Book Discussion: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Book Discussion: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Woke ruins everything.


Leigh Bardugo wrote a genuine pair of modern classics with Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. I’ve praised the former already and will get around to the latter eventually, so I won’t go into how awesome they were other than to say, I had been left panting for more.

So, I eagerly tore into the next volume in her library, King of Scars.

Bardugo’s first three books, the Starkov Trilogy took place in a fantasy version of Russia called Ravka.  And by all accounts, it was a weak first effort with decent prose.  Its fundamental problem, from what I’ve been told, was that Alina Starkov was a complete Mary Sue.  This is, quite frankly, no problem whatsoever when you are writing romances.  The audience is totally fine with it because they want to be the heroine.


It is also the besetting sin of most new authors. We have to write of that of which we know and we mostly know about being ourselves.   After we grow out of it, we don’t go looking for new Mary Sues…

… Usually.

At first, the book seemed to be on par with the Crows duology. There wasn’t quite as much scheming as there was in the previous books but that was to be expected.  This book was about the king of a nation, not the king of thieves.  And the prose was still engaging.

The first act went well enough.  Ravka is facing invasion from the north and south.  The treasury and the army are both exhausted from a civil war. Worse still the king is under a curse from the previous villain.  The now-deceased Darkling.

The Darkling was the first indication of trouble.  Nobody would shut up about him.  Or for that matter Alina Starkov who had decided to pretend she was dead at the end of the first trilogy.  Mary Sues often have a tragic death but Bardugo clearly couldn’t bear the idea of killing her but she wanted to die tragically young too, so she decided to have it both ways. In the Crows duology there was I think only one mention of either character.  In this book, there were dozens of references to these “dead” characters.

Apparently, there is something about Ravka that brings out the Mary Sue in Leigh Bardugo.  Zoya was an intriguing Russian hellcat heroine in the first few chapters but toward the middle of the book, the rules of the Grishaverse started being literally rewritten to make her look good.  By the end of the book she had powers the likes of which no Grisha has EVER had in this series of books

So much worse was done to Nina.  

Nina Zenick was one of the fan favorites from the Crows duology.  She’s a loyal Grisha soldier of the second army. Very lively and has a complete weakness for chocolates. She and Matthias were defined by their deep love for each other despite the fact that they were almost always antagonists.  Things had finally been resolved enough for the two of them to try and find a life together in Ketterdam when Matthias is tragically killed.  Nina vowed to return him to his beloved Fjerdland.


I should mention at this point that Tumblrinas fell in love with Nina.  While she had been described as Rubenesque, to set her apart from lithe and cat-like Inej. She was never “body positive.”

She used to look like this in the fan art.

But after #JusticeForBarb declared she was one of their own, her art started looking like this:

I’m afraid there is more.  Almost as soon as poor Matthias, the love of Nina’s life, is in the ground she falls in Lesbians with a Fjerdian girl.  And… AND THE GIRL TURNS OUT TO BE JARL BRUM’S DAUGHTER!!!

The unforgivable part (aside from Jarl Brum’s daughter) is that Nina had absolutely no reason whatsoever to be having this separate adventure of her own in this book.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the main narrative.  If you skip all the chapters marked Nina, the only thing you will miss is feeling embarrassment for Leigh Bardugo.  If you remove Nina entirely the story isn’t affected in the least.

The final nail in this book’s coffin is that in the last chapter, Bardugo resurrects the Darkling.  That is one of the worst crimes an author can commit.  When you make death an optional extra for one character, it is a disaster for all of the characters because literally, nothing of ultimate importance is on the line anymore.

Don’t read this book.  Not even in the library. Not if you loved the Six of Crows books. 

This was the worst kind of fan fiction.  The kind written by the author.

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Comments (8)

  • Neurotoxin Reply

    Thanks for the warning. I’m re-reading Crooked Kingdom at the moment and might very well have swung into King of Scars without this wave-off.

    June 29, 2021 at 2:38 am
  • TroperA Reply

    So how did we go from having virtually no gay characters in stories to everyone being gay? I’m not saying either is good – there’s got to be gay characters now and then because that reflects real world numbers, but holy shit. The problem with having everyone being gay in a medieval setting is that it just wouldn’t work. There wouldn’t be enough people reproducing to replace the (at least) half of children who die of disease before age 5. When do these lesbians get around to fucking men? How are lesbian couples getting resources in a pre-industrial world where there is only backbreaking physical labor? Why would women choose to be lesbians and do backbreaking physical labor when they could marry a man and live off his labor in exchange for bearing his children? Why do authors try to appease Tumblrinas when none of them have any idea how a real world historical setting would work?

    Tumblr is the Culture-shredder and Wokeism is a mind virus. This is what happens when writers are no longer people with real world experience like soldiers or historians, but fanfic writers who’ve never left their wealthy parent’s attics.

    June 29, 2021 at 3:04 am
    • Cloudbuster Reply

      “there’s got to be gay characters now and then because that reflects real world numbers, but holy shit.”

      Why do our fictional worlds have to reflect real world numbers? There are a certain number of pedophiles and people who engage in bestiality in the real world, but I could read books quite contently my entire life without encountering either.

      June 29, 2021 at 4:41 pm
    • SirHamster Reply

      > there’s got to be gay characters now and then because that reflects real world numbers

      there’s got to be Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists now and then because that reflects real world numbers.

      June 30, 2021 at 10:15 pm
  • godescalc Reply

    I read the Six of Crows (+ sequel), thought it was (mostly) great, and wanted more… but the amazon blurb for King of Scars was so in-your-face intersectional I felt dirty for having read anything by the author at all, so I decided not to bother. Dodged a bullet, by the sound of it.

    (“Mostly great”: Jasper’s dad’s response to his son getting a boyfriend. He’s awfully 21st-century-tolerant for someone whose chances of having grandkids just took a dive…) (Come to think of it, the only characters who show any concern about their family line continuing after them are Rollins and Van Eck.)

    June 30, 2021 at 3:41 pm
  • Mary MacArthur Reply

    Interestingly from an art perspective, those two fanarts might have the same measurements in terms of outline. But the flat textures and the face of the latter make her look fatter.

    July 1, 2021 at 3:24 am
  • Codex Reply

    I appreciate the heads up, but… Rats.

    July 3, 2021 at 5:37 am
  • Miscellany 24: Shred the Miscellany like You’re a Surfer and It’s the Ultimate Wave – Neurotoxin Reply

    […] Wylan, and Kuwei. In the follow-up King of Scars, per Cataline Sergius’s review June 2021, Nina becomes a lesbian, making it 4 out of 7. So more than half of the main characters are […]

    August 6, 2021 at 4:37 am

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