• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo

The moments of redemption aren’t too easy, and I found the various threads building toward the amazing ending to be satisfying and delightful and messy and wonderful.

Rule of Wolves is the second and final book in Bardugo's young adult fantasy King of Scars duology.

In book one, King of Scars, Nikolai was a king rebuilding the kingdom of Ravka following a long civil war. Bardugo's story line offered great twists and turns, intrigue, romance, and, as always, characters I loved becoming invested in. (I mentioned the author's Shadow and Bone series in the Greedy Reading List Six Royally Magical Young Adult Series, and I adored her Six of Crows duology even more.)

Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina are king, general, and spy, respectively, and when Rule of Wolves picks up with these characters for book two, they're all coping with loss, facing danger, and are bracing for destruction as Fjerda invades Ravka. Large numbers of the magical Grisha are being cruelly exploited for their powers by the ruthless Shu queen, and the horrifically evil Darkling, nebulous shadowy forces, and ruthless leaders threaten the safety, peace, and future for all involved.

None of this had been fated; none of it foretold.... They were just the people who had shown up and managed to survive.

Practical Zoya struggles with her inconvenient romantic feelings for Nikolai (and vice versa) and begins to come to terms with the mysterious beast taking shape within her. Nina lives out a secret identity as a meek and mild young woman in Fjerda while attempting to uncover military plans and plotting the death of Jarl Brum--while protecting his daughter Hanne, who has become precious to her. Meanwhile, Nikolai is harboring enormous, dark secrets about his bloodline and kingship as well as the dark power within him. Revealing either truth would almost certainly lead to his undoing.

I read this rich, almost-600-page story on vacation, and I think my own timing was one reason I found myself getting distracted from the story in a way I didn't while I was reading King of Scars. The page time in Rule of Wolves was more evenly split between different characters--and especially as related to The Darkling, I found this really interesting. However, I have a mild obsession with Nikolai and enjoyed spending more page time in his point of view in King of Scars.

Bardugo explores interesting gray areas. Each character grapples with dark monster-like aspects of themselves--and must accept others' various darknesses as well. Fjerdan warmongering and the cruel programs of the Shu are condemned. While Ravka’s retaliatory destruction causes some guilt and regret in those carrying it out, the resulting battles and death seem presented as more necessary and acceptable to a reader who is naturally sympathetic to Ravkan characters' interests.

She'd been too afraid to say yes to him, to show him the truth of her longing, to admit that from the first time she'd seen him, she'd known he was the hero of all her aunt's stories, the boy with the golden spirit full of light and hope.

The Zoya and Nikolai love-that-must-not-be twists and turns without being melodramatic, but it's exquisitely drawn out. Bardugo provides misogynistic, cruel male characters a reader may love to hate as well as a megalomaniacal, lying queen Makhi. Releasing the physically manipulated khergud army--such a focus of book one--is a motivator for action in Rule of Wolves, but Bardugo also delves into the complicated aftermath, lost futures, and broken spirits resulting from the ruthless program.

The moments of redemption in Rule of Wolves aren’t too easy, and I found the various threads building toward the amazing ending to be satisfying and delightful and messy and wonderful.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse is made up of her Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, and the King of Crows duology discussed here, which is expected to be the end of the interconnected series.

She also wrote The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, which are twists on folklore, fairy tales, and her own imagined stories that the characters in the Grishaverse might have heard as children; and Ninth House, a book for adults whose story line is not connected to the Grishaverse.

The Shadow and Bone Netflix series offers intermingled Grishaverse characters and storylines, and a second season is in the works. I need to begin again after refamiliarizing myself with how the books connect; I was overwhelmed by sorting out the intersections of the books, their characters, and their timelines when I started, but I immediately loved the cast and the visually stunning settings.