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.
Oh boy, there are a lot of opinions floating around in regards to this book. I read this book about a week after it came out and all I saw was negative reviews and basically a ton of complaints, so you can figure out that I was really worried. Although, I had some idea of the kind of people who were writing these reviews, and their history with The Grisha Trilogy, so I started to think their opinions were rooted in those biases. Turns out I was right! There really isn’t much wrong with this book and it’s as good as Bardugo’s other books. I have sold my soul to her long ago and I don’t intend on getting it back any time soon. I really enjoyed this book and I love everything Leigh has done to set up what she intends to execute in the next one. I love that we’re combining two different series into one, truly showing how extensive her Grishaverse really is. Leigh never does anything without purpose, never gives into fan service because she knows what she’s doing, and it’s why I love and respect her so much. This review might be one giant hot take and I’m ok with that. I really enjoyed this book and if you’re blinded by your prior Grisha biases, then I can’t really help you understand what the point of this book is.
Because this book is a bridge between two of Bardugo’s other series, and I kind of want to spoil some things, a SPOILER ALERT will be in effect.
- I think what we all need to understand about this book is that it is purely character driven, so if you’re only here for one character then this will not be the book for you. This is a book, and a story, that goes so far beyond the sole character of Nikolai Lantsov that I personally think it would be impossible to tell this new story the way it deserves with him alone. To me, this is a new duology that is about Ravka, and I also believe that Leigh has written Ravka as its own character and I love how she went about it. The point is to see how Ravka was once destroyed by The Darkling and the war he brought upon the land, and to see how under Nikolai it might finally be coming back from that brink of destruction. But Ravka needs more than Nikolai as its king. It needs people like Zoya Nazyalensky, who saw the wrongness of believing in The Darkling and is more than determined that something like that never happens to Ravka again. And it also needs people like Nina Zenik, who wants to see the safety and freeness of all Grisha and not have them ever manipulated or imprisoned or killed by people like the druskelle, who will put herself into the utmost danger in the name of Ravka. These three characters all care so much for Ravka, to see it live and prosper and to ultimately be safe, and I don’t think Ravka could survive without them.
- As I said, this book is truly character driven and I think what Bardugo did with each of her characters was outstanding. In my own personal totem pole, I’d put Nikolai at the bottom for how much I care. Don’t get me wrong, he is still a lovely character and I love what Leigh did with him here, but I’m not only here for him. I do think it was great to see how much he cares about Ravka and has always cared about being a good king for his country and his people, and I also loved seeing how he kept dealing with that demonic magic instilled in him, of how it really highlighted his care for Ravka. She did a great job with him. Mostly, I was here for Nina and I honestly expected to see her being over all of her time with The Dregs and over Matthias, but I was wrong. Instead, I got see Nina still grieving over Matthias and seeing how deep those feelings and ramifications can run. It made the book more emotional and gave it more heart. I like how we saw that grief is different for everyone and you can’t just get over something because you have to or because it’s been long enough. It made Nina feel that much more real to me and I think it was something we all needed to go through with her. Also, we got to see how Nina still cares about freeing the Grisha from the hands of the druskelle and how deep this plot of using jurda parem really goes, how her own experience with it really fuels her fire. Again, I think it’s an important factor for Ravka itself and I like seeing how Nina’s love for Ravka fuels her here as well. Now, the character that surprised me the most was Zoya. I learned to tolerate her in Grisha, but I was definitely willing to learn more about here here and now I can honestly say I love her with all my heart. There was so much I grew to respect about Zoya and how Ravka truly came first for her, how protecting Nikolai was beyond important to her. But I also got to learn why she is the way she is, how she never wanted to be sold off because of weakness or fall into darkness and be unable to get back up. How the death of her aunt broke something so deep in her that she didn’t want to be that girl again. How being favoured by The Darkling wasn’t something to be proud of, how it blinded her to everything he was doing and how it destroyed all of her perspective. And ultimately, seeing how she unlearned her hatred for Alina Starkov and grew to truly respect her. Because of all of that, I not only learned to respect Zoya but learned to love her so much. She is so much more layered than I expected and I would honestly do anything for her. Bardugo has always been great at her characters and I think she’s done some of her best work here with these three.
- I was expecting there to be some romantic element here, since Grisha and Six of Crows relied on it a lot, but it didn’t necessarily happen. Sure, there are hints of something between Nikolai and Zoya, which I’m surprisingly not mad about, and something brewing between Nina and Hanne, but it’s not at the point where any kind of romantic gesture is happening. And I like that. It seems that the safety of Ravka and the fate of the Grisha is more important than relationships and that’s the way it should be.
- Some people were kind of mad about the Saints in the second part, and that whole exploration of The Fold, but I liked it personally. I thought it explained the history of Grisha and provided a lot of great context and went well with the overall plot of Ravka and the issue of the heretic cult Nikolai is dealing with. I also think it helped with Zoya’s characterization and her history so yeah, I’m not mad.
- I really loved how Leigh created a POV for Isaak and it allowed us to see what was going on back in Ravka with everyone else gone from it. I tend to get annoyed when a story starts in a setting like this and has the characters leave, and therefore you don’t know what’s happening back home. But we did here. And I loved that. And I loved Isaak he was such a sweetheart trying his best.
- I really think titling this duology The Nikolai Duology was a giant mistake. This is a story about Ravka, not just about Nikolai, and therefore becomes misleading for others. I’m wondering if maybe Leigh titled this too prematurely and the story kind of evolved into something else entirely and it became too late for her to change the name. Or, her marketing team knew how much Nikolai meant to others and it’d be the thing that sold the book. I don’t know. But I do know that the name for this series is so completely wrong and not only gives people the wrong idea but it earns unnecessary hate because “it’s not even about Nikolai,” which is a dumb argument on why to hate something but more on that in a second. I’m really not mad about the content, just the title of the series. It probably should’ve been named “Ravka” or something similar. But again, money. So who knows.
- Ok, time for some hot takes. In my preliminary findings of why everyone is so mad about this book, two things stood out to me: a) the fact that Leigh Bardugo more or less called out the people who supported The Darkling and b) you were here for Nikolai alone and not Nina and Zoya. The thing about point B is that if you’re here only for him, I cannot help you see that it’s about more than just him. It would honestly be easier for you to say you hate Nina and Zoya and just move on. I get it, your inner misogyny is showing. Bye. Point A is the interesting one, though. It’s no secret that I cannot stand The Darkling and I think anyone who loves him and woobifies him has serious problems. He is not a sweet summer child that you must protect. He is the antagonist of the series, he committed murder of many Ravkans and slaughtered Grisha just because they didn’t fall in line with him. He took the insecurities of Alina, Zoya, and Genya and exploited them, hurting them because he knew that he could. Seeing Leigh call him out, creating this heretic cult for him and having people like Nikolai and Zoya, Genya and the twins, constantly berating it and showing how truly evil The Darkling was was essentially music to my ears. But apparently some of you think that she’s “calling you out” and “offending the people who like The Darkling because she doesn’t care” but how can she do that if she’s completely right? Did you honestly think that Leigh Bardugo, the person who killed The Darkling because it was the right thing to do, the person who has been vocally against shipping of Alina and The Darkling, would turn around and woobify him herself? It’s not that she doesn’t care about your feelings, but it’s more that she doesn’t care about fan service because this is HER story, and HER characters. Do you see how much foil is on her books? The emboss? The spot glass? THE SPRAYED EDGES?!?! If she has the money to make her books that beautiful, she doesn’t need to give into fan service and she can do whatever the hell she wants. The fact that people hate this book because Leigh wrote what she wanted about this really angers me and I have no respect for those people.
- The ending. I’m not mad at Leigh for doing that because I think it’ll help further the story and raise the stakes, but I’m angry about what it’ll do for the overall fandom of The Grishaverse and how I’m seeing nothing but “I hated this book but I’ll keep reading for [redacted].” That’s not why she did that. Like, you don’t want to read this book to see what will happen to Ravka? You don’t want to see if Nina will save the Grisha? You don’t want to read for Zoya? Cause I’m continuing for those very reasons.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- This is usually the part where I say “if you love The Grishaverse, this is a must read for you” but apparently, some people are only here for one character (maybe two). So instead, I will say that this is a story about Ravka and the people who care about it. It is more than just Nikolai and I don’t think you’ll enjoy it if you’re only here for him. But you should read it for Nina and for Zoya, and read it for Ravka.
BONUS: how this book made me feel in a GIF
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Pages: 511 (Hardcover)
Until next time,
What did you think of the book? Leave a comment below!