

        Liked by 1 person

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