King of Scars (King of Scars #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Face your demons...or feed them. 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.
** King of Scars follows the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. If you haven’t read either of these series, please be warned that this review contains spoilers for events which occurred in both series.
Some scars never heal. For Nikolai Lantsov, the scars he received at the hands of the Darkling have not only refused to heal, they’ve actually gotten worse. As Nikolai’s mind blends with that of the shadow demon’s, ancient rituals and powerful forces are sought out as a potential cure.
Across the sea, Nina Zenik carries her own burdens. Still grappling with her altered power and the final promise she made to Mathias, Nina has become part of Nikolai’s spy network which ferries Grisha out of Fjerda. In this land of danger and ice, however, Nina hears the call of the dead urging her to take action beyond her scripted duties.
I loved Leigh Bardugo’s previous series, and the way they blended in King of Scars while making subtle nods to the previous stories reawakened my love for the Grishaverse. Readers hear mention of Kaz and Inej, Sankta Alina, and even Dunyasha. The dangers these character faced previously have further shaped these individuals, placing them on paths in King of Scars which propel the plot. Nikolai, now the king of Ravka, has done everything in his power to speed up technological advancements and repair wounds left from the Darkling’s war, but the damage done to him takes center stage as he begins to lose control over his form. Nina’s heartrending power has forever been changed, something she hasn’t quite accepted, and she heavily bears the loss of her love, Mathias.
Issues surrounding sainthood and miracles take center stage in Nikolai’s journey, and I love how much Bargudo dove into the history behind the saints of Ravka. Sure, the saints and what they’re known for are mentioned in the Shadow and Bone series, but I felt like there was a greater impact of these saints in KoS because we see miracles and even get to meet a few saints. Saints and their Grisha power influence Nikolai, Zoya, and Yuri - ultimately leading to the darkest twist of all.
I thought the fleeting romantic moments between Nikolai and Zoya weren’t as genuine as they could have been. Thrown together as king and general, the two have created their own system for running the country and keeping Nikolai’s monster at bay. However, the mutual yet unspoken attraction between them was obvious from the start - a shared traumatic past, goals to repair Ravka, and general time spent together were obviously going to bring the two together. And of course, that’s how it likely should've gone in book two, but thanks to Nikolai’s surprise declaration in the last chapter, we’ll see how that goes.
I loved everything with Nina’s chapters. I feel like she’s gone through the most as a character in Bardugo’s books, all the whole remaining humorous and relatable. And although she’s working toward accepting her new power, she doesn’t let anything else get her down. Someone jokes about her never missing meals? She immediately comes back with, “Not if I can help it.” The quiet heartrender in Ketterdam has become a fearless rebel and force to be reckoned with, and I’m here for it.
Miracles, personal growth, and a looming darkness shape this next installment in the Grishaverse, and I can’t wait to see what Leigh Bardugo has in store for us next!