Royal Demons & A Grieving Soldier Who Controls The Dead: King Of Scars by Leigh Bardugo | Book Review

Featured image for blog post: gold background, book cover of King Of Scars, and author photo of Leigh Bardugo

The newest book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, King of Scars is the introduction to her most recent fantasy series, the Nikolai duology. While the book does pick up where her previous Dregs duology left off, the series stands on its own, offering a whole new host of adventures.

Everyone Is A Mess

Nikolai, the king of Ravka, has been possessed by the remaining part of a demon who wreaked war on his country. While he is meant to be finding a wife and organising a big party for international delegates, he must instead find a cure – and fast. Because if their king succumbs to the demon inside him, Ravka will once again be torn apart by war.

In the meantime, Nikolai has sent Nina, a trusted soldier with Grisha powers, on a mission to Fjerda. The bitterly cold country poses a danger to fellow Grishas, kidnapping and experimenting on them. Nina, with her secret new powers that may or may not include commanding an army of zombies, can certainly help. But going to Fjerda is not just a mission to Nina. She is looking for a place to lay her husband’s body to rest. And to respect his dying wish, he must be buried in his homeland.

This Is What I Call Character Development

King of Scars begins slowly, centring Nikolai’s difficulties in handling the demon, and Nina’s grief over her husband’s death. The plot itself is not immediately clear, but as events accumulate, the story takes on a faster pace. Eventually, a grand narrative is revealed, bringing in things as otherworldly as the fate of Saints and as earthy as drugs and pregnancy. Nina and Nikolai both transition from passive figures to determined actors; Nina overcomes her grief and returns to her old, cheeky self, full of wild plans, while Nikolai learns to embrace his own flaws in order to become a better king.

Nikolai’s general, Zoya, has her own point-of-view in the novel. At first portrayed as a cold and distant person, she gains depth throughout the narrative, becoming more relatable. She never becomes a likeable character, and she is not supposed to. But I did learn to respect her, and to appreciate her with all her flaws. The development of her powers is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. It gives a whole new dimension to Grisha power in Bardugo’s world, and I’m really curious to see where the author takes it next.

Isaak, the final character with his own point-of-view, also deserves a mention. He begins as a simple palace guard, and become involved with Nikolai’s mess in ways he could have never imagined. His narrative was one of my favourite ones, and the one that had me the most invested in the entire novel.

The relationships that develop between the central characters and their sidekicks are a major driving force in King of Scars. Hanne, a favourite new addition to the Grishaverse, becomes one of Nina’s closest friends, making for some morally grey decisions and lots of ambiguity. With many hints to Nina’s attraction to the Fjerdan girl, I and many other fans of the series are hoping for an f/f romance to blossom in the second book.

Now We Gotta Wait

As the plot unfolds, Bardugo expertly brings characters and scenery to life, making this story yet another unforgettable one. While King of Scars takes its time to pick up speed, and is not as immediately compelling as Six of Crows, it nonetheless does a masterful job of weaving its story. New characters, seemingly irrelevant, become crucial players with fascinating motives and unexpected identities. In a similar vein, locations that initially didn’t have much to offer slowly blossom into points of intrigue and magic.

The audiobook of King of Scars is read by Lauren Fortgang, who also voiced Inej in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Her voice acting is superb, and I would highly recommend getting hold of the audiobook.

While it doesn’t quite live up to the masterpiece that is the Dregs duology, King of Scars stands as a moving and addictive addition to the Grishaverse. And I for one am incredibly excited for its sequel.

If you pick up King of Scars, let me know how you find it in the comments below! Or get in touch with me on Instagram or Goodreads.

Looking for more book reviews? You can read my review of f/f romance The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite here.

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