Since I went in pretty deep with my review of King of Scars, this review will be more of a “what I liked” versus “what I didn’t like” because we all know I love the writing and the characters so I don’t need to dive into that. But before I get into all that, I just want to say how glad I am that Bardugo decided to write this duology, and while she might’ve gotten the idea for it because of Nikolai’s character, I am so happy to see how it really went beyond just giving his character the spotlight. The original Grisha trilogy is her worst work, we don’t have to pretend, and she’s even admitted that there were a lot of things she wished that she did differently and I feel like this duology gave her that opportunity. Giving Nikolai time to really grow into his character and role as king, deep diving into Zoya’s development and seeing her not only heal from her trauma of being with the Darkling but the trauma of her life and opening up herself to good things, and even having Nina not just accept and move on from Matthias’s death but proving herself a worthy Grisha soldier and spy, it was what we really needed for these characters. You can all hate this duology because “it’s not just about Nikolai” or Leigh treated your gross fave the way he deserved to be treated and you’re mad about it, but you can’t say that these books weren’t important to her or important to the universe.
That being said, let’s get down to point form business. Spoilers beware.
What I liked:
- Two words: Zoya Nazyalensky. God, her development, her arc, and the way she came into her full power was absolutely mesmerizing and beautiful to read. I love how Zoya went from a girl who hated Alina simply because she won the Darkling’s favour to realizing that Alina was hurt just as much as she was by that person to caring about doing right by everyone around her. It’s said how much Nikolai loves his country but that doesn’t even compare to how much Zoya loves Ravka and would do anything for it. Her growth and strength are amazing and her journey of self acceptance was utterly gorgeous. You might’ve come into this series for Nikolai but you ultimately stay for Zoya. And it’s perfect.
- The little trip to Ketterdam gave me all the life. The meeting with Kaz, the domesticity of Wylan and Jesper living their best life, it all felt like we slipped right back into familiar territory. While these cameos were probably more for our benefit, it was still nice to see how everyone was faring after the events of Crooked Kingdom; to see how Inej is sailing in her ship like she’d always dreamed, how Kaz expanded the Crow Club and appears to be thriving, and how Jesper and Wylan are happy to just be living with one another away from it all yet still dedicated Crows to the end. The little taste of a heist made me hungry for more, of course, but to see how these characters are connected and knowing if Leigh ever goes back to this universe we’ll see everyone again is a great thing to have.
- I thought it was interesting how majority of this duology focused on the war with Ravka and Fjerda as well as the validity of Nikolai’s reign and I honestly did enjoy all the war and politics aspect of the story. We already know how great the third person narrative is, and while I had qualms with it at first, the addition of Mayu’s narrative was actually really interesting because it really gave us the full picture of this war and showed us what was going on behind Nikolai’s back, and how he had allies even when he didn’t know. We already had the Fjerdan side of the war thanks to Nina’s plot, so we knew what was coming from that front and knew how she was trying to help or thwart what she could, but the Shu were always that wild card, ever since they created the parem drug to these winged people that captured Grisha, and it was interesting to see how they felt about the war and about Ravka, and ultimately about the Grisha. I think Leigh made sure there weren’t a whole lot of unanswered questions in the end by providing us every angle of the war for Ravka, and I enjoyed it immensely.
- All hail the queen and king of Ravka, Nikolai and Zoya. They served unrequited love, grumpy and sunshine, and “can’t live without you” vibes the whole time and they really, truly deserve each other. For Nikolai to finally be able to love someone the way he deserves and for Zoya to feel loved for the first time in so long, to see them open their hearts was so lovely and I’m immensely happy for them.
- The Darkling suffering for all eternity? Zoya, Genya, and Alina teaming up to finally kill him? You LOVE to see it. Thank you for this lovely gift, Leigh.
What I didn’t like:
- I’m not mad at how Nina’s story ended, how she and Hanne/Rasmus/whatever name they’ve chosen are apparently going to go on to be the king and queen of Fjerda, because how badass is it for the country to be ruled by two Grisha who can actually do good for people who seem to want to change and be better, but it somehow feels like we lost our Nina. I don’t like how she’s going to live out the rest of her life in her tailored body, pretending to be the sweet and meek Mila for the world and only bring out Nina when she’s alone, I guess. I know, I know, the message of her story with Hanne isn’t about who you are outside but on the inside, blah blah, but that’s not Nina’s message. And not seeing her back as Nina, I don’t know. It’s a weird complaint to have but I just don’t like her being tailored to be a random Fjerdan and not her true Ravkan, Grisha self for the rest of her life.
- I now understand why Leigh felt like she needed to bring the Darkling back but I don’t get why she needed to give him a POV. In my opinion, and I don’t care what she or anyone else says, he’s her worst written character. Ever. Not just because I hate the little dipshit, but he’s such a one dimensional, bland character. His entire driving point is that he wants people to love him, but only because of his power. He continually preys on innocent people because he knows he can manipulate them to do his bidding and get what he wants and then when he’s done with the person, he moves on to another poor sucker. He’s predictable because he does the same thing over and over again, not getting how it doesn’t work and no one misses or needs him. I feel like Nikolai is everything that the Darkling wanted to be, depth and all, and Nikolai is what happens when people love you because of how you care and fight for them, not because of what you can do to intimidate them. And in the end, how this little bitch has no apologies, no remorse, absolutely nothing to regret over what he did or how he nearly destroyed the world or destroyed people like Genya and Alina, really emphasizes how utterly useless and boring his character is. I enjoyed how this duology basically read him to filth (and his supporters) and his ultimate demise, but I didn’t need to read his POV.
- There was a death in this book I’m still very upset about. How dare you, Leigh.
This was such a fascinating duology, one I never really expected, but one I enjoyed so much. Seeing how much people would do for their country, and for the people they care about, and constantly strive to make the world better for everyone was great to read about. This might not be the best book or series in the Grishaverse, since we all know Six of Crows deserves that title, but it was a wonderful bridge and conduit of both series, bringing so much together and really fleshing out what we didn’t know, shaping a truly interesting world and lore that I know I’ll love for a long time. I know this is the last book in the Grishaverse, but I love how the door’s open for Leigh if she ever wants to return. And let me tell you, that’s a book I want to read.
The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.
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 mentor 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.
King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.