King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published January 29, 2019 by Imprint
Contains 528 pages • Classified as Young Adult Fantasy
My rating: 2/5 stars
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.
It physically pains me to say this book was a letdown because this was one of my most anticipated books of 2019 and I love Leigh Bardugo. However, I was underwhelmed by King of Scars. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either. I liked the second half of the book much more than the first, but overall disappointed with the story/plot (or lack thereof). The story dragged and was bogged down by exposition, world-building, politics, and saints. Man, I hated the saints in the second half. The only bright spots were Nikolai and Zoya, but there wasn’t enough of Nikolai, which I found odd given that this is his duology.
Basically, King of Scars is about a king’s love for his country (or at least that’s what I think). Nikolai is dealing with the aftermath of the civil war and the precarious position his country is in while battling his own personal demons. He rules Ravka with the help of his general, Zoya, and Grisha leaders, Genya and David. While they try to lead Ravka into the future, Nina is on mission in Fjedera and dealing with her own personal stuff after Crooked Kingdom.
WHAT I LIKED:
- As I mentioned, Nikolai and Zoya were the standouts in this book. They’re the reason I pushed through. I enjoyed their POVs and would have liked it if the entire book had been written from their POV. I loved learning about Nikolai’s childhood and his motivation to save Ravka. Zoya wasn’t particularly a character I was fond of while reading the Grisha trilogy. However, she shined in this book, even though her backstory was jumbled into just a few pages of exposition. I love her boldness and her ability to make tough decisions. I enjoyed her character arc. I loved her banter with Nikolai and honestly couldn’t get enough of them.
- The side characters. Genya and David, Tamar and Tolya were great additions too. I loved Genya and David’s banter, loved Tamar and Nadia, and Tolya reciting bad poetry that no one wanted to hear. Their dynamics and one liners were nice. They didn’t have significant roles in this book, but I enjoyed their scenes.
- The final 50-60 pages were exciting and entertaining to read. I liked the political scheming and the twist with the Shu. Those pages were Leigh doing what she does best and I loved it.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- The most glaring weakness of this book is the plot because there isn’t much of a plot at all. Nothing really happens 50% of the book. It’s just exposition and narrative until the very end. The main characters are just going about their lives and you’re kind of hoping it goes somewhere. There are characters that don’t contribute much to the nonexistent plot and there are characters that I wished would go away. In addition to the plot, Leigh changed the entire magic system in a just a few sentences. Whoa. Talk about unexpected. The Grishaverse completely changed and I’m not sure I like it.
- Nina’s arc was a huge disappointment. I liked some of her scenes, but I was incredibly bored with her chapters and I literally counted how many pages I had to read to get to the next POV. Nina is still the bold, reckless, fan favorite character from Six of Crows, but her mission in Fjerda dragged, pulled me away from the book, and didn’t really connect with the rest of the story. Her potential love interest is one dimensional and quite uninteresting. If this book were a TV show or movie, Nina’s chapters would be the point where I took a bathroom/snack break. That’s how dull I found it. I wish Leigh had combined her chapters into a novella or a bonus story for the end of the book. They were were too long and that is unfortunate.
- The ending. Oh god. I can’t begin to explain how irritated I am about that ending. I predicted it halfway through the book, so I wasn’t surprised but still annoyed. I want to talk about it so please skip to the verdict if you haven’t read King of Scars.
SPOILERS START HERE
KING OF SCARS SPOILER:The fact that Nikolai was a horcrux for the Darkling and Leigh nullified the end of Ruin and Rising and Alina’s sacrifice to bring back the Darkling irritates me. The explanation for how his body was preserved feels cheap and lazy. This book felt like 500 pages of exposition just to bring back the Darkling. Nikolai deserved better.
SPOILERS END HERE
Personally, I think Nikolai Lantsov deserved better than this book and this is a hill I’m willing to die on. He deserved new enemies and friends and an exciting plot fit for a privateer king. For a book marketed as his duology, there wasn’t nearly enough Nikolai in it. His chapters were extremely short and sometimes he seemed out of character. He didn’t feel like Nikolai until the end of the book, which is damn shame.
Overall, I was bored, disappointed and unimpressed with King of Scars. What I loved most about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom was Leigh’s ability to write complex diverse characters with great dialogue. King of Scars feels like a step back. This book felt like a sequel to Ruin and Rising and not a separate series. It was all over the place and awfully white. Some of the characters were flat and a third of the book could have been cut. I’ve settled on 3 stars because I don’t think it’s all bad, but I’m devastated that it’s contender for the most disappointing book of 2019. I’m really sad about this. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic. I’m only reading the sequel for Nokolai and Zoya. I’ll skip all the other chapters just to read their POV.
If you’re in the mood for…narrative YA fantasy with political machinations and extensive world-building, you’ll enjoy this.