King of Scars (Nikolai Duology, #1)by Published 29 Jan 2019
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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, 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 (Nikolai Duology, #1) Reviews
Updated with my opinions on the End! (Spoilers are hidden within a spoiler tag)
Hello all, and meet my ghost, who is currently writing this review.
First of all, I think there will be plenty of people who are not thrilled with the end, but I am LIVING for it (and I'll list my reasons at the bottom of this review under the spoiler tag). However - I did have some issues (like the pacing), and I'll talk about them below, but overall, Queen Leigh is so freaking brilliant. I am in utter and complete shock. I had to reread the last chunk about 10 times before the ending sunk in. I screamed my throat raw, scared my cat, and practically passed out.
First of all, an absolute massive standing ovation to Lauren Fortgang, who narrated this book on audio and blessed me with her talent. I absolutely 10000% recommend the audio version – and this goes for the original trilogy too (which she also narrated). The audiobooks are outstanding. (Yes I am unhealthily obsessed and Lauren, if you read this, I am... sorry.)
That also leads me to my next point – you DEFINITELY need to read the original trilogy (Shadow and Bone) before reading this – which is legit one of my all time favorite series. I also recommend reading Six of Crows because a main character (and massive spoilers) are in this book for her. Basically, please read through all the Grishaverse books. You won’t regret it, and if you don’t, you will be spoiled for all of them.
Alright, back to this barely coherent review.
I love everything about my precious son Nikolai, and like always, he is absolute perfection. I've been BEGGING for this book for the longest time. But I definitely had some issues with parts of the book – mostly about certain plot points that had me scratching my head a bit. Some parts were slow. Now that I’m finished, I think some of those bits are growing on me, but I gotta say (sadly) that I found myself a bit bored at times (more below). But listen. Leigh is my favorite author. I freaking adore everything she writes. Her worldbuilding is absolutely astounding, and her characters are just… I can’t. I love them. So that, paired with the ENDING THAT KILLED ME, is the reason I am rating this five stars. Queen Leigh deserves nothing less. I admire her endlessly. I think I'll enjoy this even more the second time around, especially now that I know what she was building towards.
“One risks looking less like a monarch and more like a hostage.”
“You have emissaries to manage these matters of state,” Zoya had argued, “ambassadors, underlings.”
“The public may forget how handsome I am.”
Let's break it down.
This is where I had a hard time. I love her, I REALLY do – so much. She’s hysterical and super relatable, not to mention, a great role model for girls. She's the friend I wish I had growing up. But I found myself dozing off during her chapters. I’m not going to say much since we’re right at the release, but she’s away from Nikolai + co on some mission in Fjerda, and it seemed to drag and drag. I was so excited to see her interact with my crew (Genya, David, Zoya, etc) but alas, she’s occupied. Don’t get me wrong, she has some great moments – and some teary ones for sure, especially if you know the ending of Crooked Kingdom (she’s still dealing with this). But I just didn’t love her chapters. That being said, I’m 1000% stoked to see the moments I craved in the sequel.
My golden son. I said it above, but he’s perfection. He’s witty, clever, smart-mouthed in the best way, and all around charming as usual. Belt up those pants, friends, otherwise he’ll charm them right off. If you’ve followed his story, you know what happened to him in R&R, so obviously he’s dealing with that – as a major plot point of this book. (Queue Britt sobbing into her tea.) What made me the most sad, though, was for a book titled King of Scars, I feel like we didn’t get ENOUGH of him. He didn’t have that many POV chapters - and it felt like Zoya's book tbh. But even still, he’s a freaking badass, and always manages to steal the show. The two-clever fox. I knew this, and he STILL shocked me out of my seat more than once.
And the end? *bites fist* *zips lips before I explode* Ahhhghghghgh. (more on this lower)
I like her, but I haven’t fallen in love with her. I will say this though – she grew on me a lot, and Leigh wrote her character arc beautifully. In fact, that's the focus of her chapters - we find out so much more about her past and what really went on from her perspective during the Grisha Trilogy. All that, and she had some truly fantastic moments. I loved the banter between her and Nikolai. Now, I know some of you are wondering about the ships so I’m going to post my thoughts in the spoiler tag. [spoilers removed]
Ahhhhhh so yes. I have so many mixed feelings! But again, I freaking love Leigh, and I’m not going to get overly critical here. But this kiiiinda felt like a prologue book. I mentioned I wasn’t the biggest fan of Nina’s chapters. I actually really enjoyed Zoya + Nik’s POVs – though at around half-way, things got real weird and I was suddenly questioning if I was reading the same book. Things change course super fast and the plot takes a nose-dive in another direction and I was like??? What is happening??? - I’ll add more once the book has been out for a while, but for now, I’ll just say this: Parts of it, I LOOOOVED, and other parts, I’m still totally confused and frazzled about.
Hot damn can Leigh write a killer ending – and oooooooooo boy did she go where I never thought she’d go. Let me tell you right now – we’re going to have SO many people that hate this. I'm calling it - people are going to complain, and I'm going to have to try hard not to roll my eyes - because I freaking LOOOOVED it (and not for reasons you might expect). If you think about it, which I have - a lot - it's freaking brilliant. I’ll expand more once the book has been out for a while, but holy hell I am so here for this. The next book – oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.
Alright, friends. Want to know my reasoning for loving the end? Here it is (warning - it's very long):
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He straightened the lapels of his velvet coat and winked.
“It’s not exciting if nothing can go wrong.”
I feel really disappointed that King of Scars - one of my most anticipated books of 2019 - was only a 3-star read for me.
I'm not sure if I'm being harsh or generous, honestly. It wasn't a bad book. Bardugo keeps growing as a writer and she especially shines with her dialogue. I liked the characters and relationship dynamics; I loved the funny, snarky conversations; I just felt like this book was so slow in parts. 500 pages is on the heftier side for a YA book, and I felt the drag of most of them.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are great books, in my opinion. I love the heisting and shenanigans. I think they're really tightly-plotted and I can 100% understand what I'm reading for. Here, the plot meandered. Nikolai's efforts to rid himself of his monster seemed to get lost somewhere, and Nina's mission to find grisha felt open-ended and directionless (it reminded me of Mare's journey in Glass Sword, which I really disliked).
There's a real lack of focus for a lot of this book. Romance is minimal, which is usually a good thing, but here it might have added a much-needed hook. I didn't feel like either Nikolai's or Nina's stories provided a significant conflict or mystery until the very end. I was also bored by Isaak's chapters.
I started King of Scars on such a high, convinced I would love it. 100 pages in I made a note saying "not much has happened". 200 pages in I made another note saying "lots of Grishaverse recap and flashbacks; little plot progression". It's a very long time until the story really goes anywhere.
This all sounds really negative, but it was saved somewhat by how much I enjoy this world and the characters. Zoya is especially interesting. Unlike some, I quite liked the ending, and I'm intrigued by the possible romantic directions the sequels could take. If only this book didn't feel like one very long prologue.
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NIKOLAI LANTSOV IS GETTING HIS SERIES.
Dreams do come true, kids.
oh god.......it truly pains me to say that this would have been undoubtedly 5 stars if I didn’t dislike that ending so much
(4.5 stars and I am BITTER)
“Most of us can hide our greatest hurts and longings. It’s how we survive each day. We pretend the pain isn’t there, that we are made of scars instead of wounds.”
Oh friends, it has been a long while since I read the concluding events in Ruin and Rising! Honestly? I probably really would have benefited from doing a reread. Yet, I will be the first to admit that I was complete Darkling trash back in the day, and I have grown a lot as a person and realized that he is someone that shouldn’t be romanticized, but I was so damn hyped for this story and to see how the people of Ravka are doing after that final battle and living under a brand new king. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was truly let down.
Also, I want to emphasize that a three star rating isn’t a bad rating! I still enjoyed this and I loved seeing some of the character that I love with my whole heart and soul, and also falling in love with a new character, too! But this was just so ungodly slow for the first half, which is something I’ve never felt while reading anything by Leigh before. I know that we had a lot of be caught up on, but I just couldn’t immerse myself into the world or story until after the halfway point.
I really recommend that you don’t read King of Scars (or this review, honestly) if you have not read all the other books in the Grishaverse! But as a quick recap before I get into my thoughts and feelings: People are still fearful of Grisha and are capturing and killing them regularly. Grisha are also still becoming addicted to jurda parem, and many different variations of it, which enhances their powers but at a cost.
“The books do not tell the whole story”
And this story is told in many points of views, but there are pretty much only three locations that this story takes place, until they will (hopefully) all weave back together! Zoya and Nikolai are off with a new character trying to discover what lives inside Nikolai. Meanwhile, back at the palace, family friends are teaching a young boy how to impersonate Nikolai himself, so no one will know that he is away! And then we have Nina off on a completely new mission, where she finds out so much about herself and what is happening to Grishas in areas that are still living in fear of them.
But this is a story about grief and loss and how living with those two things can impact your life beyond words. This is a story about being the person everyone wants you to be, while ultimately choosing the person you truly are. This is a story about feeling like your life is predicted for you, but realizing that you are capable of doing any and everything you want.
“Call me Grisha. Call me zowa. Call me death, if you like.”
➽ Zoya Nazyalensky - One of the strongest Grishas ever (Squaller, of the Etherealki Order) and is an incredible fighter and leader. She was also the Darkling’s favorite, but is now my favorite.
➽ Genya Safin - My second favorite character! Genya, as the Darkling's gift, used to be the servant to the Queen, and was treated so very terribly. She is much happier now, but still is living with the torture that the Darkling inflicted upon her.
➽ David Kostyk - A very skilled Fabrikator who helped make things to hold amplifiers.
➽ Tolya Yul-Bataar & Tamar Kir-Bataar - Twin Grishas who own my heart.
➽ Isaak - The common boy solider who is impersonating Nikolai while he is away! (I fell so in love with this new character so easily, truly!)
➽ Nina Zenik - Heartrender (of the Corporalki order) who used to be a part of the Dregs in Six of Crows! Now on a top secret mission, that is about to be jeopardized because of new information! Also, she is on a mission for herself to finally lay someone to rest at home.
➽ Hanne - Fjerdan who Nina meets and instantly feels connected with. Hanne is just trying to live in a world where every opportunity has been taken from her because she is a daughter and not a son.
➽ Leoni & Adrik - both are Grishas who are accompanying Nina on her new mission!
➽ Yuri - A monk who is with Nikolai and Zoya, who is also one of the leaders of Cult of the Starless, who worship the Darkling.
➽ Nikolai Lantsov - The current King of Ravka, who is expected to marry and produce an heir because so many foes are looking to overtake him. But he is dealing with the torture that the Darkling has left in his body.
“A handsome monster husband who put a crown on her head? It’s a perfect fairy tale to sell to some starry-eyed girl. She can lock you in at night and kiss you sweetly in the morning, and Ravka will be secure.”
Nikolai’s monster is something that no one really knows how to control, but he is constantly being drawn to The Shadow Fold, which was the breeding ground of unspeakable shadow horrors and where the Darkling harnessed so very much of his immense power. We are also introduced to three new characters that I’m not going to really talk about because of spoilers, but they were amazing. I loved learning more about amplifiers, since there are so few people who have had them in this world and seeing the power that they bring is pretty intense and such a cool development in this story. Again, without saying too much, I loved all the scenes involving The Fold.
“We are all connected, King Nikolai. The Grisha, the Fold, the power inside you. The Fold is a wound that may never heal. But perhaps it was not meant to.”
But chapter twenty-five is the best chapter in this entire book, and that’s because Zoya is the best character in this book. Like, I get that it is called King of Scars, but this book was way more about Zoya and her beautiful story and everything that she has overcome than Nikolai’s. Especially since this book also spends half of the time focusing on Nina and what she is up to on her mission, I just feel like this is not Nikolai's book; it was half Zoya’s and half Nina’s. Which is fine, I’m not saying I disliked that, I just feel like it was a weird flex because going in you expect it to be all things Nikolai and it really couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, it really doesn’t feel like his character progressed all that much either, where Zoya and Nina both had tremendously big events happen that will alter their future and the very future of Ravka.
Okay, but now I’m going to say the thing that’s probably going to make you all dislike this review, but I don’t really ship Nikolai and Zoya together. Like, I think the story would have been way more powerful if they were just friends. But this weird romance is laced throughout the story, even though there is no confirmation or reward or actual romance, it just felt weird to read. Especially with that annoying ending. I don’t know, I just really don’t ship them together, yet, but I probably will eventually. And I totally would have shipped them if we would have gotten more of them actually starting a romance instead of us just being like, “okay, yeah, this is totally the direction that Leigh is leading us!” Plus, that ending? I really don't want another unnecessary love triangle.
And I want this review to be spoiler free, so I’m not going to go into details, but you’re either going to love or hate the ending. And, friends, I for sure hated it. One of my favorite things in literature is when a spin-off series comes out, and the overarching threat is the ramifications of the what happened to that book’s conclusion and/or villain. Having a cult that views the Darkling as a saint and worships him? That was the setup of my dreams, friends. And the ending just felt like such a cop-out and made me so angry and it really left such a disappointing taste in my mouth.
“All fuels burn differently. Some faster, some hotter. Hate is one kind of fuel. But hate that began as devotion? That makes for another kind of flame.”
Overall, I just didn’t love this the way that I truly anticipated that I would! Maybe I hyped it too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have reread The Wicked King right before starting this? Maybe I’m just being salty over the Darkling? I don’t know, friends, but this let me down. I am highly anticipating what will come with the next book, and I hope to have a much higher rating and happier review! Also, Ninth House is going to be everything and I still cannot wait for that 2019 release!
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Content and trigger warnings for drug addiction, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, captivity, slavery, implied past sexual assault (numerous times & numerous characters), torture, bullying, fatphobic comments (always in a negative light), mention of past death of a baby, attempted pedophilia, suicide, and war themes.
1.) Shadow and Bone ★★★★★
2.) Siege and Storm ★★★
3.) Ruin and Rising ★★
1.) Six of Crows ★★★★
2.) Crooked Kingdom ★★★★★
*.) The Language of Thorns ★★★★★