Monday, 13 May 2019
#CBR11 Book 21: "King of Scars" by Leigh Bardugo
Audio book length: 16 hrs 13 mins
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! While this is the start of a new series, it does follow on directly from Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy and her Six of Crows duology. While you will understand the plot fine if you haven't read the previous books, you WILL be spoiled for events in both series. Spoilers may also appear in this review. Proceed at your own risk.
From Goodreads, because I finished the audiobook two months ago (sigh):
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.
Nikolai Lantsov is the young and struggling King of Ravka, a country still reeling from the effects of its brutal civil war. It's clear that Ravka will need powerful allies to help rebuild the country and to protect it from possible invasion by other neighbouring countries, and the best way to do that would be for Nikolai to marry. However, kept secret from everyone but Nikolai's most trusted advisors is the fact that since the end of the war, he's been possessed by a darkness, that is now more and more often manifesting as a fierce and savage creature. It's only a matter of time before the creature kills someone when it takes over and roams the countryside. Nikolai is determined to get rid of the possession and searches Ravka for a cure, accompanied only by his magically gifted general, the cynical Zoya Nazyalensky and a young monk who believes the Darkling is now a saint, whose miracles are appearing all over Ravka.
In another plot strand, we follow Nina Zenik, mourning the death of her beloved Mathias, on a deep cover mission for the king, trying to locate and rescue Grisha in the hostile Fjerda. She literally needs to lay her beloved to rest, while serving her king and homeland, and come to terms with the new abilities she appears to be developing.
Unlike a lot of people on the internet, I was never a huge fan of the Grisha trilogy. It was perfectly fine, but I never liked Alina much and found a lot of the plot difficult to engage with. The Darkling was an interesting villain, though, and Nikolai was clearly an outstanding supporting character, pretty much stealing every scene he was in. I know Zoya was also a supporting character in the books, but remember less of her role. I don't think it's necessary to recall the books in great detail, you get what you need from the characterisation here. Nina, of course, was introduced in the wonderful Six of Crows, an excellent heist narrative that I loved so much (and felt so different in tone that I almost wondered if someone else had written it). There are mentions of characters from that series in Nina's recollections - and those books are incredibly worth your time - I heartily recommend the audio books, which are great and narrated by a varied and very talented cast. Lauren Fortgang, who narrates this book, was one of the people involved, and here she narrates a large cast of characters of both genders, with a variety of different accents just so well.
The plot takes a while to get going in this book, mainly because there's quite some time spent just letting the reader get familiar with who the characters are and what challenges they are facing. The chapters alternate between Nikolai, Zoya and Nina's POVs. Most of the time, Nikolai and Zoya are together, but it's still interesting to see the story from their different perspectives. Nina, obviously, is in a completely different location, doing her own thing. When the stage is set, so to speak, and the story really does start to kick off, the book covers quite a lot of scope, while also setting up a lot of interesting drama for the next book. According to Bardugo, this is planned as another duology, so she needs to tie everything up in the next book. I will be very interested in seeing how she manages it.
I'm not sure when the next book in the series will be out, but after the cliffhanger this one ended on, I will be impatiently counting the days until I get to read the end of the story.
Judging a book by it's cover: Made to look like a gilded woodcut, I have come to like the cover more the longer I look at it. There are just so many intricate little details included, hinting at beats of the story without spoiling anything for an unsuspecting reader. The two-headed eagle is Ravka's national emblem, and the slashes across the centre of the shield could suggest either Nikolai's physical or emotional scars.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.