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REVIEW: King of Scars

Title: King Of Scars
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre(s):  Fantasy, Young Adult
Release: January 2019
Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭/5

"Remember who you are. Nikolai knew. 
He was a king who had only begun to make mistakes. 
He was a solider for whom the war would never be over. 
He was a bastard left alone in the woods. 
And he was not afraid to die this day."

January has been a month of solid 5 star reads for me, especially the second half was filled with excellent books. Now, let me first start off this review by pointing out that this is probably one of everyone's most anticipated releases of this year; the continuation of a universe that is hugely popular in and outside of the book community. After the huge hit (and future netflix show) that is the Six of Crows duology and the Grisha trilogy, Leigh Bardugo returns to her beloved universe with Nikolai's story. This all means that I had pretty high expectations when it came to this book. 

What is this book about?
King of Scars is set after both Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) and Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3), and focuses on the character Nikolai Lantsov who's been a prominent figure in the universe. After surviving the civil war, Nikolai's country is still going through a tumultous time and he himself has a dark form of magic festering inside him. With the help of Zoya, a legendary squaller and his general, Nina, a heartrender and spy, and a monk, Nikolai has to figure out a way to bring peace to his country and lay the monster inside him to rest. 

"Nikolai had been told that hope was dangerous, had been warned of it many times. 
But he’d never believed that. 
Hope was the wind that came from nowhere to fill your sails and carry you home."

What did I think of King of Scars?
Bardugo's books are hit or miss for me. The Grisha trilogy I felt almost apathetic to; I didn't find myself connecting with the main characters a lot, and didn't care for most of the plot. Six of Crows, however, I absolutely ADORE and still consider one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. Despite much I disliked the Grisha trilogy (mainly the last book, but I didn't find the overall plot that interesting either) Nikolai was one of the few characters in the book that managed to capture my full attention and that I actually ended up loving a lot. I won't lie and say I wasn't eagerly anticipating this novel, because I was, but I also was a little apprehensive.

Bardugo does what authors like Cassandra Clare do; release one series, and safely write within the same universe, whether it's prequels or sequels, all of Bardugo's books so far have been in the same world. I don't necessarily mind when authors do this, but this does mean that there's a big risk of universes and stories getting "over-written". However, I have to give Leigh credit when I say that King of Scars didn't drag out the universe in any way. Instead, it added to the rich world that shapes these books. While the Grisha trilogy books weren't my favorite thing in the entire world, the universe presented in the books is so intricate and wonderful. I absolutely love it and consider it one of my favorite fictional worlds to dive into.

The plot in King of Scars was an interesting one. However different, I liked it far better than the Grisha trilogy, but a little less than Six of Crows, placing it somewhere in the middle plot-wise. Character-wise, however, it stole my heart completely. Nikolai is a great character; layered, charismatic, and selfless. I fell even deeper in love with him than I already was. But, the real show-stealer for me was definitely Zoya. I didn't expect to love her as much as I do. When I read Grisha, I didn't really think much of her, and before reading this book I was adamant I wasn't going to like her potential relationship with Nikolai. Oh, boy, I was wrong. Zoya is the best character in this book for me (Sorry Nikolai, I love you boy!). She initially reminded me of Nesta from A Court of Thorns and Roses, who is not a necessarily a character I like, but the added layers to her character were exactly what I needed to fall in love with her. Zoya is fierce, independent, brave, and powerful; all adjectives that make up a good female character. I loved the way she was written and I can't wait to see more of her in the sequel). I also really enjoyed her decision to revive the Darkling, because he is, admittedly, one of the better and most interesting villains in the YA fantasy genre.

The relationship between Zoya and Nikolai, then, took me completely by surprise (in a good way!). Like I said: I was determined to dislike them before the book even released, that's how sure I was they wouldn't work together. I normally go for a softer dynamic than theirs. Well, I guess I'm boo boo the fool, because I ended up LOVING them together. Their relationship and emotional scenes (however little scenes there were) were one of the highlights of the novel for me. I absolutely adore them. This book showcases how Nikolai implicitly trusts Zoya to take care of him and his country, and how Zoya trusts him with her life in return. I love their complicated and layered dynamic and I can't wait to see what the next book brings on that front!

Another honorable mention goes to my girl Nina. Nina is one of my favorite Dregs, and I was delighted to see her return (as a protagonist, no less!) in this one. Still mourning the death of her Druskelle, Matthias, her scenes absolutely wrecked me. I didn't even like Matthias that much as a character, but her pain shows through so clearly on every page, it was devastating to read. But, on to happier things; I do love where her dynamic with Hanne is going, and I'm excited to see how the two of them further develop (I recall Leigh promising a f/f relationship in any future Nina books, so I'm counting on her to give the people what they want, please? Thank you?)

Anyway, to conclude my review. The plot has improved from previous the Grisha books, but the real strength still lies in its characters. I loved this book and it was a solid five star read for me. A Six of Crows reread is in order now, because I miss my dregs.

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