King of Scars Duology by Leigh Bardugo – Review

Rest assured – I hid the spoilers

King of Scars… What a journey! Back to Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse series, this book is reuniting the reader with characters from both Six of Crows duology and the Shadow and Bone trilogy. On one hand, we’re back to Ravka, about three years after the actions of Ruin and Rising, and we get to meet King Nikolai Lanstov, delve into the political issues the country is facing, Ravkans’ opinions, the reforms and technological advancements that are being done under his rule, and see his own personal struggles and the monsters of the past that are still haunting him (both literally and figuratively). On the other hand, we get to be reunited with Nina Zenik (an important character from the Six of Crows series), following her through the tedious journey she’s taken upon herself through the cold realms of Fjerda, the depression she has to overcome and the mission she’s received from the Ravka’s capital: to be a spy, gathering information, but also trying to save grisha from that hostile place through the Hringsa network. We get to discover Zoya, the commender of the Second Army, better than we ever did before, but also new characters that are absolutely enchanting.

  • Can you read this book if you haven’t read the other in the Grishaverse series?
    • Yes, you can.
  • Do I recommend it?
    • No.

Why? Because I felt like this book focused way more on the politics happening around this world, and way less on the characters. Of course, they are the ones being concerned, but, as we follow characters who are already known to us from the other books of the series, I felt like there’s way less emphasis put into the character definition, and way more that’s been put into the war that’s threatening Ravka and world building. We don’t get much backstory on Nina, and I think that would come in helpful in order to understand her psychology, but we do get all the information we need (maybe over a hundred pages dedicated to her backstory) in the Six of Crows duology.

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.

Enough introduction. Let’s talk the story.

Ravka is going through a harsh period. It is being threatened on two war fronts. They couldn’t recuperate from the damage the civil war brought. People are being kidnapped from within its borders. Plots and conspiracies are being forged at every step. But worse than anything else is Korol Rezni, The King of Scars, who, not only fights his memories of the past, but is also a monster.

Not that he wants to be one.

Actually, he is constantly trying to stop the monster from surfacing. It just doesn’t work. The monster is hungry – for human flesh.

Its eyes were mirror black, and dark veins spread from its clawed fingertips as if its hands had been dipped in ink. The tendrils of shadow tracing its skin seemed to pulse.

“You remember nothing?”

“Only flashes.”

They would just have to wait for any reports of deaths or mutilations.

Therefore, in order for the king to be able to run Ravka, he needs to confront his demons first.

The other major narrative line is following Nina (my all-time favourite Grishaverse character – and I am so very happy for it, although maybe a little biased, too). She is in a mission to…

Ahem – Six of Crows spoiler. Click to expand
    …bury Mathias, her now dead loved one… (My soul isn’t yet mended after that loss, at the end of the Cooked Kingdom book. This affects how I see the actions later in this duology)

…(at a personal level) and also free grisha while gathering information for Ravka (on the professional level). She is discovering Fjerda from the inside out, offering us a different perspective from what we’ve known thus far in the preceding books. We get to know the people and see a picturesque Fjerda, being offered a glimpse of its traditions and culture. It is taking us further away from the perspective of a villainous country and more towards a conservative one, with lots of emphasis put on people and their beliefs. However, from a war standpoint, it is still committing unnecessary horrid crimes, it is full of corruption, its politics are dirty and, as we follow Nina who gets to see it all as an undercover Ravkan agent, everything gets even grimmer.

Rule of Wolves is the Second volume of King of Scars Duology

“Just save some mercy for my people. There has to be a Fjerda worth saving. Promise me.”

Matthias, Crooked Kingdom

“Matthias, your country can kiss my fat Grisha ass.” 

Nina, King of Scars

Things I liked about this book:

  • The World Building
  • I love that we get to get a closer look at the politics of the Grishaverse. I am a nerd for it, and I don’t expect that people will necessarily share my opinion, but I like good plots that are surrounded by political turmoil. Just a delight. It also leads a lot to character development, as you can see how different characters have to put up with the barriers a political life can bring them, specifically in their personal relationships.

  • The Plots
  • There are smart moves throughout the book. The way the characters use people’s beliefs in order to manipulate the masses is interesting, and I love to see the ripple effect that this has over time.

  • The Fandom
  • I think one of the best parts about this book was the amazing fandom I’ve had the chance of being a part of, with which I connected on Reddit. There were threads discussing every five chapters from The Rule of Wolves, in which I delved and enjoyed as much as the books. A book is five times better when you have who to enjoy it with. Not to forget about fan art.

  • The Characters
  • I think Leigh’s talent is to bring characters to life, to give them voices that wouldn’t shut up in the readers’ minds, even after some time’s passed from reading the books… I loved Zoya for this, she had such a strong voice that she stuck with me for a long time after finishing the lecture. She’s a strong character, but the way she develops throughout these two books (Rule of Wolves included) is mesmerizing, and I just love how I get to see glimpses of her true self as she goes, but she’s as defensive to the reader as she’s to the other characters until later in the book.

    Zoya. Nina. Saints? Alina! The Crows!!!

    Hand me the brandy. I can’t tolerate this degree of stupidity on a clear head.

    Zoya
  • The Romances
  • I loved them. Truly. Nothing more to say here without spoiling. And if you read the book, you probably already know why I loved them so much.

    Things that could have been better:

  • The ending
  • If you’ve read it, you’ll know. If you didn’t, I won’t spoil you. I will list my opinion below. It is mainly to do with lack of story construction and what I consider to be some lazy decisions in writing.

    Spoiler Alert – Rule of Wolves. Click to Expand
    • Nikolai’s ending
    I didn’t like the ending because it simply didn’t seem to be building towards there. Zoya a queen? The whole Shadow and Bone trilogy foreshadowed Nikolai becoming a king. He fought. We went with him through his journey. He bled and suffered. I felt like, after finishing the book, everything came to nothing.

    • Nina’s ending
    This bothered me even more. Truly. Six of Crows was about the ruthlessness of Brum in his rulership. He wasn’t someone to be playing with. He is feared by the surrounding people. I get the fact that this book wanted to make it obvious that he’s still a man: he has family we get to meet. A nice family. A man who would care for his family wouldn’t do half the crimes he’s committed, as he’d be conscious about some of his impact. Or maybe not. Maybe he doesn’t care. I don’t know. Now, in this book, he’s being presented as a father, we can see his weaknesses, and we can attend to his scopes and the way he’s going about them. I didn’t like meeting him in the way we did: in a coincidence. Just how convenient. He didn’t even recognize her. Nina gets to have an affair with his daughter (forgetting way too quickly about Matthias, in my humble opinion), Hanne, who gets to trust her without much remorse… No foreshadowing. It’s just “okay” writing, and that’s not okay with me. All these things apart, the thing that bothered me most was the ending: Nina and Hannah, through an accident, another coincidence, on the throne of Fjerda. Again, wow, just how convenient. While Nikolai fought his way through for five whole books, Nina and Hannah find a way to solve all their problems just like that. For the good story construction I started loving Leigh, by reading her writing of Six of Crows. However, I feel like she really let me down here, both for Nina’s ending and Nikolai’s ending. She didn’t even impress me that much with the twists at the end, as I feel like they weren’t that well constructed either.
  • Some… Characters
  • I know… I already said I liked the characters. And I really did, with the main ones, at least. But there are characters that are coming back within these two books that lost all their essence, and that is something that I don’t like.

    Spoiler Alert – Rule of Wolves. Click to Expand Alina… I just didn’t like her. I liked that she made an appearance. And I truly liked Alina in the main trilogy. However, in Rule of Wolves I felt like she truly didn’t even need to be there. More like something to make fans enthusiastic rather than help with the story itself, she didn’t have any dimension to her, she was static and part of me wishes that she wasn’t part of this story, as it may have been better that way. I have the same feeling when it comes to the Darkling. No reason to back his actions when it comes to his character development in Shadow and Bone. I liked him too, in the main trilogy. I didn’t feel like he was necessary the bad guy, but he was rather misunderstood due to his cruel way of acting. He didn’t have any of that any more. His willpower, which was one of his biggest assets, was flushed down the toilet for an unessential storyline that rather just filled up the pages. I liked the Crows though, for they offered comic relief.

    Final Opinion and Rating

    I think Leigh Bardugo did a good job in including all types of people, from body shapes to skin colours, she tackled sensitive subjects not only within this duology, but in the whole grisha series: from slavery to drug addiction, from depression to cruelty. I think her books are influential and educative, although the way she goes around this is through YA fiction. This is making her books even more important: talking about such subjects while adopting a positive attitude towards these and addressing them to the young in their still formative years is to be applauded.

    She delivered the story more than well. She created an immersive world that’s been well-thought-out, and the characters are massive. This is mainly when talking about the whole grisha series. Do I think this book was the best one? No… Did I like it the most out of the series? Maybe. I found it very enjoyable. It is lacking some stuff that Six of Crows isn’t. But I am a sucker for world building and politics and fictional war and this book delivers. It resonated with me maybe more than it did with other people.

    I recommend it to people who already read the rest of the Grisha books. It is going to be way more enjoyable if you get all the references and throwbacks this book has to provide. If you didn’t read the rest of the books, but you’re into YA Fantasy, do start to read the series! It’s a must. If you like the genre, but you didn’t read nor do you plan to read the rest, you can still roll with this one, it’s completely fine.

    My final rating for this duology is…

    DRUM ROLL

    4/5 stars

    Rating: 4 out of 5.

    Don’t forget, two days ago we had the official release of the Shadow and Bone Netflix show, and the great news is that it is in top 10 in most of the countries at the moment. I will follow with a post about that too, and a comparison between the books and the show!

    The Binding by Bridgett Collins

    917E1m61fkLThe binding was a dark fantasy tale, transporting you to a time and a world where people would use bookbinders to take their memories away. It is a practice associated with magic in the small communities, but in the larger one it’s already considered a business. People would take their memories out to sell the books further, leading to trouble. The story follows Emmet, a hard-working boy, trying to maintain the good-working of a farm when he is more than sick. What brought him that sickness and how’s he going to get to be a bookbinder, considering it is one of the darkest professions one could have?

    I liked the story, I loved the characters (who had well-contoured, round and complex personalities), the world-building was delightful, and the mysterious element of the story was just what gave the lecture the extra flavour it needed. The story has a nice evolution, and I honestly appreciated that what started with the life of a boy on a farm, away from the rest of the society, got to be put in a bigger context, making me wonder about how the whole society worked, how it was wrong with it, and made me wonder about philosophical questions that I wouldn’t ever have thought about otherwise. It was captivating.

    Not only the world-building efforts of Bridgett Collins payed beautifully off, but the story itself was mesmerising. Trust me or not, this whole book is actually a love story! And what a love story… the forbidden one, trust me! It falls within the LGBT culture and I truly enjoyed it (not to say I usually find those stories a bit much, this one was perfectly balanced within the told story, not forgetting about the importance of the rest due to too much romance). It was something new, that I didn’t read before (although I heard there are 2 or 3 more books that say similar stories that I didn’t get to read so far. You can tell me if there’s any other better than this one).

    The story was dark. Honestly, as it was divided in 3 parts, the first and the third ones being full of misery. It didn’t bother me, I thought that was just how it was supposed to be. I read other reviews saying that they were actually a bit bothered, but that didn’t get to me. What bothered me though was the fact that I felt like the evolution of the story was a bit slow, and I didn’t really feel like reading it when I was tired or stressed, I needed to really have the mood to get back to lecture.

    There were plot-holes though. I will not mention them as I don’t want to spoil the lecture for you. And, although the characters were well contoured, there were some actions they did that didn’t make sense to me, it felt like the change in views were a bit too abrupt (as in the love story, from totally reluctant to totally in love). I found those bits disruptive, but not in a manner to make me stop reading the book.

    However, I really recommend it as a lecture with a complex storyline, a book that would enhance you within its binding.

    PS. I can’t miss this: the book itself! I have the Hardcover edition and I truly love it! The attention to detail underneath the dust jacket, the details within the covers, the nice little drawings… I loved it all. The guys from Borough Press really cared for this book, trying to make it look as special as possible!

    La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

    La Belle Sauvage
    ISBN: 0375815309 (ISBN13: 9780375815300)
    Edition Language: English
    setting: England

    Literary Awards: Odyssey Award Nominee (2018)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2017)Waterstones Book of the Year (2017)The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Book (2018)

    My last post was about The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, which I did read because I enjoyed so much this new released one, La Belle Sauvage. This one is a prequel of the main trilogy, “His Dark Materials”. I have it in a collectable edition (the special edition released after winning the “Waterstone’s Book of the Year” prize), as I like to consider myself, a true book collector – hardcover (obviously) – but it doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t the edition that impressed me, but the story itself which was way more interesting than I expected. I have to say that this was the first book I read from Philip Pullman but it surely won’t be the last.

    My Review:

    This was a good book. Why? Because it reminded me of my childhood. I read 200+ pages in only one day. This is something that didn’t happen in ages. I don’t think I did it because of the suspense or the story itself but more because of the way the world was created within the book. I got lost in with, believing that everything was true, living and feeling just like the characters.
    I have to mention that I didn’t actually read the main series – His Dark Materials –  when I got this one as, blimey, I learned about it only after buying this book. I saw a lot of reviews saying that this particular book is worse than the main series but, the truth is, the book itself is really good, without comparison.
    The characters are so well constructed that, even if you find yourself a grown-up with this book in your hands, you get to re-meet the child in yourself. It was a really enjoyable reading.

    Malcolm:

    Starting with the main character, Malcolm, I have to say that he impressed me. It was his innocence that struck me. Especially in the first part of the book, he was really amazed and well-intended about everything around him. He had a childish curiosity that helped build up the story. This made him the perfect character given the action.

    Alice:

    Another important character is Alice, which was, in the beginning of the book, really cold and unpleasant. She expressed lack of confidence from the first chapter. She evolved later in the book in a much more confident person as she went through more adventures.

    Lyra:

    I have to say that even Lyra, at 8 months old, has a really powerful personality. She is curious, friendly, but you can see throughout the book that she is also headstrong.
    Almost every character you are going to meet in the book has its own background story (and a really well-outlined personality) that brings the book to a totally new level of credibility and realism. I don’t have anything else to say about this. It is simply a great-written story.
    There are downsides though. It might be because this one is simply a sequel but, for me, it didn’t really make sense at the beginning what the rules of the world were. I didn’t know what a daemon was. I didn’t know if there are more fantastical elements in it or not – so when Mr. Boatwright specified something about ghosts for me it seemed really impossible. I think it had to be that way in the first part of the book.
    I find that this volume pretty much constructed itself. I don’t know how well-developed it was by Pullman before starting writing it down but I found it pretty annoying for one reason: half of the book was more mystery-like, while the other part of it was more based on suspense. I think I appreciated the first part of the book more, though. There were many details that stood out and were part of a greater puzzle. I wanted to read further to find out about every missing-piece. It was interesting. There was a powerful political/religious message hidden. There were secret associations, fighting one against the other in an informational war. In the second part of the book, all of these seemed to loose significance – the 2nd part was more based on Malcolm’s adventure. Here is the part where the story gains a fantastical tempt. The differences between the two parts of the story are huge. I don’t know what Pullman tried with it but, in my opinion, the difference was made a bit too abruptly.
    All-over though, the story was not outstanding. It was cute, but not outstanding. It was relaxing, but it wasn’t the kind of book for which I wouldn’t control myself and stay awake the whole night to read it – even if, actually, I stayed awake to read it, it wasn’t THAT KIND of book. At about the end of the story, many details and side-stories weren’t totally necessary. Maybe it was too much because I found myself bored at some point. It might be because I didn’t read “His Dark Materials” first. The ending itself, whatsoever, was totally dissatisfying. I was looking forward to see the little things – the way Malcolm gets home, his next meeting with Dr. Relf, etc, but this did not happen.
    I don’t have to lie, though. I enjoyed the book. It reminded me a bit about Septimus Heap. It was a really nice lecture!

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    Remembering Childhood with Philip Pullman’s Help

    Spoiler-Free!

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    Phillip Pullman is one of those master-writers you can’t miss. He is one of those who did have a great impact on many’s childhood, and it did for a good reason.

    There are not so many books that you can read as an adult while feeling your heart beating faster than it normally would, enjoying the suspense to the last page, crying and laughing just like an insane person. I know it myself. His most famous trilogy, “His Dark Materials”, is one of the best escapes you can get from your ordinary life. It gets you back in the childhood, making you feel fearless, unstoppable and innocent, all in the same time. This is so high-ranked in my own personal top that I’d put it next to Harry Potter with no hesitation. Why is this? If you read it, then you know yourself, if you didn’t, than let me tell you some things about it.

    Synopsis:

    ‘Without this child, we shall all die.’

    Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon, Pantalaimon, always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

    As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

    1. It is placed in an imaginary universe. You can’t say you read stories placed in other worlds day by day. Even Harry Potter is placed in our own. This world is both complex and substantial, and I didn’t notice any gaps that would distract me from the story. There were no unanswered questions. (P.S.: There are actually much less imaginary worlds in books than you would imagine. You can check here.)
    2. There is a film based on the first book. Yup, that’s right! It was released in 2007, with an estimated budget of $180,000,000. You can watch great actors playing in the role of your favourite characters: Nicole Kidman as Miss. Coulter, Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, etc.
    3. All the imaginary things connect so well to each other it almost feels as science-fiction more than fantasy. While reading, I totally forgot that what I read was imaginary. It actually made sense entirely. I got so lost in the book that, when I put it down, I needed a little cool-down in order to refresh and return back to the normal, boring world again.
    4. It is a children book most adults enjoy reading. That’s right! It might be because it was released about 23 years ago, but who cares? It feels right for every generation!
    5. The story is more complex than you can comprehend within a trilogy. This is why there are more associated books released. I am talking here about “Once Upon a Time in the North“, “Lyra’s Oxford“, and “The Book of Dust”. More than that, “TheA1z0HMoXAZL Book of Dust” is itself going to be a trilogy from which the first book, “La Belle Sauvage” was already released. I am fangirl-ing waiting for the next book release, “The Secret Commonwealth”, which will take place 10 years after the events in the main trilogy, unlike “La Belle Sauvage” which took place 10 years earlier.
    6. Pullman is one of the most appreciated and influential writers in the British Culture. He was named one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945” by “The Times” and the 11th most influential person in the British Culture, according to a BBC poll. His titles also won numerous awards, including the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association. It won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” in June 2007.
    My review:

    Philip Pullman At London Zoo

    I do recommend it! It is such an easy reading, so wonderful written and so nicely imagined that I can’t say anything else than “it’s totally worth it!” The characters are really-well outlined, all of them having great background stories and specific language – kids making pronunciation and grammar mistakes, just as in real life. All these small elements really help on building the realistic feel. However, most of all, the first thing I fall in love with were the landscapes I imagined. They were breath-taking and they were only in my head. This lecture actually left me sad by not getting to see those things in real life but…. this is why you’re reading, right? I can say that this book actually inspired me, as an adult, to take my life in my own hands and go, live my dreams, see the world, live my life – and I’m not saying it because it sounds nice, but because I’m honest.

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