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.

  • 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…


    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!