My first venture into Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy “Grishaverse” happened in 2013, when I was ten. Six years later, I’ve followed her protagonists through the rough waves of the Bone Sea, trekked through snowy forests of Fjerda, weathered the cobbled streets of Novyi Zem, and even ventured into a few sketchy casinos in Ketterdam. And still, I love returning to her ever-expanding, relentlessly vivid world just as I did the first time.
In King of Scars, Bardugo returns readers to Ravka, three years after the events in her debut Grisha trilogy. There, we are welcomed by old favorites such as King Nikolai, Genya Safin, twins Tolya and Tamar, and (my personal favorite) Zoya Nazyalensky. However, our characters spend little time in the throne room, instead opting to run around Ravka, chasing saints and subduing a growingly-powerful monster.
I know I am not alone when I say my favorite part of King of Scars was the constant banter between two of the protagonists, Zoya and Nikolai. Since she appeared smirking at Alina’s love interest in the second chapter of Shadow and Bone, Zoya’s reputation has seemed to be cemented as an icy seductress there only to give Alina boy trouble. But, although she was was not treated kindly in Bardugo’s first series, Zoya is certainly not in for a redemption arc in this one. Instead, readers get to peer inside her head, where she transforms from a sexist cliché to an empowered, three-dimensional character. But, make no mistake- Zoya has not gotten nicer. She’s just as witty, and even more ruthless, but now, she’s finally, rightfully, taking control of her narrative.
“In Nikolai’s experience, honesty was much like herbal tea– something well-meaning people recommended when they were out of better options.”
While most of the story takes place in Ravka, Nina Zenik, first introduced in Six of Crows, also has her own storyline up north in icy Fjerda. However, while I enjoyed her perspective and story arc, it had no visible impact on the main story of Zoya and Nikolai, and felt like a way to extend Nina’s story past the Six of Crows duology. I’m sure her story will come into play in the next novel, but it felt superfluous to this story, making me wish her pages were relegated to separate novella, not this novel.
I’ll admit, I was pretty skeptical that I could still find magic and complexity in a fantasy world that I loved when I was barely double digits. But, after reading King of Scars, I found the world I was scared I had outgrown still had all the magic I remembered. Zoya and Nikolai were there to supply amusing banter and angsty romance and Nina was there to make sure a few tears were shed. After turning the last page, all I can say is that I’m counting down the days until I can get my hands on whatever Bardugo comes out with next.