This article contains spoilers from the “Six of Crows” Duology and the “Shadow and Bone” Trilogy
Leigh Bardugo throws caution to the wind with King of Scars as she assumes that the book’s readers have read her other two series. I would say that you have to read the Shadow and Bone Trilogy before reading this book in order to understand all the references and understand a few of the characters much better. If you are planning on reading the Six of Crows Duology, which you absolutely should be, then you should also read both of those books before King of Scars – there is a massive spoiler in it!
Yes, King of Scars takes place after the events of SoC and CK so it contains a couple of huge spoilers for that series. I'd recommend finishing Crooked Kingdom first 🖤 https://t.co/2cYt9htuQ8
— Leigh Bardugo (away for a while) (@LBardugo) January 24, 2019
In the middle of Ruin and Rising, the Darkling infects Nikolai with his dark essence to turn the then Prince into a monster hungry for human flesh. When Alina killed the Darkling, the monster seemingly left Nikolai as well, but two and a half years later, Nikolai is now King of Ravka and the monster returns. Part of King of Scars follows Nikolai as he desperately tries to find a way to rid himself of the monster for good.
At the start of the book, it has been roughly a year since Matthias was killed by a young Drüskelle, Nina must now take control of her grief and let him go. She is in Fjerda working with Adrik and Leoni (a Zemeni Fabrikator) as a part of a network that helps Grisha safely get out of Fjerda. Nina is then drawn to Gäfvalle by the voices of hundreds of dead girls asking for justice.
Zoya, a Grisha Squaller, has now been a commander of the Second Army for three years and is possibly Nikolai’s most trusted adviser. She is tasked with locking Nikolai in his bed to stop the monster coming out, so it seems fitting that she is the one who journeys with Nikolai to find a way to get rid of the monster. She must keep her emotions in check as they are also travelling with a young monk who believes the Darkling should be recognised as a Saint.
The Grishaverse is so detailed and well thought-out that it makes the experience all the more immersive and ensconcing. The fact that Bardugo uses some of the characters from her earlier books in King of Scars means the reader is already well acquainted with them, meaning she can go deeper into their backstories and what drives them. And I loved the backstories she gave so much because they fit so perfectly with the characters. Nikolai’s showed exactly why he is so much more in tune with the people than the rest of the Ravkan Royal Family. Nina’s was mostly mapped out in Six of Crows, but I really liked the extra touches we got in this book. Bardugo tiptoes around the reason for Zoya being so closed-off so many times that you will be screaming “Just tell me!” at your book/Kindle (well, I was, anyway). However, that doesn’t change how much I loved how Bardugo eventually revealed Zoya’s backstory. Bardugo said in a Q&A at the end of Ruin and Rising that she “was most surprised by how much I came to love writing Zoya. She’s brave and loyal and smart, but never loses that mean-girl edge.” I could tell that she loved exploring Zoya’s character even more in this book.
For all of that, I did have a few issues with this book. One of these was the lack of diversity. There were a few characters of colour, but none of them had a central role. This is where it starts to fall down against the Six of Crows duology, which had leading characters that represented a wider variety of ethnicities and sexualities, as well as characters with differing degrees of abledness.
Because Bardugo uses characters from the Shadow and Bone books, which had much less diversity, the same was true of this book. This could also be because of where most of the book is set (fictional Ravka, a country that is likely Russia or another northern European country). However, that does not explain why there were no characters with disabilities. On the other hand, there is some LGBTQ+ representation with Tamar and Nadia now being married, and there is another female couple that is hinted at.
Another criticism I have was that Nina’s chapters felt very separate from Zoya and Nikolai’s. They are on different journeys, and the two storylines don’t seem to link. In fact, Nina’s chapters slowed down the pace of the book and could be removed without taking from the main story. I presume they are the precursor for the next book and all will make sense in time, but it made for a frustrating read. It seems strange that Nina was not mentioned in the blurb, yet her chapters took up about a third of the book. It makes me wonder whether she was inserted following the success of Six of Crows duology to keep fans happy…
I won’t give any spoilers but there are a few big twists which keep you guessing. I didn’t see them coming but, in saying that, they were utterly believable. It’s tricky to pull off but Bardugo does it brilliantly, just like she did in Ruin and Rising, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Overall, I would give this book 4/5. I loved the ending and it left me eagerly awaiting the next book.
Buy King of Scars at your local bookstore or on Amazon
Featured image via Amazon