Nikolai. Nikolai. Nikolai. I’m finally back in Ravka, after my brief hiatus from the Grishaverse. If you’re new here, the Grishaverse and I have small bits of beef (*cough* this is your cue to pause this, read my reviews of the Shadow & Bone series and the Six of Crows duology, and come back to this one *cough*). However, my curiosity and excitement peaked after I saw the promotional pictures of the Shadow & Bone Netflix show, and I could hold out no longer… I cannot wait for April. Virtual watch party, anyone? After reading, I think King of Scars is the perfect combination, both literally and figuratively, of the two Grishaverse series.
Let’s chat about the characters first. Obviously, I was thrilled to get to Nikolai’s perspective. Watching him struggling against the monster within him was a bit painful, but it provided great insight to Nikolai’s inner demons and how he views himself. The rest of the world sees the swagger and confidence, but he truly thinks of himself as an imposter with the drive to make Ravka a better place. I thought the way Leigh Bardugo painted his attitude towards Ravka was beautiful, especially with the story of Nikolai as a child. The only maddening aspect about him was how he kept himself platonic around Zoya. Speaking of Zoya… talk about a character that totally blew my mind. I had low expectations for her this time around, but Alina’s sorry portrayal of her in S&B did NOT do Zoya justice. The sacrifice… the anger… the willingness to fight… she was incredible. My favorite part of this book was when she trained with Juris. Did I understand it? No. But did I love her spitting attitude, fury, and strength? Yes. If Leigh does not let her and Nikolai come together in this final upcoming installment like they need to, I will reign hellfire. I still haven’t forgiven her for what she did to Nina and Matthias… and honestly, any chapter in Nina’s POV during King of Scars felt bittersweet to me. Sweet because she was one of my favorites from Six of Crows, but bitter because Matthias wasn’t there and Nina just didn’t feel the same as before. I didn’t like any of it, and it hurt like hell to get through… plus, it just made me nostalgic for the Six of Crows characters. However, I do ship Hanne and Nina, so we’ll see how they work together to take down Jarl Brum.
The conflict in this book was hard to pinpoint. Not only did Nikolai and Zoya have to battle the monster within him, but they also had to deal with the threats from several different nations and parem. Nina also was dealing with parem, but a different strain of it… which wasn’t well explained. I felt as if there was a little bit too much happening, and I’m not entirely sure how it will all come together in the upcoming last release. I also did not like the introduction of Isaak in the second half of this story. He was bland, and I wonder what his purpose was since Leigh just killed him off in the end anyways. To provide insight into just how hard it is for Nikolai to be a king? We already knew that. To tell us what was happening while Nikolai and Zoya disappeared into the Shadow Fold? That could have been told from Genya’s POV, or even the twins’ POV. Something about him didn’t quite sit right with me, and even when I was reading his perspective I felt bored and desperate to get to Zoya or Nikolai.
I thought Zoya and Nikolai’s detour into the Fold was uber-confusing. I had to reread it several times over because I didn’t understand how they were pulled in. Only when Isaak was introduced did I come to the conclusion that they actually disappeared. As they worked with the Saints in the Fold, my confusion grew. What was the root of the Saints’ powers? Why did just the three of them get stuck in the Fold, where were the other Saints? The Saints are Grisha, or what Grisha were before they were called Grisha? So much happened in such a short amount of time in the Fold that I found puzzling, and while I suspected Yuri and Elizaveta weren’t to be trusted, I did NOT expect the Darkling to come back (in Yuri’s body?). Yes, I loved the Darkling in S&B, for my own reasons. But did he need to come back? I would have said yes, if that meant we got an explanation of his character. But I truly doubt we will get that deep dive into him, and so I feel like bringing him back is pointless. Focus on the threat of parem instead… though I did catch that when parem was created, the Darkling’s power awakened within Nikolai. Hopefully that gets a further explanation as well, because I just feel as if they’re going in circles within the Grishaverse. I think that is why I loved Six of Crows so much more than S&B because it wasn’t a true Grishaverse story and it made so much more sense.
For all my nitpicking, I enjoyed this book… but let’s be honest, it’s only because of Nikolai and Zoya. Six of Crows is still my favorite, and Ninth House is actually my favorite Leigh Bardugo book of all time. The Grishaverse is such a cool world in concept, but there are just certain parts of it that still pull at me and prevent me from really getting into it. I do believe it should make a great show though, because I think there’s potential for the show to fill in the plot holes and create more depth to the characters. For now, I’ll be patiently waiting on the release of Rule of Wolves in approximately one month.