YA Weekend Audio: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: The Grishaverse, Book 1 of The Nikolai Lantsov Duology
Publisher: Audible Studios (January 29, 2019)
Length: 16 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Between the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, I’ve had some great times in the Grishaverse. However, as glad as I am for the opportunity to read King of Scars and embark on this next chapter of the journey, I can’t say unequivocally that I really enjoyed this book. It had its moments, but overall, I didn’t think it was as well put together as some of Bardugo’s better work.
It has been three years since the end of Ravka’s bloody civil war as we saw in the conclusion of Ruin and Rising, but sadly, the nation is still in turmoil. As King Nikolai struggles to keep his kingdom from tearing itself apart again before old rifts can even heal, he is also dealing with a terrible secret that can threaten everything he has ever built. A darkness has made itself at home within him, and it is growing stronger every day, making Nikolai fear for himself, his friends, and his people. With the help of those closest to him, he devises a plan to travel abroad to find a way to banish his curse, while putting a double on the throne to allay suspicions of his true whereabouts.
Meanwhile, following the events of Crooked Kingdom, Nina has made her way to Fjerda in her grief to seek out more Grisha. It is a difficult mission, for those who have the art of matter manipulation are still mistrusted and hunted down and killed, but Nina manages to find a promising young recruit in a wild region of the country full of mysteries and secrets.
In the months leading up to the publication of King of Scars, I remember stumbling upon an interview with Bardugo where she admitted she never planned on writing a book about Nikolai—and honestly, I wish she hadn’t. I know I’m being harsh, but I really did not enjoy his sections of the book (which is most of it) at all. Nothing against his character—I liked him very much in the original Grisha trilogy—but I found his storyline here incredibly dull and disjointed. And I may catch some flak for this, but I am so over the Darkling. Actually, I was never into him to begin with, never having understood the appeal for such an irredeemable monster who has done such abusive, horrible things. So it annoyed me a bit when I came across many sections of this story that felt like blatant fan service for the character, what with the entire cult that worshiped the Darkling and saw him as some kind of saint. It just left a real bad taste in my mouth.
Fortunately, the other storylines fared much better. Although Nina’s mission took a while to take off, I think her arc was the most interesting from an emotional standpoint. She goes through so many different feelings and inclinations on this journey, and I liked that it dealt with everything from loss to love. Her sections also introduced some of the best new characters, including Hanne, whom Nina forms a deep bond with by the end of the novel. And speaking of new characters, there’s Isaak—poor, poor Isaak…though strangely enough, I think his POV was my favorite of all. Between the slogging parts of both Nikolai and Nina’s storylines, Isaak’s role was like a shining beacon of humor and surprises.
On the whole though, King of Scars really could have been better. As it is now, my feelings are ambivalent, and I’m only glad I didn’t go into this one with hyped up expectations or I might have been terribly disappointed. The thing is, the first half of the book was just sooooo slow. During this time, I kept on asking myself these questions that had no clear answers—like, where is the main conflict? Or, what am I supposed to be caring about? It wasn’t until much later that I started getting an idea, and considering this one clocks in at more than five hundred pages, that’s a lot to demand from your readers. I also don’t recommend tackling this one until you’ve read all the main novels of both series that came before. The narrative does make a valiant attempt at rehashing some of the world’s previous events, but it was neither here nor there, and all it did was probably slow the plot down further.
But I did also say the book had its moments, and I stand by that. There was lots of excitement in the ending, as each storyline comes to a head. While it might not have been enough to increase my overall regard for King of Scars, the concluding sections injected some much-needed energy into what I thought was a pretty mediocre novel. And another silver lining? The ending made me feel much more confident in the next book in this duology, which I do plan on reading. I still love Bardugo and her Grishaverse, and despite the hitches, I’m optimistic that things will get back on track.
Audiobook Comments: I listen to a lot of YA in audio, enough that over time I have developed a list of favorite narrators that I know will never disappoint. Lauren Fortgang is one of them; I loved her performance on King of Scars as well as her work on all the other Grisha audiobooks, so to me she is the voice of this series. In fact, listening to this in audio might have helped me finished the book because I probably would have stalled on the slower parts had I read the print.