King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Sam Hawksmoor review
Given our trying times it is a huge relief to sink into the mass of troubles that face the people of Ravka rather than our own. To tumble headlong into Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse is a wonderful, comforting experience.
King of Scars follows on from the battle scars of the Grisha world which started long ago with Shadow & Bone triology (soon to be on Netflix) - then spun off in the amazing Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. You don't have to know what has happened before but it helps if you start back there to understand the desperation and loyalties that drive the characters in this first part of the two novels.
The rivalries between Fjerda, Ravka, Shu Han and the Kerch mirror our world. Each have their selfish reasons to exist and war is never far from the surface. Everyone hates the Grisha who have incredible skills that set them apart from ordinary humans. So that end Fjerda in particular seeks to destroy them by any means possible.
The story begins with Grisha Nina Zenik, who lost her lover Mathias in Crooked Kingdon and now seeks a perfect place to bury him in Fjerda. She is there with the one-armed Adrik and Leoni - skilled with potions. They are on a spying mission for King Nikolai of Ravka, who is under threat of a growing cult that worships the Darkling who destroyed Ravka and killed thousands. Fjerda is building secret weapons that poison the water supplies and Nina (heavily disguised) aims to find the source.
Supporting Nikolai is Zoya Nazyalensy, the beautiful Grisha General who holds Ravka together with her strong will and magical skills. There is also a dragon loose - whose origins are a secret so terrible it could tear the country apart if discovered. Nikolai is threatened by others who would claim his throne and it is a juggling act to keep creditors at bay and inspire a nation ravaged by war.
Leigh Bardugo completely inhabits her world and it is a joy to return to the travails and treachery that haunt these characters. King of Scars will linger in the mind long after you have read it. If you are new to Bardugo's work you have a treat in store. If you are a fan, you will immediately long for the sequel, 'Rule of Wolves' (out March 2021).
They say never be jealous of the skills of another writer, but I am, at the very least, in awe of Leigh Bardugo's skills at building character, telling stories and capturing the very cruel wind that blows across her world.
© Sam Hawksmoor Oct 1st 2020
author of Girl with Cat (Blue)