Overall Rating: 3/5
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT
Read if you loved: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Content warnings: Predatory behavior (brief), child loss (brief), violence
King of Scars is the first book in the latest Grishaverse duology and focuses predominantly on Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina’s journeys following the events in Six of Crows. Ravka is facing threats from all angles – rumors of war, struggling coffers, and rampant distrust in the throne would be enough to concern any new ruler, but these external challenges are only the tip of the iceberg. Within the walls of the Grand Palace, Nikolai is battling his own demon, one that is unwilling to let go. At the same time, Nina makes her way to Fjerda, coping with the loss of Matthias by infiltrating enemy territories to rescue Grisha soldiers, only to find herself drawn to a bigger cause. King of Scars is satisfying in the respect that readers get to follow along with fan-favorite characters and in some cases, gain novel insight into their backgrounds, but the overall story-telling and plot is a step down from the growth shown in the Six of Crows duology.
Here is why I struggle with this review. You should not read King of Scars if you have not read Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, simply because it’s not that fun and probably far more confusing. If you have read both other series, it is likely that you care about the main characters in this last duology, and honestly, that’s all that kept me reading. We get a look into Nina’s journey with grief, which is something I was really hoping to explore, and are offered a multitude of touching moments that will break your heart. Given the different perspectives in this book, it is also the first time we get to experience events from Zoya’s third person limited perspective, which I have been craving since Shadow and Bone. The book is littered with insight into her backstory, and I continued to fall in love with her. Bardugo also integrates other minor characters from Shadow and Bone, and her ability to continue the trajectory of small side characters across different series contributes to the immersive experience that is the Grishaverse.
But if weren’t for my investment in Nina and Zoya (and my inability to start and not finish a book), I might have abandoned King of Scars half way through. The first half is incredibly slow – It takes about a third of the book to even set up the plot! There were a few exciting moments which then fizzled out into paragraphs upon paragraphs of unnecessary detail that bogged down the pace. Six of Crows had a similar issue with being a little too long and detailed, but there we were being introduced to brand new characters and settings, so it worked. Here, it felt repetitive and…dare I say it…boring? I can deal with character-driven stories, but this teetered on this strange line between a tedious storyline and not enough character insight. Now, if you make it through the first half, it does get better! The pace picks up and there is a lot more excitement that sustains itself through the end. Is it the best plot? No, not really, and it sort of reverts to Shadow and Bone level plot twists that don’t feel very well thought out. The ending was the real mic-drop moment meant to rein in readers for Rule of Wolves, so I really hope this next book is better.
At this point, I’ve put so much time into these books that I will be picking up Rule of Wolves right away, just so I can bid the Grishaverse books adieu for once and for all. I do love Bardugo’s characters and they have been the most compelling reason for me to see out the end of their stories, and if that’s the case for you, you will find plenty to love in this book despite my shower of criticism. If not, then King of Scars might disappoint you. Let me know if you have read this or Rule of Wolves! Should I be excited? Or should I lower my expectations?