“Most of us can hide our greatest hurts and longings. It’s how we survive each day. We pretend the pain isn’t there, that we are made of scars instead of wounds.”
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo has outdone herself again. (And this definitely won’t be the last time I say it.) King of Scars is a masterpiece, stirring things in me that I haven’t felt since I finished Ruin & Rising and sat under a table for fifteen minutes. While the ending felt slightly rushed, the soaring climax makes up for it by far, the pure emotion and detail imbued into the scene bypassing anything Bardugo has written so far.
One of the shining details that makes King of Scars stand out is the way Nikolai, as both king and demon, is humanized. The darkness that plagues him throughout the novel can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, as the more literal depression or anxiety (only when talking about a Bardugo novel can I say mental illness would be the obvious interpretation), or as the small details that make up those larger ideas: self-doubt and self-image, frustration and fear, love and loss and all that poetic stuff. This makes Nikolai’s suffering relatable to anyone, regardless of whether or not they’re mentally ill. Everyone has had to, as the tagline for this book goes, fight or feed their demon at some point in their life.
My favorite part about King of Scars is how it forced me to rediscover the magic of the Shadow & Bone trilogy. Often, I default to saying Six of Crows is above and beyond S&B in every way, but after revisiting Ravka, that doesn’t feel right to me anymore. While the great land across the sea from Kerch may not boast such fast-paced adventures, King of Scars takes 511 pages of deep magic and political intrigue and makes it interesting, a War and Peace for the new generation, if I may be so bold. (I probably may not. I haven’t read War and Peace. But neither have you. Probably.)
Essentially, King of Scars managed to take two simple words, buried in the back of my memory from years ago, and throw them at my face like two very nice but very painful apples. (for the true fans out there, both of the words start with ‘I’. And kind of rhyme. And are a catchphrase for the main character.) Packed with quotes better than Bible verses and characters more iconic than… Jesus? And the other ones? I’m trying to say is that King of Scars is worthy of every sacrilegious metaphor out there, Leigh Barudgo once again proving why her Grishaverse is the greatest fantasy universe since Middle Earth. She makes and breaks her own rules just enough times to establish that no one is safe, but anything is possible.
- “Every day you choose the work of living. Every day you choose to go on. There is no failure here.”
- “Who didn’t want to think fate had a plan for him, that his hurts and failures had just been the prologue to a grander tale?”
- “The idea that this was a thing he could face and conquer, or even be destroyed by, was so much easier to accept than the notion of a nightmare he would have to endure forever.”
- “Stop punishing yourself for being someone with a heart. You cannot protect yourself from suffering. To live is to grieve. You are not protecting yourself by shutting yourself off from the world.”
Review by: Ivy
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