Book Review – King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Content Warnings >>>

drug addiction, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, captivity, slavery, implied past sexual assault, torture, bullying, fatphobic comments (always in a negative light), mention of past death of a baby, attempted pedophilia, suicide, and war themes.

Note : This review will contain spoilers for Ruin & Rising and Crooked Kingdom.

People might not believe me, but I love nothing more than being proved wrong, and today’s revelation is: King of Scars is actually a solid YA novel whose exploration of grief, power and suffering pulled me in and I was wrong not to give it a chance sooner. 

Driven by a nostalgic streak awoken by watching the TV show, I started this novel with more spoilers than expectations – my only desire was to meet Nina, Zoya and Nikolai again. And during the first half, that’s what I got. Plain and simple. Reading about the characters dear to my heart live their lives. Note that I’m not complaining : I know many readers grumbled about pacing issues and I definitely see where they’re coming from. In the end however, I genuinely do not care if a fantasy novel isn’t fast paced as long as I’m not bored, and I was too invested in Leigh Bardugo’s gift at storytelling (and ZOYA) to be.

Quote says, "Zoya of the lost city. Zoya of the garden. Zoya bleeding in the snow. You are strong enough to survive the fall.”

Some books are only the sum of their twists, and I think it’s a gage of its quality that King of Scars is not. Even though I’ve known the ending since its release, it had no impact on my enjoyment.

Indeed my attention was captured almost instantly, even though I’ll admit that the first half contains more planning than action. Yet there’s something to be said about quiet fantasy novels that manage to worm their way into our heart by making us care deeply about their characters, and it was my experience with King of Scars : I loved getting glimpses of Zoya’s childhood especially, and her friendship with Nikolai gave me life. So many scenes affected me, too : from Nina’s grief to her fight for giving a voice to silenced women ; from Nikolai’s easy banter to his inner doubts ; every one of these characters struggle with guilt, whether they have a reason to or not.

Above all, they evolve throughout the story, and I’m grateful for it because it would have been so easy for Leigh Bardugo to rest on her laurels. In my opinion she doesn’t. She takes the risk to surprise – and annoy – her readers at times, and I respect that. The distance between adding layers to characters and making them act out of character is thin sometimes, but I believe that she navigated those dangerous waters with skill. It certainly drove home the message that war and loss change us in ways that we don’t expect, and as I don’t care for pro-war rhetoric, I was very on-board with that.

The second half proved excellent, and the way the threads were developed and weaved together made for a compelling – and so emotional at times – tale. I really don’t care for that ending, but I knew it was coming, so. *shrugs* I’ve made peace with it.

I have a question, though : are the Darkling fanatics a metaphor for readers who can’t accept that it’s okay to stan a villain (I certainly did) without him being a love interest (ew, seriously, ew)? Probably not, but it amused me to believe that they were. That scene when Zoya remembers everything he did and is like, the fuck you stan him? was *chef’s kiss*. I’ve seen reviews complaining that it was too much and disrespectful (????) to Darkling fans and honestly, it just makes me laugh. I’ve never hidden that he was my favorite character from the first trilogy, but what I’m not about to do is romanticize his behavior when he’s been written as a villain so clearly from the very beginning. I understand feeling let down by Ruin & Rising ending – I certainly was, but I’m eager to reread it now that my feminism evolved and that I realized that it’s fucked-up to resent women’s choices, even if it doesn’t align with what we perceive as powerful – but that doesn’t excuse some of the appalling behavior I’ve seen all over goodreads and twitter. I mean, you do you. Just don’t expect people to endorse you.

Bottom Line : Nina, Zoya and Nikolai’s endings made me excited about reading Rules of Wolves, and I’m definitely going to do just that sometime in the next weeks.

8 thoughts on “Book Review – King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

  1. This is such a nice review! I finished the grisha trilogy and i’m reading SoC now, so I should get to that after this! Also I’ve always wondered how you hide and show the content warnings?

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