Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Series: King of Scars #1
Goodreads: King of Scars
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Buy: UK | US
Synopsis: The dashing young king, 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, Nikolai 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 general, 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.

Review: So I finally sat down and read the Nikolai duology all in one go. I’d been saving it because I know Leigh is partial to a cliff-hanger and I wanted to avoid that whole experience, so I waited patiently for Rule of Wolves and now I’m going to release the reviews back to back too! There’ll be a few spoilers for other novels in the Grisha series below.

Right, first things first, this book was a surprisingly mediocre experience for me, just so we’re both on the same page before we get into things. King of Scars and I just did not click. I’d been really looking forward to a narrative based around Nikolai but I think he ended up getting the least amount of character development, and that’s not to say I didn’t love the addition of Zoya and Nina’s perspectives, it was just unexpected. In fact, Zoya completely steals the show from Nikolai and her story-line and characterization just feels better than his, to the point where I kind of wish this book was completely Zoya focused. Zoya is powerful, talented, and her snark with Nikolai was right up my street. I really feel like Bardugo excels when it comes to dialogue and relationships between characters, and it’s always a joy to read the characters interacting with each other.

Nikolai feels like a different character in this. He still has his wit and charm, but now we also get the turmoil that comes with being king of a country with enemies on both sides. Nikolai’s inner monologue brings an emotional depth to the character that has always been there but now we get a more intimate look at who he is when you scrape away the veneer. He’s not the same Nikolai that we met with Alina, and for me that made a lot of sense after everything he’s been through. What didn’t quite hit the mark for me was his story-line, there’s not a whole lot of conflict here despite the whole shadowy beast possession thing; in fact the Nikolai’s rather big problem faded into the background despite being the hook for this book.

Nina’s perspective also feels like it should have gotten its own novella rather than being wedged into this book. She is, I suppose, there for reasons that involve Nikolai and the politics happening at home, but her chapters always pulled me out of the story that was happening in Ravka and added very little to the main plot-line. She has some really beautiful scenes dealing with her grief post-Crooked Kingdom, but I’m not massively happy with the fact that she already has a new love-interest. It’s annoying because I love Nina, but it felt like she was in King of Scars to pull in the Six of Crows crowd and not because she needed to be there.

The plot is where this book really fell short for me and I struggled to stay engaged with the story. King of Scars spends its five hundred or so pages rehashing the plot of the previous books, and giving us political machinations but not a lot of meaty plot. This book feels like it’s about the long-game so isn’t as tightly plotted as the previous books, and because of this we’ve ended up with a meandering story line that only really gets going in the last hundred pages. King of Scars just completely lacks tension, even in Nina’s spy chapters, and I feel like if you’re going to write a book that contains this much politics I need that tension.

Overall, King of Scars isn’t bad but it isn’t fantastic either. My love of these characters and Leigh’s witty dialogue carried this book to a three star finish line instead of something lower, and I still can’t quite decide if I love or hate that ending. The book isn’t what I expected from a story based around Nikolai and it is just feels so long, but I did really enjoy being back in this world with these characters.

Recommend: You’ll need to have read the rest of the Grisha series if you want to pick this bad boy up, but if you’re a lover of the series I think you’ll enjoy seeing a little more of these characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

2 thoughts on “Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

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