Rule of Wolves is the latest book in the Grisha/Nikolai/Six of Crows series of YA books by Leigh Bardugo. It’s the second of the Nikolai books and if you haven’t read the first one, King of Scars, you’ll be lost. But you also won’t understand a whole lot of it if you haven’t read the three Grisha books either. The Six of Crows books are a little more tangential – those are nice-to-have-read, instead of you-won’t-understand-chunks-of-the-action.
All that said, the main challenge with these two books has been “how do you take a beloved side character – one who benefits from a bit of mystery – and turn him into a main character without lose that glamour that the mystery gives you?” The first book didn’t do too bad a job at that, but it’s this book that really turns Nikolai from that very charming side character and brings him into his own. The last book was trying to fit him into a mold of something that his character wasn’t – and maybe that was the point. He was trying to fit himself into something he wasn’t, not really.
This was an adventure-filled book with a decidedly feminist twist in it as well, which I won’t spoil. But, if you have read the rest of these books, Rule of Wolves is a fun addition to the story.
King of Scars is the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) next book that takes place in the Grisha universe that Leigh Bardugo has so beautifully created. She writes YA fantasy novels that take place in a fictionalized Russia and beyond where some people are magical and those people are called Grisha. (This is a terrible explanation, I know. But it gets the point across.)
There’s a secondary character in those books, Nikolai Lantsov, who the author, much of the fanbase, and me finds very glamorous and charming. King of Scars is the book she finally wrote about him.
It was never going to live up to the hype in my own head – because glamour depends on mystery and writing a book about a glamorous character necessarily means explaining that character, and will ergo make him less glamorous and more mundane. That is not my quibble with the book. She navigates that tightrope as well as can be expected and certainly better than I could have done.
No, my quibble is with the second half of the book where Nikolai and two of his partners in crime are suddenly thrown into a magical netherworld. Everyone else is dealing with the fact that these three people are suddenly gone.
Look, it’s YA fantasy and the author has explained the world in the following way: Grisha are people who interact with natural forces in a way others can’t. This ability gives them rejuvenating energy when they practice it, so they live longer than non-Grisha. This is all basically world building along the lines of: it’s the real world, but with a few tweaks. The previous five books in this world have confirmed and deepened this understanding.
This whole other netherworld thing feels very out of left field and much more fantastical than the rest. Like, this is a nice little bungalow house you have here, where does this door go to, oh look it’s an olympic sized swimming pool that dwarfs the rest of the house. It was jarring.
That said, I enjoy her books and I entrust her world-building and story-telling. King of Scars is part one of two and I’m definitely going to give her the benefit of the doubt and keep going. Besides, Nikolai is still awesome. I want to find out how this ends.