Rule of Wolves
by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Imprint
Book 2 in the King of Scars duology
Set in the Grishaverse
The Demon King.
As Fjerda's massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king's gift for the impossible.
Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.
The Queen of Mourning.
Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.
King. General. Spy.
Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.
RATED: 14+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Violence Young Adult Exciting
Rule of Wolves is the second book in Leigh Bardugo's King of Scars duology, and while centering on King Nikolai Lansov, and the war with Fjerda, Rule of Wolves continues to be written in multiple POV's. We have, of course, Nikolai, our young king with a country depending on him. Zoya Nazyalensky, the Stormwitch, and Nikolai's General, who refuses to lose anyone else to war. Nina Zenik, the Corpsewitch, the Queen of Mourning, who is deep behind enemy lines as a spy. Mayu Kir-Katt, a member of Princess Ehri's tavgharad, and is on a personal mission. Lastly, the Monk - aka The Darkling - who has been resurrected, and is sharing the body of Yuri, a monk who wants to see the Darkling a Saint, and is on a mission to get his powers back.
Woah. What? Just ... Leigh Bardugo, how could you? Okay ... lets do a quick recap on my thoughts on the Grishaverse to date. Shadow & Bone trilogy - good idea, too drawn out, zero character development. Six of Crows duology - mixed POV's made plot much more interesting, characters were richer, and was exciting. King of Scars brought us back to Ravka (Shadow & Bone territory), but with Leigh's growth as a writer, we get well thought out characters, mixed POV's again, an interesting plot that shows character growth, more diversity, and a pretty great story arc, which leads us here; to the second book in Nikolai's duology. And it was awesome. In fact - I think it's my favorite in the whole Grishaverse. Rule of Wolves was ACTION PACKED. It's the first book in the Grishaverse I couldn't put down, and I was equally enthralled with each storyline. It concludes some story lines, and leaves some open, for what I am imagining to be a pretty epic next storyline. That ending ... I CAN'T WAIT!
Because I don't want to spoiler too much (and when I can't help myself, I promise I will hide them between my trusty arrows), I really want to look at how Leigh Bardugo has grown as an author from her first books. Let me be clear - her Grishaverse has always been solid, even in Shadow & Bone. The idea of the Grisha, and the surrounding countries, and their different cultures - and basing Ravka around Russia instead of England, which many fantasy authors tend to do - is brilliant. Chef's kiss. Her biggest problems in Shadow & Bone were her one dimensional protagonist characters. At the end of the trilogy I found myself bummed out, because the only interesting character in the books - The Darkling - was killed off. I don't think it was ever Leigh's intention for us to, ugh - simp - over the bad guy. And there was hardly ANY diversity. She improved though, and wrote something in the same world, but so incredibly different with Six of Crows. Multi-POV's, with morally grey characters, and tragic back stories. Some are Grisha. They are all from different places. They are racially diverse, and it has a LGB+ storyline. But she does even better with this duology. Everything that was great about Six of Crows, she did with Nikolai's duology, and built on it. We see more of the world in this book, get a deeper look into the cultures of these people - and -----------> another homosexual relationship with a character who is trans, <----------- I mean, do you know how wonderful that is to any young adult who identifies with this character? And it didn't feel like a gimmick - it felt natural to the story.
For anyone who loved Nikolai in Shadow & Bone, you will fucking LOVVVVVE him in his duology. ------------> his acceptance of his "demons", his unselfish love for his country, and his love for Zoya was awesome. Their chemistry didn't feel forced. As a romance reader, they are right beside Kaz and Inej for favorite Grishaverse couple. <-----------. Zoya's character has had the most growth in the entire series. I hated her in Shadow & Bone, but learning her back story, and her natural progression to "opening the door" was a beautiful arc. And Nina. I'm not going to lie, at first, I really hated where her story was going. I loved Matthias and Nina's relationship, and her saying goodbye to him was hard. I didn't want to see her move on, because I was scared it would ruin the magic of their relationship in Six of Crows. Leigh did an amazing job though. I didn't feel like he was forgotten. She is with the wolves. She is continuing to honor Matthias, and she is happy. What more could I want? And the Darkling ... well, I found myself confused over his storyline, and a bit - sad. Which I think is the point. He wants to be loved. It will be interesting to see if --------------> he gets redemption, or if he truly goes off the rails <------------.
Don't think I forgot that we get to revisit our favorite crows. We get Kaz in all his bad boy glory, and Jesper and Wylan again. We even get a tiny bit of Inej. And that ending means -----------> we are getting another Kaz story! <--------------
Here are some of my predictions for the series going forward. And yes, they will be hidden to avoid spoilers.
Nikolai and Zoya -------------> I honestly thought that it would end with a royal wedding, and it didn't. Nikolai wants to court her, and I am all for it. That being said, I think they are going to go through a lot before they marry. And I hope, somehow, that demon in Nikolai keeps him alive for a long time with Zoya. Which, now that I think about it, I don't know how that will happen if the Darkling gets a true death, and the demon dies with him. Fuck. Will mull over that one. <------------
Kaz and Inej --------------> I didn't miss that Leigh Bardugo kept the fans FAVORITE couple separated in this book. I think these two still have a lot to work through still, and I hope we get them both working together again, and maybe something more eventually. After all, their personal goals - Kaz taking over the Barrel and Inej stopping slavers - are working out in their favor. <-------------
The Darkling ------------> I think he will be redeemed. As much as he can be anyway. There is obviously something very broken in him, and I wonder if holding the fold together will make him see things in a new light. Then again, I could be wrong, and things just go batshit crazy again. <-------------.
I think if you loved Six of Crows, you will love this duology as well. I just hope we don't have to wait too long for the next book(s).
Ehri saying she wouldn't be captive no longer, and Zoya's quip about the courtship going well
Zoya staying with Nikolai while he was being healed, and kissing his forehead before she left.
The conversation between Nikolai, Zoya and the Darkling.
Zoya telling Nikolai about her parents
Nina using the queen's dead maid to make the queen second guess her actions
The meeting between zoya, alina, mal and the darkling
Genya kissing David's notebook of notes on how to make Genya happy, so he can remember it for the next world
Zoya's garden for each grisha lost
KAZ! JESPER! WYLAN! And the little tidbit of Inej stopping slavers
Nikolai telling Zoya how he feels while they laid on the floor together
Nikolai meeting his father
Zoya rescuing Nina
Nikolai on the battlefield
Zoya transforming for the first time
Nikolai passing the kingdom to Zoya
The Darkling helping have the apparat arrested
Zoya telling Nikolai she loves him
Hanne getting the body she should have been born in
Makhi: "Men who see too much have a way of losing their eyes."
Yerwei: "And queen who trust too little have a way of losing their thrones."
Nikolai: "Tell me I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing."
Tamar: "What do you think you're seeing?"
Nikolai: "Mass destruction. Certain doom."
Zoya: "Not entirely certain."
Nikolai: "Do I detect optimism in my most pessimistic general?"
Zoya: "Likely doom."
Nikolai: "Be charming."
She flashed him a warm smile and a wink.
Zoya: "I will."
Nikolai: "That was very convincing."
The smile vanished in an instant.
Zoya: "I've had to watch you smarm all over Ravka for years. I've learned a few tricks."
Nikolai: "I don't smarm."
Tolya: "Occasionally you smarm."
Nikolai: "Yes. But it's endearing."
Nikolai watched Zoya's face. He couldn't help watching. Her glance at him was so swift he might have imagined it, a flash of blue, the sky glimpsed through the trees. And the meaning of that glance? Something. Nothing. He'd have more luck trying to tell his fortune in the clouds.
Hanne: "Couldn't we just ... well, couldn't you just eliminate him?"
Nina: "Easy now. I'm the ruthless assassin and you're the voice of reason, remember?"
Ylva: "That's unkind, Mila."
Nina: "You're right. But it's also accurate."
Tamar: "Your heart is in your eyes, Your Highness."
Tolya: "Tamar knows because that's the way she looks at her wife."
Tamar: "I am free to look at my wide any which way I please."
Tolya: "But Zoya is not Nikolai's wife."
Nikolai: "I'm standing right here."
Ehri: "Nikolai Lantsov, we will be your captives no longer."
Zoya: "So the courtship is going well?"
Tell me it's more than war and worry that makes you speak those words. Tell me what they would mean if you weren't a kind and I weren't a soldier.
But she didn't want to hear any of that, not really. Sweet words and grand declarations were for other people, other lives. She brushed the hair back from his face, placed a kiss on his forehead.
Zoya: "I would stay forever if I could."
she whispered. He wouldn't remember anyway.
Nikolai: "Are those the new calculations for our launch system?"
David nodded without looking up
Nikolai: "And how are they coming along?"
David: "They aren't."
David: "I keep getting interrupted."
Nikolai: "Splendid. Good to know I've done my part."
Nikolai: "Don't you enjoy a challenge?"
Zoya: "I enjoy a nap. I can't remember the last time I was allowed to sleep in."
Nikolai: "None of that. A full night's sleep might put you in a good mood, and I need you at your most disgruntled."
Zoya: "Keep speaking inanities and you may see me at my worst"
Nikolai: "All Saints, are you saying I haven't seen you at your worst?"
Zoya: "If you had, you'd be under the covers, gibbering prayers."
Nikolai: "A unique way of getting me into bed, but who am I to question your methods?"
Darkling: "When I look back on where things went wrong, where my plans all unraveled, I can trace the moment of disaster to the trust I placed in a pirate named Sturmhond."
Nikolai: "Privateer. And I wouldn't know, but if the privateer you've hired is entirely trustworthy, he's probably not much of a privateer."
Nikolai: "Zoya. War can make it hard to remember who you are. Let's not forget the human parts of ourselves."
Did she she want to forget? What a gift that would be. To never feel as humans did, to never grieve again. Then it wouldn't be so hard to leave this room. To shut the door on what might have been. To say goodbye.
Genya: "My love, there's ink all over your face."
David: "Does it matter?"
Genya: "The correct response is, 'Beautiful wife, won't you kiss it away?"
David nodded thoughtfully and drew out a journal to make note of this latest instruction.
David: "I'll be ready next time."
Genya: "It's technically later. Let's try again."
Nina: "Don't you worry, Hanne Brum. I have a gift for getting past Fjerdan defenses."
Mal: "It's amazing. You died."
He turned his gaze on Alina.
Mal: "And you pretended to die. But you both picked up right where you left off. Same argument, different day."
Alina jabbed him in the thigh
Alina: "It's very rude to make accurate observations."
Then David reached out and rubbed a piece of her silky red hair between his fingers. Genya blushed even more deeply.
Genya: "What are you doing?"
David: "Studying something beautiful."
Alina: "Did he seem different to you?"
Mal: "He seemed about the same. Gloomy and insufferable."
Alina: "What was the boys name? The monk?"
Zoya: "Yuri Vedenen. I never would have guessed that skinny little runt could cause so much trouble."
Alina: "I bet you said the same thing about me once."
Zoya: "You'd win that bet."
Alina: "Zoya, you know we're here if you need us."
Zoya: "But your power -"
Alina: "I can still pick up a rifle. I was a soldier before I was a Saint."
Joris: I like this one. She's unafraid.
Tolya: "I can't sleep."
Nikolai: "We could play cards."
Tolya: "I've been working on a new poem -"
Nikolai: "Or we could shoot ourselves out of a cannon."
Genya: "I cant do this."
Zoya: "You don't have to do anything. Just be here. Stay standing."
Genya: "Not even that."
Zoya: "I got you. I won't let you fall."
Genya: "I loved him. I loved him and he loved me. When I was ... when no one could reach me ... he saw me. He ... I loved him and he loved me."
Zoya: "David wasn't ... He wasn't an easy person. He didn't tell jokes or crack smiles or try to make you comfortable. He hated small talk and he could fall so deeply into his work, he forgot to eat or sleep. The only distraction he ever had was Genya. When he looked at her, you could see that he had found his perfect equation."
She pressed a kiss to the cover of the notebook.
Genya: "So you'll remember when I meet you in the next world."
She tossed the notebook onto the fire.
Zoya: "Don't pretend to shrug this off. You've barely looked at me since I returned."
Because I am greedy for the sight of you. Because the prospect of facing this war, this loss, without you fills me with fear. Because I find I don't want to fight for a future if I can't find a way to make a future with you. But he was a king and she was his general and he could say none of those things.
Nikolai: "I'm looking at you now, Zoya."
Zoya: "Do you see what grows around this place?"
Nikolai: "A thorn wood."
Zoya: "I took the cuttings from the tunnel that leads to the Little Palace. It's all prickles and spines and anger, covered in pretty, useless blossoms and fruit too bitter to eat. There is nothing in it worth loving."
Nikolai: "How wrong you are."
Zoya's gaze snapped to his, her eyes flashing silver - dragon's eyes.
Zoya: "Am I?"
Nikolai: "Look at the way it grows, protecting everything within these walls, stronger than anything else in the garden, weathering every season. No matter the winter it endures, it blooms again and again."
Zoya: "What if the winter is just too long and hard? What if it can't bloom again?"
He was afraid to reach for her, but he did it anyway. He took her gloved hand in his. She didn't pull away but folded into him like a flower closing its petals at nightfall. He wrapped his arms around her. Zoya seemed to hesitate, and then with a soft breath, she let herself lean against him. Zoya the deadly. Zoya the ferocious. The weight of her against him felt like a benediction. He had been strong for his country, his soldiers, his friends. It meant something different to be strong for her.
Nikolai: "Then you'll be branches without blossoms. And you let the rest of us be strong until the summer comes."
Zoya: "It wasn't a metaphor."
Nikolai: "Of course it wasn't."
Zoya: "You look absurd in that outfit."
Nikolai: "Absurdly dashing? I agree."
Zoya: "You like playing the pirate too much."
Nikolai: "Easy now. We're all someone's uncle."
Barker: "I don't have no brothers or sisters."
Nikolai: "Then let's all give thanks your parents didn't make more of you."
Kaz: "For the record, General Nazyalensky, Kerch is a country without mercy or law, but it is at least a place where a man might make something of himself without noble blood or magic in his veins."
Zoya: "The Grisha do not practice 'magic.' It's the Small Science. And it's rude to eavesdrop."
Kaz: "Better to get fat on information than starve on good manners."
Jesper: "I'm not supposed to let you in."
Kaz: "Why not?"
Jesper: "Because every time I do, you ask me to break the law."
Wylan: "The problem isn't that he asks, it's that you always say yes."
Zoya: "Is there a Fabrikator living here?"
Jesper: "A friend of ours. An indenture who likes to pop by for meals. Quite the sponger."
Zoya: "Has he never been trained? The work seems rudimentary."
Jesper: "I thought it had a certain rustic elegance."
Wylan: "No. He hasn't been trained. He's stubborn that way."
Jesper: "But stylish."
Kaz rapped his cane on the floor
Kaz: "And now you know why I don't visit more often."
Nikolai: "Mister Brekker led us to believe the job was nearly impossible."
Zoya: "He wanted to drive up his rate."
Kaz: "Thank you, Jesper."
Jesper: "What can I say? I have a naturally honest disposition."
Kaz: "And I have a golden top hat."
Jesper: "If you did, I would borrow it."
Wylan: "Because unlike Kaz, I have a conscience."
Kaz: "I have a conscience. It just knows when to keep its mouth shut."
Jesper: "If you have a conscience, it's gagged and tied to a chair somewhere."
Kaz: "Might be worth playing the king card now, don't you think?"
Wylan: "What king card?"
Jackal: "There are no kings we recognize here."
Nikolai: "I might find that humbling, if I'd any practice with humility."
Kaz: "The Suli never forget their own, General Nazyalensky. Just like the crows."
Nikolai: "Tell me, Brekker, do you believe in monsters?"
Kaz: "Of all kinds."
Kaz: "A word of advice to one bastard to another: Sometimes it's best to let the demon have its day."
Zoya: "Did you sleep?"
Nikolai: "Of course not. Someday we'll see an end to war, and then you and I will take a nap together."
Zoya: "Is that your idea of seduction?"
Nikolai: "These days? Yes."
Zoya: "I'll be honest - it's incredibly compelling."
Nikolai: "I would choose you."
Zoya: "As your general?
Nikolai: "As my queen."
Zoya: "Because I'm a dependable soldier. Because I know all your secrets."
Nikolai: "I do trust you more than myself sometimes - and I think very highly of myself. I would make you my queen because I want you. I want you all the time."
She rolled onto her side, resting her head on her folded arm. A small movement, but he could feel her breath now. His heart was racing.
Zoya: "As your general, I should tell you that would be a horrible decision."
He turned to his side. They were facing each other now.
Nikolai: "As your king, I should tell you that no one could dissuade me. No prince and no power could make me stop wanting you. I would give you a crown if I could. I would show you the world from the prow of a ship. I would choose you, Zoya. As my general, as my friend, as my bride. I would give you a sapphire the size of an acorn."
He reached into his pocket.
Nikolai: "And all I would ask in return is that you wear this damnable ribbon in your hair on our wedding day."
You should have said yes, she thought for the hundredth time. You should have told him you loved him. But what good was that word to people like her? Nikolai deserved more. Ravka required more. But for an hour, for a day, he might have been hers. And if something happened to him on that battlefield? She's 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. All Saints, Zoya wanted to be near that light, she wanted to feel the warmth of it for as long as she could.
Genya: "You push us away, keep us at arm's distance so that you won't mourn us. But you'll mourn us anyway. That's the way love works."
Nikolai: "If Ravka's independence dies this day, then I die with it."
Mayu: "Everyone mourns the first blossom. Who will weep for the rest that fall?"
Tamar: "I will remain to sing for you."
Tolya: "Long after the spring has gone."
Zoya: "They know what you are now."
Nikolai: "True. But they know what you are too, Sankta Zoya."
Zoya: "Don't call me that."
Tamar: "It has a nice ring to it."
Nadia: "Our Lady of Dragonfire?"
Genya: "Sweet scaly vengeance?"
Zoya: "I'm going to go live in a cave."
Nina: "You are a coward. You are the lowest form of man. Without honor, without integrity. Djel djeren je top." Djel turns his back on you.
Jarl: "You are no longer welcome in our home."
Nina: "I don't keep company with vermin. My place is with the wolves."
Nikolai: "I read your list of proposed concessions, Commander Brum. They're absurd. I think intentionally so, because you don't want peace at all."
Jarl: "Why would we?"
Nikolai: "It wouldn't be unprecedented, given the crushing defeat you just suffered."
He turned to Zoya
Nikolai: "This is awkward. Does he know they lost?"
Nikolai: "I will kneel to only one ruler, and I will see only one person crowned this day. The age of the Lantsovs is over."
He sank to one knee
Nikolai: "Let the Nazyalensky dynasty begin. All hail the Dragon Queen."
Zoya: "I'm going to murder you in your sleep. Nikolai winked.
Nikolai: "Go on. Say something grand."
Nikolai: "We'll charm them one by one if we have to, and you will lead Ravka into an age of peace."
Zoya: "I'm not charming."
Nikolai: "But I am. I have a stockpile of wiles to deploy on Ravka's behalf."
Zoya: "Dinners and parades and small talk. That sounds like hell."
Nikolai: "I'll rub your feet every night."
Zoya: "Did you ever wonder -"
Nikolai: "What they mean? Only when I thought of your bedchamber. So roughly every night."
Zoya: "Can you be serious for once?"
Nikolai: "Once and only once."
Zoya: "I can't do this alone, Nikolai."
Nikolai: "I will be by your side."
Zoya; "As my advisor?"
Nikolai: "If that's what you wish."
Zoya: "And if ... if I wished for more?"
Nikolai: "Then I would gladly be your prince, your consort, your demon fool."
Zoya: "We would go on, you and I. If I couldn't be queen, you would find a way to win this battle and save this country. You would make a sheltering place for my people. You would march and bleed and crack terrible jokes until you had done all you said you would do. I suppose that's why I love you."
His eyes flew open and his face lit in an extraordinary grin.
Nikolai: "All Saints, say it again."
Zoya: "I will not."
Nikolai: "You must."
Zoya: "I'm the queen. I must do nothing but please myself."
Nikolai: "Would it please you to kiss me?"
It would. And she did, drawing him up to her, feeling the stubble at his jaw, the soft curl of his hair behind his ear, and at last, after all these long days of wanting, his witty, brilliant, perfect mouth. Silence fell around them and Zoya's head emptied of fear and worry and anything but the warm press of his lips.
When the kiss broke, he rested his forehead against hers.
Nikolai: "You do realize you just referred to yourself as the queen. That means you agreed."
Zoya: "I am going to kill you."
Nikolai: "So long as you kiss me again before you do."
Hanne: "Never let me go."
Nina: "Never again."
Hanne: "Can you love a murderer?"
Nina: "I might ask the same."
Hanne: "And can you love me in this body?"
Nina: "It is your heart I love. You know that, don't you?"
Tears formed in Hanne's eyes.
Hanne: "I hoped."
Nikolai: "Is it the bobcats, the weather, or the company that displeases you?"
Zoya: "I am a queen. I should be borne aloft on a litter so that my delicate feet never touch the ground."
Nikolai: "I can ask the demon to carry you."
Zoya: "Thank you, no. The last time you let it out, it tried to bite me."
Nikolai: "I think it was meant affectionately."
Genya: "Are you certain?"
Nikolai: "Not entirely."
Nikolai: "Kiss me, Zoya."
Nikolai: "I need reassurance that you are real and that we survived."
Zoya went up on her toes and pressed her warm mouth to his.
Zoya: "I'm right here and I'm freezing, so move before I toss you into a gully."
He sighed happily. There she was. Bitter and bracing as strong drink. She was real, and at least for now, she was his.
Darkling: "Is it the shadow inside you that makes you brave?"
Nikolai: "I should hope not. I was making bad decisions long before that thing showed up."
Darkling: "Zoya will live a very long life. Despite the demon, you may not do the same."
Nikolai: "Then I will love her from my grave."
Zoya: "A great many people are looking for you."
The gleam in the tiny girl's eye was wicked.
Inej: "They'd best pray they don't find me."
Nikolai: "Has a decision been reached? I can't decide if you all look ruthless or beneficent. Maybe just hungry."