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Review: King Of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King Of Scars (King Of Scars #1)
Leigh Bardugo
Orion
2019, 511p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Face your demons…or feed them.

The people of Ravka don’t know What Nikolai Lantsov endured in their bloody civil war and he intends to keep it that way. Yet each day a dark magic in him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he built.

Zoya Nazyalensky has devoted her life to rebuilding the Grisha army. Despite their magical gifts, Zoya knows the Grisha cannot survive without Ravka as a place of sanctuary and she will stop at nothing to help Nikolai secure the throne.

Far north Nina Zenik wages her own kind of war against the people who would see the Grisha destroyed. Burdened by grief and a terrifying power, Nina must face her past to have any hope of defeating the dangers that await her.

Ravka’s King. Ravka’s General. Ravka’s Spy. They will risk everything to save a broken nation. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

So I had a big reading binge at the beginning of July when my kids were on school holidays and made it through pretty much all of my publisher review pile well before halfway through the month. So I thought I’d use the time remaining in July to read a few books that I had on my longer term TBR pile for months just like this one. So this book and its sequel, Rule Of Wolves were high on my priority list after I recently finished both the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. I wanted to tackle these while the Grisha universe was still pretty fresh in my mind.

Our three core characters are Nikolai, newly installed as King of Ravka, his general Zoya, who readers will remember well for her abrasive nature and also Nina, who after the Six of Crows duology, is still suffering from heartbreaking grief. She’s in Fjerda for several purposes, to both return someone she loves to their homeland and also as a spy. She helps smuggle Grisha out of the place that would murder them for their abilities.

But it’s Nikolai that seems to be experiencing the most amount of trouble. His country is in a precarious situation and to everyone’s surprise (and horror) what he suffered during the war hasn’t completely gone away simply because the reason for that suffering, is no longer around (or are they?). He finds himself having to be chained to his bed at night but the measures taken to keep the darkness that still lurks inside him contained, are having to be more and more powerful and Nikolai knows that long term, it’s not going to work. He needs answers and so he sets off on a pilgrimage to the place that was the Fold, hoping he can find the answer.

There’s no denying that this was a bit of a slow start. The book takes quite a bit to find its way and get going with the story and I found that in the first half, my attention wandered quite a bit and I found it hard to focus. However when I got into the second half of the story, I was more engrossed and felt like it had finally settled into a groove. So it probably took me longer to read this than I expected, given it took me so long to trek my way through the first 50% but I think the second half goes a long way to make up for that slow start and I was a fan of the ending (which I think will divide people into love it or hate it camps). I’m glad that I waited until I had Rule Of Wolves to read this (I actually purchased them together) because waiting after that cliffhanger ending would’ve been awful!

I think Zoya, who was actually a character I despised in previous books, goes a long way to carrying this story. She becomes more than just the “bitchy one” who seems mean for the sake of meanness and this book takes the time to flesh her out, giving her an actual character and a reason for why she can be the way she is and why she often treats people the way she does. There’s a lot of pain in her past and she has a huge amount of growth to go through in this story and her arc is probably the best one by far but I don’t know if I buy what’s going on with her and Nikolai (which is admittedly nothing so far, but there’s hints. Suggestions. Maybes).

Speaking of Nikolai, I read a few reviews that said he’s not the character they remember from Ruin & Rising and…well, obviously? What happened to him in that war has changed him and he’s still dealing with it. It hasn’t gone away, like they thought it would and now they have to undertake some pilgrimage, of sorts, to see if they can….eradicate it? Exorcize it? Any and all of the above I guess and Nikolai is a King now. The King of a troubled nation that is under a lot of pressure and there are….other circumstances that make his reign precarious as well. Of course he’s not the same person Alina met as Stormhund right now – I actually liked Nikolai more in this book than in previous books. I found him shallow and too interested in being amusing and clever and funny and in this book he felt more like he knew what and who he was and what and who he needed to be and what he needed to do. Also I really love Genya and David and they appear quite often in this and the amount of time David pauses in reading to query something (and once, to threaten someone, which made me laugh) is amazing. And for those of you have already read Rule Of Wolves, yes I know.

My least favourite portion of this (and it pains me to say it) was Nina’s. I was really keen to see where she was at after what happened in Crooked Kingdom but I just did not love her chapters. And the further into them I got, the less I enjoyed what I was reading. And when she meets Hanne and develops a friendship with her, of course her father turns out to be the person he is, and it just felt….I don’t know, contrived.

But actually, what did really work for me, was the ending, as I mentioned before. It made me really interested in what comes next and definitely elevated the story a little although I do understand a lot of others will not feel the same way. But I’m here for it! This is not my favourite Grishaverse book but it’s not my least favourite either.

7/10

Book #122 of 2021

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Series Review: Shadow And Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow And Bone (Shadow And Bone #1)
Leigh Bardugo
Orion
2017 (originally 2012), 358p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

I originally read this in 2013 (and reviewed it too) but never finished the series. I ended up buying a boxset of it, I think after I bought Six Of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and ended up re-reading this in 2019, intending to finally finish it but once again, never got around to it. Since beginning to watch Shadow And Bone on Netflix, I’ve been inspired to actually catch up and so, finally finish this series. Especially if they plan to make more of the TV series.

The problem is, I really don’t like book-Mal. I just find him incredibly unappealing and all Alina’s inner thoughts about him really boring. I know of course, it’s pointless shipping her with anyone else, these books have been out for years and I know how they end, pretty much. I enjoy the world, but everything with Alina and Mal leaves me cold.

8/10

(read in 2019)

Siege And Storm (Shadow And Bone #2)
Leigh Bardugo
Orion
2017 (originally 2013), 435p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. 

Unfortunately for me, there’s a lot of Alina and Mal in this book, because at the end of the previous, they fled The Darkling and are now basically on the run from him. This book only made me dislike Mal even more – he comes across as petty, jealous, snarky and just….I’m not sure, like he doesn’t like the fact that Alina is powerful. He keeps saying he’ll do what she wants but that he wishes it was just them again like before it was discovered that she was Grisha. Mal is all about being this amazing tracker but if anyone starts talking about Alina’s powers and abilities, he turns into this sullen little boy.

This book introduces Nikolai and people are biiiig fans of Nikolai and he’s part of the reason I decided to finally complete this trilogy, so that I could move onto King Of Scars and Rule Of Wolves and know who the heck he was. So far I’m reserving judgement – he’s okay but I find him a bit much at times and I can understand why Alina wanted to punch him (and why she did). And at the moment, he just seems like another one that’s going to fall in love with Alina. Love square!

It was fine. I enjoyed it enough but man, I wish Mal would just get over himself. Or that Alina would get over him.

7/10

Book #75 of 2021

Ruin And Rising (Shadow And Bone #3)
Leigh Bardugo
Orion
2017 (originally 2014), 417p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

And so I have finally finished this trilogy now! After what I’ve heard about the ending of this, I didn’t actually really expect to enjoy this much but surprisingly I thought it wasn’t too bad. There was some stuff I really liked – the beginning, with planning the escape from the underground tunnels/caves as well as the search to find the third amplifier and I actually found characters like Zoya really growing on me. I suspect that’s probably a good thing as I think she’s quite prevalent in the King of Scars duology. Likewise I enjoyed Nikolai a lot more in this one: I think because he was ‘changed’ and had to really fight for himself, for his humanity, rather than just being this super smooth prince who is way too cool for words. It’ll be interesting to see how he is after this experience, and how he’s going to go rebuilding Ravka.

But there were a few things I found disappointing – the actual reality of the third amplifier (because of course it would turn out to be that, we can’t have anything not revolve around Mal in this series), the demise of the The Darkling felt very easy in the end, after hundreds of years of him honing his evilness. I kind of expected a bit more. The lead up felt nice and dramatic, but the actual showdown…..quite anticlimactic. And then the aftermath of what Alina did, it all felt all nice and convenient so that they could just basically do what Mal wanted: go back to the farm and live ordinary, boring lives.

Basically, this was the book I read in order to read other books but it was okay.

6/10

Book #77 of 2010

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Series Review: Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six Of Crows (Six Of Crows #1)
Leigh Bardugo
Orion’s Children’s Books
2015, 495p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:

Break into the notorious Ice Court
(a military stronghold that has never been breached)

Retrieve a hostage
(who could unleash magical havoc on the world)

Survive long enough to collect his reward
(and spend it)

Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first. 

Like probably many others, I’ve been watching the adaptation of Shadow And Bone on Netflix. I’ve only read the first book in the series (also called Shadow And Bone) and I’d also read this book before as well. But that was as far as I’d gotten in the Grishaverse, until the series reignited my interest in it. I think the melding of the two worlds is done perfectly and the casting is incredible. So I found myself invested all over again in Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina etc. So I thought I’d earmark a weekend and re-read Six Of Crows before finally getting to Crooked Kingdom. Honestly, having reread this, I don’t know how I only finished the first book without bothering with the second. I bought them together, and the first ends in such a way. What was wrong with past me?

This is honestly just so fun and clever. It’s hard not to get caught up in the seemingly impossible task of breaking into the Ice Court, freeing a prisoner and getting him safely back to Ketterdam in order for them to collect a huge sum of money. Kaz is the one who comes up with the impossible plans, who thinks of every possible thing that could go wrong and works to counteract it before it happens. The only problem is, Kaz might finally have one weakness and look, I’m totally here for it.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so into something where basically, nothing happens. But that’s what Kaz and Inej do to me. The scenes they have which bring the tension – you could count them on one hand and still have fingers left over. But the way in which it’s written – it shows so much. It’s the same with the others as well. So much of this is the heist of the century, the plans and dealing with complications and backstabbing that it leaves little time for romance but Leigh Bardugo doesn’t need much. A scene here and there and she creates more than in books I’ve read which dedicate every page to establishing a connection.

Clever and fun and this gang is everything.

9/10

Book #71 of 2021

Crooked Kingdom (Six Of Crows #2)
Leigh Bardugo
Orion Children’s Books
2016, 540p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off the most daring heist imaginable.

But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re fighting for their lives.

Double-crossed and badly weakened, they’re low on resources, allies and hope.

While a war rages on the city’s streets, the team’s fragile loyalties are stretched to breaking point. 

Kaz and his crew will have to make sure they’re on the winning side… no matter what the cost. 

This time when I finished the first book, I rolled straight onto this one without taking a break. Kaz gives something away in the last portion of Six Of Crows and it costs him something dear. And now he has to get it back but he also has to plan and make sure that when he moves, it goes flawlessly. Kaz completed the impossible task, got screwed, didn’t get paid, and had one of his prize assets taken from him. It’s a brave man who crosses him and little do they know, he’s plotting their downfall, brick by brick.

This one feels different to the first one – more frantic, more stressful, even though they’re not really doing the impossible. But they’re more backed into a corner, everyone is hunting them and gangs are even joining up to catch them. They’re forced to basically hide out, move around secretly and Kaz has to have more plans than ever to get all of them out of the situation they’re in.

Once again, there are small scenes in this that just say so much. The scene with Kaz and Inej in the bathroom – “I can help you” as two people that have both experienced terrible things and are struggling with normal interactions but wanting to try for each other. Jesper and Wylan continue to be amazing and I was always a bit less into Nina and Matthias but I think they finally won me over in this book (so damn you, Leigh Bardugo).

I think the Shadow And Bone series could easily roll onto a spin off or future seasons where they incorporate this exact storyline. Everyone has pretty much been introduced now (except Wylan, because they haven’t met him in the S&B timeline) and the show has proven that it can do the special effects well. Hopefully it’s able to continue.

I have King Of Scars and Rule Of Wolves….but I suppose I should finally just bite the bullet and read Seige & Storm and Ruin & Rising first. Sigh.

9/10

Book #72 of 2021

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Shadow And Bone – Leigh Bardugo

Shadow And BoneShadow And Bone (The Grisha #1)
Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt & Co.
2012, 358p
Read from my local library

Her parents killed by the Border Wars, Alina grew up in an orphanage on the property of a Duke. With Mal, also an orphan and her best friend to keep her company, the two form a strong bond that carries all the way through into adolescence and their roles in the armed forces as tracker and cartographer.

Attempting a dangerous crossing of an area known as the Shadow Fold, Alina and the other crew on the boat are attacked by mysterious creatures that make the crossing so trecherous. They all should’ve died – but something happened to scare them off, something that one of the most powerful Grisha in the land has been waiting for. Alina suddenly finds herself as hot property, protected by The Darkling and spirited away to a castle of opulent finery where the King and Queen reside and where she can learn to accept the fact that she has a powerful talent – but now she just needs to learn to summon it on her own.

Alina can use this power for good – she can push back the Shadow Fold and wipe out the creatures that attack anyone that tries to cross, feasting on their human flesh. She can open up the land to crossings again, put an end to the rations and poverty she herself experienced when she was younger. Although she has harboured a love for Mal, now an extremely gifted Tracker, she begins to fall under the spell of the mysterious and powerful Darkling. He promises her a future that is as bright as the light she can summon.

Even with all that, Alina doesn’t forget Mal. And when it looks as though everything might be coming down around her, that she might be responsible for great evil rather than good, it is Mal who proves once again that the two are together forever, no matter what.

This is an interesting (also, hard) book to try and review. From what I’ve read and the overall feel, the location seems based on Russia but the author has taken some liberties and there are plenty of inaccuracies. That’s fine – this is a fantasy novel. I liked the setting – a land ravaged by wars, cut in two by the mysterious Shadow Fold. A place of crippling poverty where some people have little, but with palaces adorned with real gold and every luxury to indulge in.  Alina is to be honest, not a particularly original main character – she has few friends, very little in the way of support other than her deep friendship with Mal which is complicated at the beginning of the book by the fact that she’s in love with him and believes that he doesn’t feel the same way. Mal is apparently a bit of a flirt, a bit of a ladies man and has no problems attracting a female eye, something that causes Alina much jealousy and lamenting of her ordinary looks.

Then with the discovery of her superior power and the subsequent attention from The Darkling, she does undergo a bit of a metamorphosis but I liked the fact that it wasn’t a complete one. She isn’t just magically transformed into a beautiful and confident girl – she has to work very hard to summon her power and learn how to wield it and it takes her an awful long time. She enjoys the attention of The Darkling (quite frankly, who wouldn’t?) and slowly the memory of Mal fades a little, although she does continue to wonder where he is now and what he’s doing. She doesn’t hear from him even though she writes to him but she has plenty to keep her occupied.

I’m beginning to think that I am incapable of choosing the right side in a love triangle. I don’t know how often I get invested in a character only for the female main character to choose the other option either time and time again if it’s a series, or once and for all in a final novel if it’s a trilogy. This can make reading these books frustrating because quite often, the other option bores the pants off me. And I’m sorry to say that Mal….bored the ever living heck out of me.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with him, I just found him utterly unfleshed out and lacking in personality. He’s skilled and handsome and beginning to draw the eye of women but to be honest, I didn’t really sense an ounce of chemistry between him and Alina whatsoever. However I found myself immediately interested in The Darkling – he has layers to uncover and at the end of this book looks almost irredeemable. But there’s two more installments to go so I’m sure that more information will come out about him. He is indeed a very flawed bad boy type of character, but taken to another level. He’s what makes me want to pick up the next book, him and Alina and the interactions between them. I’m sincerely hoping that he isn’t going to be absent from the second novel just to pad things and out and waste time!

All in all this is a very engaging book – I enjoyed the magic side of it and as I mentioned, I like the setting. I had my issues with Alina, she wasn’t always the heroine I wanted her to be, but I think that she was taking the right steps the more she went on her journey of learning how to use her powers. I want the two of them to come face to face again and showdown (and more).  So I will read the next book when it comes out and hope that I come out of feeling a little more satisfied because there’s a little less Mal.

7/10

Book #89 of 2013

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