This is an interesting case of five stars, because the hows and whys break down in a very, very, outlier-ish way. Please keep in mind that it’ll feel like I’m dragging this book, even though I scored it a 5/5.
Just a mini disclaimer: I went into this with insanely high expectations – not because of my fondness for the Grisha trilogy (I actually don’t really like TGT, not five years ago when I first read them, and not two days ago when I contemplated rereading before jumping into KoS), but because of the sheer mastery of Bardugo’s SIX OF CROWS and CROOKED KINGDOM, which are a masterclass in plotting and pacing and characterization.
Let it be known that this is my 8th Bardugo book, and I’ve developed certain standards for her work. THAT, more than anything, is what raised my expectations.
The biggest issue, for me, was the pacing. It waffled and glided almost aimlessly at times, teasing at a plot thread but never grasping it, and it felt like Bardugo was almost like, “just continue reading! Do you trust me?” And the thing is, I DO trust her, and that’s why, though I was bothered with the loose, slow plotline, I powered through it regardless.
And that’s what kind of made this experience not as enjoyable as her previous works – I didn’t enjoy the journey. I just looked forward to getting to my destination, and that’s it. Which is unlike Bardugo.
My problem is with Nina’s chapters. Y’all, they’re aimless. They dragged. I just couldn’t see how they tie in to Nikolai’s side of things – and, mini spoiler, you don’t even get to find out how they’re relevant at the end. It’s another “trust me” thing. Also – and this is a subjective thing – I don’t mind Nina moving on after Matthias, I really don’t, but introducing Hanne so early and having Nina ALREADY develop feelings for her … nah, I don’t like that. It would’ve been much cooler for Hanne to start off as maybe someone offering comfort, support, as Nina works through her grief, and THEN intro the romanticky shenanigans. But not so soon. Don’t do a disservice to the SoC readers like that by tossing Matthias away the second a new person walks in on the scene.
Another issue is the sudden hard swerve into surreal, almost Maggie Stiefvater-like territory at around midway through this giant 500-paged chonky boi of a book. Things get weird fast and … I don’t know how to feel about that. I have a love/hate relationship with Stiefvater’s surrealist fantasy so .. make of that what you will.
But Tala, you say impatiently, why the five stars? I told you I’m gonna drag this book first. And the reason I justify the perfect rating is because of the way I rate my reads. I know I’m in the minority here, but I DON’T compare apples to apples. Ie, I don’t compare a Leigh Bardugo book to a Leigh Bardugo book, so even though I gave Crooked Kingdom 5 stars and I acknowledge that King of Scars is a bit weaker than CK, I don’t deduct points off KoS because, on the macro scale of YA, KoS is a 5. Even a not-so-good Bardugo book is still better than some of what’s out there. The one non-negotiable, not-subjective part of my critique is the pacing, and I forgive that because of the way it all comes together in the end. Having the dominoes fall like that is no easy feat, so there we have it. A solid 5/5.
Let’s shift gears and talk positives.
My biggest surprise, though, is my love for Nikolai. Y’all, please don’t throw dodgeballs at me while I cower in the corner of the gym, but I *whispers* never really liked Nik? I don’t know why. Fourteen-year-old me was weird back in my Grisha Trilogy days. But now? NOW I see the appeal. I love Nikolai. I love him. I do. And I wish, given that this is marketed more as HIS book, that we would’ve seen more of him. I’m just reeling atm, because I finally get it now! I do! THAT’S why Nik Lantsov is such a big deal!! My worldview is changed.
Also: Zoya. Can we please talk about her? She’s so different from Bardugo’s other FMCs – she almost has that Kaz “I don’t give a shit” Brekker vibe. THIS is what I mean when I say give us more unabashedly “unlikeable” girls. Zoya is prickly and angry and no, she doesn’t have a “heart of gold” under her tough exterior. She’s just herself. Bless.
Let it also be known that Nikolai and Zoya may be my favorite fictional couple ever. And I know this is such a weird thing to say because this is the slowest burn you’ll ever see and some of y’all are questioning if they’re even MEANT to be a couple. But here’s the thing – they’re the most honest ship I’ve ever seen. They don’t hide ANYTHING. Before all else, it’s a relationship founded on mutual respect and trust and honesty. Add to that solid foundation a healthy dose of sass and banter, and you get, as I said, my favorite ship of all time.
As always, the writing is something else. There are SO many lines I highlighted for their gorgeousness, and one of the things I love most about Bardugo’s style is that she drops quotable lines when you least expect them, as if she’s not even trying.
Overall? I like it AND I’m able to see its faults. I firmly believe that the mixed opinion is because of the insanely high expectations people have to return to Ravka and, of course, Nikolai, but the way I rate and the fact that I didn’t even like TGT all that much is what definitely influenced my opinion the most.