I’ve been looking forward to the release of King of Scars pretty much since the day I finished Crooked Kingdom. A return to the Grishaverse! More stories! More Grisha! More Nikolai!
King of Scars was published last week, and I got the audiobook and read it (listened to it?) over the course of the next few days. It’s a very good book, very engaging, and filled with great characters, but it rests very heavily on the shoulders of its predecessors, which makes it that little bit less impressive.
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.
There is no doubting that this is an excellent book. With several intertwining narratives, from Nina in Fjerda to Nikolai in Os Alta, with Zoya leading the armies and plenty of court intrigue to keep us going, there’s no shortage of storylines going on. Seeing how Nina is coping after the events at the end of Crooked Kingdom is great, because she was one of my favourite characters, and returning to Ravka to see how the aftermath of the civil war is playing out is also thrilling. There’s plenty of new intrigue in the form of diplomatic relations between different nations, as well as Nikolai’s search for a bride to continue to (putative) Lantsov line. Plenty going on here.
There is also an expansion of some of the mythology of the world, some of which I didn’t quite understand. Towards the middle of the book, we begin to learn more about the Saints, and what happened to them – as well as some explanation of how to become a Saint (is Alina a saint? Well, who knows?) and the powers they possess. We return to the Fold, the dead area still splitting the east and west of Ravka, and learn more about the impact of the Darkling’s actions in the original Grisha trilogy.
But that’s actually something I didn’t really like about this book – yes, it’s really interesting to see what’s happened after the Grisha trilogy, but it feels to me like it’s too much of a follow on to that plot, and not enough of its own story. Nikolai’s inner demon, a remnant of the merzost that the Darkling forced inside him late in the third book of the Grisha trilogy, is surprisingly disappointing in how it works out. And how many times are characters going to die but not die? Also, this obsession with the Darkling is growing dull. I know he’s many people’s favourite villain, but I just don’t find him compelling at all. I’d rather we move on to new problems, please.
For Nina, also, the main villain of her story is no different to before – both Nikolai’s demon and Nina’s crusade are continuations of stories that were started in other series, and I’m a bit disappointed that their expansion is a large part of the focus of this new series. It feels lazy, like already created villains and plots are being repurposed to prop up a new series. But really, why not just continue the old series if that’s the case? Don’t make it sound like we’re going somewhere completely new when really we’re just continuing what we’ve already started.
That’s really my only complaint, though – a little bit tired in terms of who the villains are for two of the main plots. But the third main plot, of Nikolai’s court intrigue and Isaak’s part in that, as he works with Genya and David, together with Tolya and Tamar, was great – old characters, but in new roles, doing new things, tackling new problems.
This book finished on a huge cliffhanger, but having read Six of Crows, I was totally expecting that, and given that it’s a duology, but the third linked series, I don’t think that’s a major problem for me. My only problem is that we don’t have a title or a publication date for the second half of the series.
Four very pleasurable stars