Mia's Reviews > King of Scars

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
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really liked it

Rating: 4 stars

*This review contains major spoilers for the previous Grishaverse books.*

I have to say - this is probably one of the toughest reviews I've ever written. As soon as I closed this book, I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of disappointment. I was angry, almost to the point of tears. But for the majority of the book, I had been smiling and laughing, content with rediscovering old characters and meeting new ones, thrilled to be back in a world that I truly love more than any other. Then, after stewing for a day in anger, I took a few days off before writing this to think, to process. To even speculate what might be coming next. I came back and thumbed through the many tabs I'd placed throughout King of Scars , and found myself smiling and laughing again.

As a long-time fan of this series and someone who loves these books with my whole soul, my review for any Grishaverse title is never going to be unbiased. I could pretty much read an entire book of just Nikolai sailing on the True Sea, or of Zoya going about her daily duties at the Little Palace, so I'm never going to be truly bored or unenthusiastic (as many reviewers have said of this book, which I think are fair critiques) with anything Leigh writes. So before reading my review, maybe just keep that in mind.

But harder than writing this review was deciding on a rating. How do I decide on one number to represent all of the turbulent emotions I feel towards this book? Truthfully, I can't. When I first closed the book, my feelings were somewhere in the three star range. A day after that, somewhere near four stars. Ask me again in a month, and I might have a different number for you. After we've gotten the sequel, definitely a different number.

One of the biggest struggles I've had with my thoughts about this book is not judging it based on what might be coming in the sequel. I have to take it for what it is, which is way easier said than done when you've invested as much time and emotional real estate as I have in this series. But for the first time, I find myself extremely - and I mean, extremely - nervous to see where Leigh takes this story.

But anyways, that's enough emotional build-up, I came here to actually talk about the events in this book.

King of Scars picks up three years after the end of the war in Ruin and Rising. If you haven't read the other books in the Grishaverse series, you definitely need to before you read this one. If you have read all the books, I'd highly suggest rereading Ruin & Rising or at least skimming it before you pick up King of Scars . I ended up doing the latter, and it made a huge difference in how I was able to understand the story.

I will say, for the first time, I got the sense the Leigh is really building a large and interconnected fantasy universe. The Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows are related, but ultimately separate stories. King of Scars deals with the direct aftermath of both of those stories, bringing so many different elements of the Grishaverse together. For lack of a better comparison, King of Scars is to the Grishaverse what Civil War was to the MCU.

Let's just get the negative stuff out of the way first though, since this is not a five-star, perfect review and I did have some critiques.

King of Scars switches between dual story lines. The first follows Nikolai and Zoya on their struggle to rid Nikolai of the remnants of the Darkling's power, which still exist inside him as a terrible and ferocious monster. There's also a lot of tensions at court between Ravka and its pesky neighboring countries, Shu Han and Fjerda. If you're a person who finds political intrigue/strategizing to be a bore, you might find good portions of this book to be a snooze fest, just to warn you. The second story line follows Nina, who is on a secret mission in the north of Fjerda with two other members of the Second Army (who I seriously loved meeting) to help persecuted Grisha escape to safety in Ravka, as well as bury the love of her life.

*Cue sobbing for eternity because WOW I MISS MATTHIAS.*

Individually, each story line is beautifully crafted and easily held my attention. The rub came when it got really tough having to constantly switch between the two. When a chapter switches from Nikolai to Nina, you have to place yourself in an entirely different setting, with an entirely different plot, and entirely different characters. If the two stories had been even remotely connected, the mental switch might have been easier. But there isn't a single thread to tie the two together. As many readers have pointed out, Nina's story could have easily been its own novella (though I'm partial to making it its own novel, because Nina is not the Fat Bisexual Queen of Death we all love and don't deserve just to have a puny little novella).

But like I said, when you look at the two stories individually, I absolutely loved them both. I'm actually probably in the minority when I think I preferred Nina's story line to Nikolai's. There isn't a thing I would change about Nina's journey, and I loved so many things about it. Chapter 8 had me breaking down in ugly sobs, because what else would you expect from a Grisha book?? The way her story is set up for the sequel has me super excited and eager to see what comes next.

I had a few more issues with Nikolai and Zoya's story, however. The first being that Nikolai's story didn't even really... feel like his own. King of Scars honestly should have been called Queen of Storms because this book follows Zoya more closely than it does Nikolai. Truthfully, I wasn't bothered by it since the development of Zoya as a character is absolutely breathtaking. But the fact that this is supposed to be Nikolai's book caught me off guard.

However, that being said, I think part of that is simply because Nikolai's development as a character is meant to be played out for the long game. I definitely think the sequel will hone in on him and the changes he's going to undergo. It's not that he doesn't develop in King of Scars - because he definitely does - it's just that he really doesn't change much compared to what we learn about Zoya.

And what we learn about Zoya got me right in the heart, for sure. If there's one thing Leigh knows how to write, it's one hell of a backstory. Zoya's backstory is the only one that's ever come close to rivaling Kaz's for me, which is saying something. If you don't finish this book with a whopping chip on your shoulder just for Zoya, I'm pretty sure you read it wrong.

That leaves two (mostly related) things that I didn't love. Since both of these things are super spoilery, I'm going to mark portions of them as spoilers. These are major spoilers so please, please don't read them unless you've read the book already or you 100% don't plan on reading it.

Nikolai and Zoya grapple with some new characters about halfway through, who I honestly didn't love. Well, at least one of them I didn't. The other two were intriguing, though I found myself not particularly caring about them at the end. The one character I didn't like (view spoiler) felt very cartoon-y to me, with stereotypical (view spoiler) dialogue that just felt below Leigh's usual level of character development. The existence of these characters also left me with so many questions (view spoiler). I'm really hoping that these are answered in the sequel.

There was also more than one point in this book that I was pretty dang confused. Even after rereading certain sections, I'm left with a lot of questions - (view spoiler)

But all of that brings us to the thing that left me in a royally pissed off mood - the ending. Again, warning for major spoilers!

(view spoiler)

Okay, now that literally ALL of that is out of the way, I can squeal about what I did love!

As always, Leigh's writing is just the most beautiful thing your eyeballs have ever settled on. She crafts sentences more elegant than the places she describes and more captivating than the fight scenes she orchestrates. I used almost two entire packages of sticky tabs to mark all the quotes that I loved.

And what would a book about Nikolai be without all of his glorious sass? If you're looking for the best banter and witty sarcasm, you can certainly find it between these pages. No need to worry about a lack of appropriate Nikolai personality, that's for sure.

Like I mentioned before, this book is heavy on political intrigue. Personally, I'm someone who loves a good "round table meeting" scene, so I really enjoyed those moments, which were plenty. We also get to see a lot of our older Grisha faves ((view spoiler)) in these scenes at the Little Palace, which I could not have loved more.

Now if I could just get to see some of my Dregs again, I could live and die happily. *sigh*

But speaking of older Grisha characters, I think it's important to note that this feels much more like the original Shadow & Bone trilogy than Six of Crows. As someone who basically believes in the SoC duology as religiously as some do the Bible (only a slight exaggeration), it was jarring at first to not get gritty fight scenes or perilous con jobs. But once I adjusted my expectations, I was able to fully enjoy King of Scars for what it is.

Though, that's not to say we don't get to see some characters from the SoC duology *wink*.

As I also said, Leigh does a mind-blowing job at exposing some of the backstories of our favorite characters. We get a lot about Zoya and a little about Nikolai, but those moments were arguably some of my favorite in the whole book.

For the romance, I have to admit I was on the fence at first. This was yet another thing I unfortunately got spoiled for, so my expectations were of a sweeping, tension-filled romance, which is honestly not at all what happens in this book. I realized that what Leigh does craft is so, so much better though, and (as I keep saying) I'm super excited to see where it heads in the sequel. I wouldn't have originally paired those two together in my head, but it makes sense. I think, lol. We'll find out.

I swear I'll be cutting this review off in just a little bit (if you've made it this far, know that I appreciate you more than Nina loves waffles), but if I had to pick one thing that I loved best about this entire book?

I S A A K.

OH MY GOD HE WAS SUCH AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE AND JUST WOW. WOOOWWW I LOVE HIM A LOT OKAY.

I'm not gonna go into detail so as not to spoil it for others, but what happens with Isaak just reminded me why I love Leigh Bardugo more than any other author. She's freaking brilliant, truly.

I feel like there's at least twelve other things I'm forgetting to talk about, but I guess at some point I have to just call it a night and set up camp for the sequel. Catch me in my tent outside Fierce Reads' offices as soon as the cover reveal is announced. For a 4 star review, I unfortunately spent way more words discussing what I didn't love than what I did. But that's because everything else in a Grishaverse book is just a given for me. Setting? Breathtaking. Side characters? Unfairly adorable. Character development? Please, Leigh Bardugo's middle name is Character Development.

I suppose now, there's nothing left to do but wait. I'm more nervous than I've ever been for a Grishaverse book. I could literally throw up thinking about all of the terrible things Leigh might do to our favorite characters. But I have faith in Leigh, more than in any other author I've ever read in my life. It's definitely not impossible that she could disappoint us - just improbable.
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Reading Progress

September 26, 2017 – Shelved
September 26, 2017 – Shelved as: anticipated-releases
January 29, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
May 8, 2019 –
page 13
2.47% "The last line of the first chapter? Fucking brilliant. I cannot with Leigh Bardugo she needs to stop writing so I can go back to living an emotionless, peaceful life"
May 9, 2019 – Started Reading
May 12, 2019 –
page 105
19.92% "God I’m falling in love with these characters all over again"
May 15, 2019 –
page 276
52.37% "HOLY SHIT I LOVE ISAAK WITH MY WHOLE ENTIRE HEART WHERE HAS HE BEEN THIS WHOLE TIME"
May 17, 2019 –
page 383
72.68% "Should I attempt to read over 100 pages tonight to finish this or savor it over the weekend hmm"
May 19, 2019 – Finished Reading

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