Book Discussion: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Woke ruins everything.
***MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW FOR KING OF SCARS AND CROOKED KINGDOM***
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…
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.