Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The King of Scars Duology (including King of Scars #1 and Rule of Wolves, #2)

The King of Scars duology should be read after 


For those of you who have read both Grisha and Crows
here are our thoughts on King of Scars and Rule of Wolves...
 
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Summary:  The boy king, the war hero.  The prince with a demon curled inside his heart.  Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible.  The people of Ravka don't know what he endured in their bloody civil war and he intends to keep it that way.  Yet with each day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. 

Zoya Nazyalensky has devoted her life to honing her deadly talents and rebuilding the Grisha army.  Despite their magical gifts, Zoya knows the Grisha can't survive without Ravka as a place of sanctuary and Ravka cannot survive a weakened king.  Zoya will stop at nothing to help Nikolai secure the throne, but she also has new enemies to conquer in the battle to come. 

Far north, Nina Zenik wages her own kind of war against the people who would see the Grisha wiped from the earth forever.  Burdened by grief and a terrifying power, Nina must face the pain of her past if she has any hope of defeating the dangers that await her on the ice.  

Ravka's king.  Ravka's general.  Ravka's spy.  They will journey past the boundaries of science and superstition, of magic and faith, and risk everything to save a broken nation.  But some secrets aren't meant to stay buried, and some wounds aren't meant to heal.

(Summary from book flap - Images from amazon.com)

My Review:  In King of Scars, three powerful individuals battle to save their country -- Nikolai Lantsov, the roguish but well-intentioned Ravkan king, his devoted General and Etherealki, Zoya Nasyalensky, and Nina Zenik, the country's most capable spy.  Technically, the first book in a new series, Scars follows threads left untied in other books in the Grishaverse.  Nikolai is significantly altered by his run-in with the Darkling, trying to handle important affairs of state while wrestling with the beast that rages inside him.  Zoya is still her acerbic self, doing her best to manage Nikolai's inner demon and outwit Ravka's enemies.  Meanwhile, Nina Zenik is deep in enemy territory on a mission for the Crown, grieving the loss of her beloved Matthias, hoping to change closed minds, and occasionally raising hell.  Oh, and she's hearing voices.  To make matters, well, even more interesting, strange miracles have begun to crop up across the map* and a new cult that worships the Darkling is gaining followers.  Ravka is broke, threatened from all sides, Nikolai's demon is getting stronger, and when he and Zola disappear, drastic measures must be taken to hold the throne.  

While King of Scars didn't float my boat as much as other books in the Grishaverse it still had some spectacular moments, beautiful lines, and engaging characters.  The three main narrators -- Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina -- have strong personalities and their own distinctive voice.  Nikolai's is filled with humor and deflection, where Zoya's is all bluster and bite, and Nina's is a mixture of innuendo and sarcasm.  I enjoyed watching each character develop.  Nikolai pretends to be a foppish, unconcerned royal, when in reality he is quite the opposite.  Zoya's cocky, hard-edged fierceness is hard to handle at times, but, as the story unfolds, I found I liked her more and more. Nina's behavior could be considered unseemly, impulsive, and occasionally underhanded, but her moral compass always gets her where she needs to go.   I also loved watching Nikolai and Nina's relationship develop, especially the bantering and bickering that seem to cover their real feelings toward each other.  Both seem to acknowledge (at least to themselves) an attraction but feel called to duty above all else.  It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the next book, but I'm trying not to get too invested.  If Crooked Kingdom taught me anything it's that not all 'ships' in Bardugo's 'verse make it out of the harbor.  

In the last few months I have devoured both the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology that precede this book and it's no secret that I'm obsessed with Bardugo's work.  However, King of Scars hasn't captured my heart like all the others.  It seemed to move at a much slower pace and just didn't have the same pull as her other novels.  My biggest issue is that I am still morning the loss of a certain stalwart Fjerdan.  Nothing is set in stone at the end of the book, but there were times where it seemed like Nina might be developing another romantic interest and my heart was just. not. having. it.  The other character is female (not my cup of tea) and it is most definitely too soon. And yet, I'm pretty sure it's going to happen anyway. 😐  Consequently, I have been a little 'on the fence' about finishing this duology and seriously contemplating rewriting my personal head cannon to end a few chapters short of the Crooked Kingdom 'finale'.  If you are as well, the final pages drop a bomb might make the decision that much much harder.  At least, it did for me.  Readers hoping for resolution will find very little in King of Scars though I have heard that Rule of Wolves offers some closure to the series.  I'll let you know how it goes.  With any luck, you can just scroll down!

*A very well-drawn map too.

My Rating:   3.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some violence.  Some profanity (under ten instances, I think).  Two women (secondary characters) are in a committed monogamous relationship.  

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Summary: The wolves are circling, and Ravka's time is running out.  

The Demon King.  As Fjerda's massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm -- and even the monster within -- to win this fight.  But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king's gift for the impossible.  

The Stormwitch.  Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war.  She saw her mento die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend.  Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs.  No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning.  Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital.  But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.  

(Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I have spent a good chunk of this year giddily immersed in the Grishaverse, but I was a little torn about reading Rule of Wolves.  I'd already seen some major spoilers (thanks Instagram) and the previous book hinted at a few things I was hesitant to explore.  And yet, I still wanted to see how things worked out for the King, the General, and the Spy, and I am nothing if not committed.  So here we are....

In Rule of Wolves, rumors of Saints and miracles abound as a strange blight spreads across the land.  Meanwhile Nikolai Lanstov, Zoya Nazyalensky, and Nina Zenik have their hands full, trying to save Ravka from the machinations of the Shu Queen, the looming Fjerdan war machine, and the undoubtedly nefarious intentions of a semi-resurrected Darkling.  Furthermore, Nikolai's attempts to woo a royal wife are not going as well as expected, Zoya is coming to terms with some major changes in her own life, and Nina is still deeply embedded in Jarl Brum's household, gathering intel and trying to sway Fjerdan hearts before its too late.  One thing is certain -- the fate of all Ravka hangs in the balance.  

Rule of Wolves has some truly brilliant moments, a few shocking revelations, and several delightful appearances from certain characters in the Grishaverse.  I'm serious; I practically squealed when a few of them came in to play.  Nikolai and Zoya's relationship is set to 'slow burn' and deliciously star-crossed. I adored their relationship and the tension between them, as well as any interaction between Genya and David, who are just the cutest.  I desperately wish there was a novella that tells more of their story.*  I would read the heck out of it.  

There is a line in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth is speaking about how her opinion of Mr. Darcy has changed over time, saying "In essentials, I believe, he is very much what he ever was...When I said he improved on acquaintance, I did not mean that either his mind or manners were in a state of improvement, but that, from knowing him better, his disposition was better understood."  That pretty much sums up how I feel about Zoya.  She has sharp edges, to be sure, and underneath her hardened exterior are several other layers of titanium plating, but the more I got to know her character the less all those edges and layers mattered and I began to appreciate her 'as is.'  Deep down, Zoya's pure gold.  

Ultimately, Rule of Wolves had some great moments and fun character interaction, but it didn't knock my socks off.   The dialogue isn't quite as quippy as I have come to expect, I didn't care for certain aspects of the plot (especially towards the end of the book), and I never felt the same pull to read as I have felt reading other books in the series.  I don't know if the previously mentioned Instagram spoilers simply affected my experience or if I am forever mourning Matthias 😭.  Either way, I didn't blaze through this book; in fact, I had fifty pages left, went on a week long backpacking trip, and didn't pick it up again until several days after we returned.  That's pretty telling.  

*C'mon, Bardugo!

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:   Some profanity (less than ten instances, give or take).  There are several romantic threads in this book, though not all of them may be to everyone's taste.  Some kissing, briefly described, between a male and female character.  Brief but passionate kissing and inferred intimacy between two female main characters.  Two female secondary characters are in a committed relationship.  All intimacy is relatively PG-13.

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