Warning: I assume this review is going to contain spoilers for the previous books in the Grishaverse. But if you’ve not read them yet, that’s really on you.
The boy king, the war hero. The prince with a demon curled inside his heart. The people of Ravka don’t know what Nikolai Lantsov 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 rebuilding the Grisha army. Despite their magical gifts, Zoya knows the Grisha cannot survive without Ravka as a place of sanctuary – and she will stop at nothing to help Nikolai secure the throne.
Far north, Nina Zenik wages her own kind of war against the people who would see the Grisha destroyed. 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.
I held onto a book voucher I received before Christmas so I could buy King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo on its release. I have a tendency to be down on series in general and spin offs in particular, but where Bardugo is concerned all of my qualms go out the window. The truth is I would read a book about Nikolai Lantsov literally hanging out in his PJs (it’s an image that appeals to me) but Leigh would never do us like that. King of Scars is a thrilling page turner and another welcome addition to the politically complicated, war-torn Grishaverse.
King of Scars is a beefy book. Coming in at just over 500 pages, I had pacing concerns going in but none of them were warranted. There are two pretty much entirely separate storylines running throughout – Nikolai and Zoya dealing with political crises (and the whole Nikolai being part demon thing) in Ravka, and Nina deep over enemy lines on a Grisha rescue mission in Fjerda. These two distinct but equally vital narrative lines kept the story moving at a-pace and I even found myself dreading the end. Bardugo writes people I always want to spend more time around.
Like most of Bardugo’s writing, King of Scars is really about facing your demons (literally, in some cases). Nikolai has to face how he has been changed by war, and accept those changes rather than fighting for a version of himself that doesn’t exist anymore (again, in addition to dealing with the literal flying blood-thirsty demon he turns into at night. I don’t think if I’ve ever shared this before but I have a long held theory that Nikolai is basically Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer); Nina has to face her grief (the revelation at the beginning of King of Scars that she has not yet buried Matthias’ body is particularly heart-breaking) without letting her anger consume her once good intentions; and Zoya… well, she could start by admitting she has one heck of a crush on a certain war hero king.
As much as I love Nikolai and Nina (and I really, really do), it was Zoya who captivated me most in King of Scars. I love a complex mean girl, and Zoya’s hardness, harshness and drive to do what’s best for her kingdom (and make up for her one-time loyalty to the Darkling that she doesn’t even need to apologise for because I think we can all admit we were initially taken with that guy) all wrapped up in a mess of survivors guilt, trauma and distrust of.. well, everyone, appealed to my squishy, drawn-to-the-emotionally-unavailable, heart. The way her early experiences of perceived weakness factor into her relationship with power as an adult, a relationship that is defined by the girl beating the shit out of herself for all the times she believes herself to have failed, made for heart-wrenching reading. Zoya is the definition of a closed book, and as a reader I relished the moments she did open up almost as much as Nikolai did.
All I can say is I’m thrilled this is a duology. By the end of King of Scars there is one hell of a mess to unpick, a war to stop and some ships that had better bloody sail.
(looking at you, Nina and Hanne. Nikolai and Zoya and obvi going to happen)
– “Oh David,” Genya said, taking his hand. “You’ve never threatened to murder anyone for me before.”
– Generally that feeling of seeing all my babies grown up. I was 19 when these books first started and though I know the ages don’t exactly match up, part of me feels like I grew up with these guys so seeing the gang at least half married off and happy gave me serious FEELS.
– Everybody shutting Tolya down whenever he tries to recite poetry. It. Kills. Me.
– Every time Zoya mentions killing the Apparat. Just let the girl do it. I am begging.