Book Review: King of Scars (King of Scars #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Imprint
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Pages: 514, hardcover
Source: Own

Face your demons… or feed them.

The boy king. The war hero. The prince with a demon curled inside his heart. Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. The people of Ravka don’t know what he endured in their bloody civil war and he intends to keep it that way. Yet with each day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. 

Zoya Nazyalensky has devoted her life to honing her deadly talents and rebuilding the Grisha army. Despite their magical gifts, Zoya knows the Grisha cannot survive without Ravka as a place of sanctuary—and Ravka cannot survive a weakened king. Zoya will stop at nothing to help Nikolai secure the throne, but she also has new enemies to conquer in the battle to come.

Far north, Nina Zenik wages her own kind of war against the people who would see the Grisha wiped from the earth forever. Burdened by grief and a terrifying power, Nina must face the pain of her past if she has any hope of defeating the dangers that await her on the ice.

Ravka’s king. Ravka’s general. Ravka’s spy. They will journey past the boundaries of science and superstition, of magic and faith, and risk everything to save a broken nation. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried, and some wounds aren’t meant to heal. 

After falling headfirst into the Shadow and Bone series on Netflix, I decided to go ahead and read all the books that take place in the Grishaverse. The Six of Crows duology will likely remain my favorite of Bardugo’s work, but Nikolai was my favorite character in the original trilogy, so I was looking forward to reading his story and getting his POV.

Which… well.

King of Scars is very uneven, which is surprising considering how deftly Bardugo handled multiple POV characters and chapters in Six of Crows. I think the main trouble I had with King of Scars is that, despite being the literal title character, Nikolai just doesn’t have as much of a presence here as I would have thought. It’s hard to explain, but I noticed a definite difference in his chapters versus, say, Zoya and Nina’s. We were in Nina and Zoya’s heads pretty firmly, especially Zoya; Nikolai, however, felt a bit more removed from the reader. Considering what a force his character was in the original trilogy, this was surprising. 

It honestly felt as if Bardugo was more interested in Zoya’s character than Nikolai’s. Which is fine, but maybe then just make the story about Zoya and stay in her head instead of trying to force Nikolai into the equation as well. 

Nina’s storyline felt too removed from the main one in Ravka, though I do see how it’s going to come together in the second book. It was also frustrating in the climax of the book to continually switch POVs from Zoya and Nikolai to Nina in Fjerda. If something big and epic was happening with Zoya and Nikolai, I didn’t want to cut away to Nina’s storyline in the middle of it. This is the issue with having multiple POVs spread across different locations undergoing different storylines. Six of Crows kept the crew together and going through the same events, so it flowed better. Here, it was just irritating. I honestly wish Nina’s POV had been taken out of this novel and given her own, maybe a novella. It would have worked better.

The potential romance between Nina and Hanne fell a bit flat to me, which was surprising, considering the fact that I wasn’t overly into Nina and Matthias as a couple. But Bardugo wrote them in a way that, while it wasn’t my cup of tea personally, I could see how they worked together, and their interactions had an ease and a flow to it that Nina and Hanne simply lack. It felt like Bardugo was trying to force the attraction and really make her readers believe it, which consequently made me not really buy into it.

I’m also uncertain how to take to the development of the lore in the world. Once Nikolai and the others are in the Fold, it just exacerbates the issues the book had been having with being more interested in Zoya’s character than Nikolai’s. He doesn’t do much during this part until the end; meanwhile, Zoya is learning and growing in groundbreaking ways. It was an interesting take on the Saints, but their inclusion didn’t feel entirely natural.

We’ll see if Rule of Wolves resolves these issues or if it’s just more of the same.

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