Ruin and Rising
by Leigh Bardugo
The capital has fallen.
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
What a roller coaster ride this series has been.
Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are that I gave this book 4 stars considering how much of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm got on my nerves. There’s still a lot I don’t get about this series; we do learn a little more about him here and he did become a more interesting villain, but I still don’t get the obsession with The Darkling and I really don’t think he and Alina make sense as a romantic couple. That’s more of a discrepancy within the fandom than with this book, however, so I’m not going to hold it against the book; Bardugo is very clear that The Darkling is the villain here.
I also still don’t feel like I got to know Alina and Mal as much as I wanted to considering they’re our heroes, and their relationship drama is still boring. I do like the two of them together – I know a lot of other fans would rather see her with The Darkling, Nikolai or Genya (personally I kept hoping Genya and Zoya might be a thing) – but Alina and Mal are the same level of ordinary to suit each other. As much as Alina’s power might have thrust her into greatness, she was never going to be more at home in the Ravkan court, at either The Darkling or Nikolai’s side, than she is when she’s with Mal.
All that aside, from the very first page this book didn’t stop moving and I really appreciated that. Honestly I feel like this entire trilogy could have been condensed into one, epic beast of a novel rather than a trilogy in which the first two books had to be padded out with boy drama. All the action finally happened in this book.
Even better, Alina has gumption!
From the first page Alina was finally making decisions and biting back at people and she finally started feeling like a person rather than a character filling a role. That doesn’t make up for how ‘meh’ she was in the first two books but it certainly made this book far more enjoyable to read.
And, credit where credit’s due, Ravka is in the middle of a war and Bardugo isn’t afraid to kill off a lot of people. In fact I really liked where she took the plot in this book; there’s a twist regarding the third amplifier that I didn’t see coming, and when The Darkling finally got his comeuppance it was in such an ordinary way that I almost pitied him. Almost. I mean, the guy did gouge his own mother’s eyes out. And I loved Baghra.
Zoya continued to be one of my favourite characters in this series – I know she’s mean, but she’s unapologetically, honestly mean and there’s something about her that I’m drawn to – and I loved the inclusion of a very small side f/f romance between Tamar and Nadia. I would have liked a little more of them, but I loved what we did see of them and considering I’ll gobble up anything f/f fantasy I was thrilled to see their relationship there. It didn’t feel like they’d been thrown together for no reason, either; the two of them suited one another.
My poor, sweet Nikolai goes through hell in this book, too, but I’m glad I made myself read this series before King of Scars so I could understand the whole history behind what his experiences during this war were. I loved having his sense of humour in this book again, and I actually liked his and Alina’s friendship in this book a lot. Again, I don’t think the two of them would have worked romantically, but I still enjoyed their relationship in this book. Alina and Mal end up with a fairly large friendship group and I love well-written friendships in any book, particularly fantasy, and I enjoyed how this odd group was juxtaposed against The Darkling’s loneliness.
While I thought this book didn’t quite feel as huge as I thought it should – though I loved the idea of the religious following growing around ‘Sankta Alina’ and the various towns and villages the main characters visited, it didn’t quite feel like the fate of Ravka was at stake, just the fate of Alina and those closest to her – for me this was a huge improvement on the first two books. I think my opinion is in the minority, most reviews I’ve seen praise Siege and Storm as the best book in the series and call Ruin and Rising a disappointing finale, but I thought this was the most satisfying book in the series. I loved how Bardugo brought Alina’s story to an end, and I can’t wait to read King of Scars.