King of Scars: King of Scars Duology, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
King of Scars: King of Scars Duology, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Mystical Grishaverse tale has edgy, exciting characters.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As always in this series, this book examines the tactics of hostile countries to gain power. There's also a study of religious fervor and division and how it takes hold.

Positive Messages

Loyalty figures strongly in this story: to country, to king, to the wishes of those who have passed on. Also, living with the darkness of suffering and past wrongs, accepting them as part of life and ourselves, and moving forward. The story dissects and criticizes religious fanaticism, prejudice, and greed for power.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nikolai literally and figuratively fights with the demon within himself while he fights to save his country from war and ruin. He'd always been cunning and brilliant, but unsure of his inner strength. As he learns to live with some of the darkness within, he builds this resilience. Zoya faces similar challenges and must face the darkness of her past and tap into her spiritual center for renewal. Nina goes from deep mourning of her beloved to a woman with a cause to save lives and fight prejudice, no matter what the cost to herself.


Imprisonment and drugging of women and implied repeated rape. Deaths from burning, stabbing, murder-suicide with dagger, poisoning, and explosions. Plus wolf attacks, a mother and child doused with fish guts and picked at by birds, and injuries from magical fighting using wind and fire. Talk of martyrdom, including one girl who was drawn and quartered before being made a saint. And a mention of those dying in battle and a baby drowned because the family was starving.


Innuendo and flirting. Mention of brothels.


"Shit" rarely. And "damn," "hell," "bastard," and "ass" infrequently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few mentions that the king, especially, craves wine to help him relax and soothe his nerves. Wine and brandy had at gatherings. Men drunk in a tavern and at wild parties. An addictive drug harms innocents and poisons water.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Leigh Bardugo's King of Scars, is the first book in a duology that's part of the "Grishaverse." This includes the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology. It helps to have read a few books in the Grishaverse before tackling King of Scars. Then you'll be up to speed on the warring kingdoms, the powers of the various Grisha, and the backstories of some of the main characters. While this story is a little tamer than Six of Crows, there's still some unsettling violence. Women are imprisoned and drugged, and repeated rape is implied. There are also deaths from burning, stabbing, murder-suicide with dagger, poisoning, and explosions. A mother and child are doused with fish guts and picked at by birds, and there's lots of fighting with wind, water, and fire. Other mature content includes drinking at gatherings. The king is barely of modern drinking age and often mentions that he craves wine to help him relax and soothe his nerves. While there's plenty of innuendo and a mention of brothels, there's little sexual content otherwise. Main characters are put through many trials in this book and always choose loyalty to their country and their king and causes greater than themselves over their own safety.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byStudiousStudent February 16, 2019

Good Addition to Grishaverse

This book was enjoyable. The pacing was a little off (very slow in some parts, more exciting in others), but a good book overall. However, Nina's chapters... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bytheladyawesome April 5, 2019

Not as good as the other Grishaverse books.

In this book, Nikolai has to grapple with his demon and ultimately defeat it. Nina has to find her way after the death of *HIM*. The main problem lies in the fi... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byspinningwaffles123 February 1, 2021

Middle is boring, but read the ending

Warning: Spoilers

The middle was partly bland, but I mostly skimmed it part. I also felt like the story got kinda weird with the saints, and there were a lot o... Continue reading

What's the story?

In KING OF SCARS, Zoya, a powerful Grisha (wind witch), plucks Nikolai, King of Ravka, from a country barn just moments before he devours a frightened boy. A piece of a monster known as the Darkling resides in Nikolai's body and at night likes to sprout wings and fly off to find prey. When Nikolai recovers himself he realizes the monster is getting stronger, even with all his precautions, and is determined to find a way to exorcise it. Zoya offers to help, but only if he agrees to settle a pressing matter of state: he needs a politically advantageous marriage to cement his claim to his country. Meanwhile, Nina and two other Grisha are on a mission to find persecuted Grisha in Fjerda and beyond and resettle them in Ravka where they are trained and accepted. After one assignment, she hears of many girls going missing in another Fjerdan town. Her instincts, and her new magical connection with the dead, lead her to a heartbreaking discovery.

Is it any good?

Not as all-out exciting as the Six of Crows duology, this new Grishaverse tale still delivers the goods, edgy and engaging characters, bloody kingdom politics, and cool magic. There are fewer main characters for author Leigh Bardugo to juggle here, three instead of six: Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina. Like Six of Crows, all are running from difficult pasts and (sometimes literal) personal demons. Each tale could have been more tragic -- especially as the dead start chatting up Nina -- but there's a cleverly dark wit throughout to lighten things up. It's this wit and the characters' talents that pull them out of dire situations with flair. Zoya and Nina tap into their Grisha powers in new and thrilling ways. Nikolai doesn't fret over attempts on his life or how hard it is to keep his country together -- he strategizes. He stays confidently steps ahead of his enemies most of the time with a snarky comment for anyone who stands in the way of his plans.

The only time King of Scars flags is when it reaches for a mystical center. The lostness of Zoya and Nikolai goes on too long, and the payoff is not there in the end. It's hard to tell what deeper truth they learned on their quest or even what the nature of the spiritual world they encounter is. But it does push the story forward in the end. In the last few chapters there are so many crazy twists that it will be nearly impossible for readers to wait for Book 2.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how prejudice is addressed in King of Scars. How do people suffer under prejudice? How does prejudice look from one country to another? How does Nina work to change opinions and save those oppressed?

  • What did you think of Yuri at different points in the book? How does he represent a need in this society? How do the Saints represent that? Does the author give any definitive answers about what characters should believe in this fantasy world?

  • Nikolai looks to wine for calming and comfort. What are other ways to achieve this end without drinking  alcohol?

Book details

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