King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo is the series about the one character in the Grisha-verse that needed to be the star of his own story, Nikolai. If you haven’t read the Grisha trilogy or the Six of Crows duology, then anything I write after this point will be spoilers (although not King of Scars spoilers), so please do not read this review. King of Scars takes place three years after the events of Ruin and Rising, in which Alina, Nikolai and everyone else fought the Darkling and destroyed the Fold. Nikolai went through a lot during that series and is now coping with the after-effects of the war, including a form of PTSD.
The world that we are thrust into is one in turmoil, as Nikolai struggles to cope with his ‘issues’ and run his country, which is in desperate need of his brand of intelligence and ingenuity. Although he would like nothing more than to forget the war and move forward into a bright future, the present is anything but bright. His people are being spirited away in the night and there is a darkness inside him that he cannot seem to conquer.
The story jumps between various points of view and locations in the Grisha-verse, from Nikolai in Ravka to Nina in Fjerda. As Nina was one of my favourite characters in the Six of Crows duology, I was quite excited to see her appear in this series as well. She has been a nice bridge between the series and has been integral to many plots throughout. That being said, Nina is also dealing with the aftermath of the events of Crooked Kingdom so she is not her usual self. Much of her story is mired in grief and a struggle to figure out who she is and what she can do in this new world without the most important person to her.
While I loved this book, I also didn’t quite get the same feeling for it that I did for Six of Crows. There was just this indescribable thing that the series and it’s character had, that I felt was missing here. Nikolai had that je ne sais quoi in the Grisha trilogy, but due to his struggles in this series he wasn’t always on his A-game. He was still personable, with quick witted remarks, and sometimes made me laugh – but not truly himself. While I completely understand the need for his personality dampening, it was the one thing that really pulled the book down from a 5-star rating for me.
We are re-introduced to this world, it’s characters, and it’s struggles early on – but you don’t really know where the plot is going for a good portion of the book. Due to the story’s breadth, I appreciated the time dedicated to setting everything up. It just made the book feel like a slow building of tension until you feel like you’re about to snap. There’s so much detail for everything, from the plot to the world to the characters that make it all feel so real and the tension is palpable.
I loved the development that each character experienced over the course of this book and the way that the story was woven together, despite the myriad POVs. Overall, I felt that this was a really fun beginning to the series and the final scenes of this book made me want to immediately dive into the second book, even though it’s not written yet.
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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo