King of Scars Review: Not Really the “Nikolai Duology”…

February 19, 2019 by Jenna | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

King of Scars Review: Not Really the “Nikolai Duology”…King of Scars (Nikolai Duology, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion Children's Books on January 29, 2019
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
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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.

This review may contain some spoilers for the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. For those of you wondering, I definitely think that you need to read the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology before reading King of Scars. There are lots and lots of mentions of things that happened in both of those series and it’s a steep learning curve if you dive straight into King of Scars. I read the Grisha trilogy in 2015 and found that I needed to read some recaps to remind myself of who some of the characters were and the key events that happened in those books.

I’m going to start off by saying that I was a bit underwhelmed by King of Scars. I was so excited when I received my copy because it was 500+ pages of goodness but I have to say that this was probably one of my least favourite books in the Grishaverse.

While I still highly enjoyed this book, there were a few things that made it difficult for me to fall in love with it like I did Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. First, I felt that there were a few too many perspectives and different things happening so the whole book was a bit rushed. In this book, we follow three main perspectives: Nikolai, Zoya and Nina. And despite this book being called “King of Scars”, the book really wasn’t primarily about Nikolai at all and I also felt that his perspective was the least interesting and had the least coverage. Zoya wasn’t really one of my favourites in the original Grisha trilogy so it took me pretty much the whole book to warm up to her and actually become interested in her perspective. However, I appreciated her a lot more at the end and enjoyed seeing Nikolai from her perspective. And while I really really really love Nina and was interested in her story arc in this book, I wasn’t really sure what it added to the book because she’s on her own separate journey in this book. I expected their storylines to diverge by the end of the book, but they didn’t so I was left with a lot of questions at the end and it kind of felt like two separate books. Having said that, I enjoyed Nina’s story a lot more than I did Nikolai and Zoya’s and found it to be better fleshed out.

King of Scars is quite a lengthy novel and it felt really lengthy at times. The pacing was kind of jarring because we rushed through a lot of important things but also lingered on a bunch of really boring events that I really didn’t care about. The middle section of the book had me practically falling asleep and the second half of the book was extremely rushed. There were a lot of things that we skipped over, which made later events in the book seem really unbelievable. The climax of the book didn’t really have enough tension and excitement and it was all over extremely quickly.

There is quite a bit of political intrigue in this book but I felt like there wasn’t enough worldbuilding to help me understand it and care about it. I feel like I needed a little bit of a mindmap in the book showing me which countries were at war with other countries and how Ravka was involved with each country politically. Given that the whole book is kind of built on the premise of Nikolai having a shaky hold on the Ravkan throne and being unsure of whether he is able to protect his country from different forces, I thought that there wasn’t enough background information provided and the worldbuilding was too weak. There were just too many unanswered questions, which made the novel less enjoyable.

I think the characters (and me being back in the Grishaverse) was what made me enjoy the book enough to give it a 4-star rating. Nikolai is still one of my favourite characters but I felt like he had much less page time than he deserved. He’s witty and charming and I just wanted to see a lot more of him and his story but he kind of ended up being the same slightly elusive character that he’s always been. As I mentioned, Zoya took a little while for me to warm up to but I did like reading from her perspective towards the end of the book, especially as she became more vulnerable. And of course, Nina is still one of my favourites and I’m glad to see what she’s up to post-Crooked Kingdom. Just being able to be back with these characters was probably the saving grace of this book. However, I’m uncertain about the villains in this book and I thought they were kind of weak and fell really flat. There’s also a lot of mention about the Darkling in this novel and, unpopular opinion but I did not find him to be attractive or intriguing in any way in the original trilogy and still could not care any less about him. Like bring back Six of Crows where I did not have to endure mention of the Darkling every 5 pages.

I’m also on the fence about the budding romances in this book. There’s definitely strong hinting at romantic relationships between some of the characters and I don’t think this series needs it. Okay, I did end up onboard all of the ships in the Six of Crows duology but not everyone needs to be paired up together. I just really want the upcoming sequel to be more focused on the plot and the important things, like the political intrigue, because the pacing and the plot was kind of a flop in King of Scars.

This was a really long review so the tl:dr is that I really enjoyed being back in the world and seeing some of my favourite characters from the Grishaverse but I found the worldbuilding and pacing to be weak. There wasn’t really enough Nikolai for my liking because the book was dominated by a lot of other perspectives and events. I would have appreciated it more if the book was more focused on one particular plotline instead of trying to do too much.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thanks to Hachette Australia for providing a review copy of the book.

King of Scars is now available at all Australian retailers for $22.99 RRP (paperback) and $29.99 RRP (hardback).

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Jenna is an Aussie blogger and reader who loves to indulge in great books and great food. She is a doctor (of philosophy) and can usually be found fangirling about something, devouring delicious food, or taking a nap. You can find her on Twitter @readwithjenna and on Instagram @readingwithjenna.

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6 responses to “King of Scars Review: Not Really the “Nikolai Duology”…

  1. Omg Jenna I have just finished this book and it was AMAZING #fangirling but I agree with you with Zoya, she was such an incredible character here and I wasn’t a big fan of her in the original Grishaverse. I actually preferred Nikolai & Zoya’s journey to Nina’s, I guess because I was more familiar with the characters? I liked hearing about her grief and Fjerda though.

  2. Great review Jenna! Ugh I did not enjoyed this book at all, the pacing was horrible, the Nikolai’s part of the plot was a tad unbelieveable and I was wondering the whole time why Nina’s chapters aren’t made its own novella. I also find the writing to be too descriptive? Like we’re constantly reminded of how blue Zoya’s eyes or blonde Nik’s hair is. And I love a certain character, but I totally hate the ending because it just uses Nikolai in the worst way 🙁 I’m really underwhelmed with this one.
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  3. Great review! I’m totally with you on the Darkling – I thought he was actually quite a boring character, and I don’t care about him. I do love Zoya, though; she was my favourite in the original trilogy so I’m glad we got to learn more about her, and it was so nice to see Nina again. 🙂 I do agree though that, considering this is the Nikolai duology, we actually didn’t see that much of Nikolai!
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