Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Review: Wow. Alina. ALINA STARKOV, ladies and gentlemen. The places Leigh Bardugo takes her main character in this book. Can we just stop for a moment and remember the Alina we first met in the opening chapter of Shadow and Bone? Our little Alina, so stubborn and mouthy even then, but also incredibly insecure and unsure of her place in the world. The transformation she has undergone through the course of the series just astounds me. She goes from being a girl who can barely climb a flight of stairs to the shining hope of Ravka. She started as a manipulated young thing, easily seduced by the Darkling and his silver tongue, to a bold and crafty leader who takes just as much as she is taken from.
She has changed so much. In every aspect, she’s changed. Her power? Not just blinding light and Cuts anymore. The things she can do are insane and yet make sense. (Go Team Science!) Her attitude? Alina is in for the long haul. While she still yearns for a quiet, peaceful life, she has her sights set on a more permanent, dangerous goal. Even her physical appearance has been forever altered, thanks to the closing events of Siege and Storm. We’re warned from the beginning that Alina isn’t the girl we first met. In the customary prologue, her form of address changes. It is no longer a story about “the boy” and “the girl.” Instead, it is the trials of “the Saint.” The places the author takes her in terms of power and mastery in this book… My mind, it was blown. She is a battle blade, tested and honed. Mal taught her perseverance, the Darkling taught her the power of fear and mastery, and Sturmhond taught her subtle trickery and the impact of a grand gesture. Every failure, every lesson, every scrap of advice and wisdom—good or bad or somewhere in the middle—has been coalescing inside of our precious Alina, and she uses them all too great effect in this book.
Best of all, despite everything I just said, the two things I love most about Alina haven’t changed. She is still able to laugh, and she never, ever gives up. Never once does she throw her hands in the air and choose to walk away. She considers it, but she doesn’t. Even when pushing forward means sacrificing the things she holds most dear, she chooses to continue for the sake of Ravka. Who she becomes by the end and what sense of self still remains is something I cannot say (spoilers), but I can promise that each step follows the last so that the end result feels inevitable and right.
Oh Mal. What can I say about Mal? Though I thought his character arc in the last book was logical, he lost some fans in Siege and Storm thanks to his churlish behaviour. Happily, the author does not leave him to wallow in his misery. Like Alina, his growth isn’t over. He has a path he must take, a trajectory that keeps him hurtling toward one conclusion. (Which is not to say that Mal doesn’t hold surprises. One surprise in particular left me gaping, while another made me catch my breath.) But watching him continue to remould himself and adapt to his ever-changing life apart from his previous identity as a dutiful soldier and best friend was a genuine treat. Growing up is tough, and this story spares none of the pain, but, as with Alina, Mal’s end feels almost inevitable.
Talk about character growth. The things Leigh Bardugo can do with her villains, uff da. For the first time in the series, Alina and the Darkling battle as equals. They are titans clashing, painting the earth red and spreading destruction in their wake. It makes for a tense, sometimes heart-wrenching story as the Darkling becomes more and more desperate to reign supreme, but this newfound equality also allows us a different view of the Darkling. We were promised the Darkling’s true name, and we receive it, but we also are given so much more.
One of my favorite sayings is that the best antagonists think of themselves as the heroes of their own stories. The Darkling does horrible, unspeakable things in this series, and that trend does not change in Ruin and Rising. Back in Shadow and Bone, he tells Alina to make him her villain, and she does. However, as Alina grows in power, it becomes easier to understand what the Darkling is trying to achieve. His means are vicious and calculating, but the ends he’s trying to accomplish? Even as the Darkling earns his new title of Shadow King, we are reminded that he was, at one time, human. He was a son, a beloved child. And he is all alone on his shadow throne.
I don’t have to wax poetic on this guy. I love him. He’s back and as awesome as ever. Really, Sturmhond is amazing. He ends up being one of the funniest AND one of the most heart-breaking characters in the entire novel. I love all the many facets that make up our Sturmhond—his humor, his wit, his intelligence, his love of tinkering, his passion for Ravka, his respect for Alina, his love for his family. They’re all here in Ruin and Rising, but he’s also forced to grow and suffer right along with the other characters. Yes, he suffers. My BAAAAAAABY!
Heavens, the things Leigh Bardugo can do with secondary characters. These stories are so rich with life. I can’t even with these people. You will come to adore every last one of them, from old friends like David and Genya (my #1 ship in this series, by the way) to new allies like Harshaw and Misha. They all have their own character arcs with their own hopes and dreams and fears and traits entirely independent of Alina and her story. It’s fantastic. While I’ve been a David fan from the first book, I am now thoroughly, hopelessly charmed. Watching Genya come back to herself after Siege and Storm is heart-breaking and exhilarating. Tolya and Tamar remain fabulous. Baghra continues to be Baghra, and it’s a treat to watch her form connections with other characters even while raining abuse upon their heads. Nadia moves from tertiary to secondary character, and her wee brother Adrik comes into his own. Harshaw, a new character, goes from suspicious and annoying to one of my favorite side characters. And ZOYA. Remember Zoya, the raven-haired Grisha seductress? ZOYA. I think we may be BFFs now. (Not really, but sort of.)
They are Alina’s family. They bicker, joke, laugh, fight, and even betray, but they are bound together in a way no man or Grisha can sever. Their motives aren’t always pure, and their endings aren’t universally happy, but recognizing that our young orphans have gathered around themselves a true family unit is satisfying beyond measure.
Buckle up tight. This book manages to squeeze in a lot of events and twists into what felt like a very short time. The grip Ms. Bardugo has on her pacing is masterful. I was dreading the start of Ruin, because I feared oppression and desperation in the lair of the Apparat (whom I loathe, may he die a thousand deaths), but Ms. Bardugo never lets us linger in one place for long, either physically or emotionally. Alina and her small family crisscross the continent, from underground tunnels to mountain ranges to forests to the neverending dark of the Unsea. At the same time, while Ruin visits some incredibly dark and depressing moments, we’re never allowed to sink to an irretrievable depth. The amount of humor in this story blew me away. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion, more often than not mere pages before or after being emotionally shell-shocked in some manner. Such rapid shifts are rarely done well, but Ms. Bardugo nails it every time, and in a manner that feels internally consistent with the other books.
Also, ANSWERS. What’s up with Saint Morozova? Answered. How did the amplifiers come to be? Answered. What’s Baghra’s history? Answered. What’s the Darkling’s name? Answered. What’s up with Mal’s crazy tracking talent? Answered. Is Nikolai really an illegitimate child? Answered. WHAT HAPPENS IF ONE GRISHA WEARS ALL THREE AMPLIFIERS? ANSWERED.
I almost didn’t add this part in, but I feel like I must. Ruin and Rising is a big book with big events and big themes. Alina is fighting to save the entire world, which is storyline enough to keep anyone occupied. But amidst it all, we are treated to some fantastic truths, some of which directly pertain to the struggle at hand and some that don’t. The truths are woven in, organically arriving in the course of the story rather than handed to us on a platter. There is a scene around page 157 that blew me away where Genya is brought before Nikolai to answer for the attempted murder of the king, and at that time, Nikolai learns of her treatment at the palace, including her relationship with the king. It’s a tense scene, but one that is handled so beautifully. As prince of Ravka, Nikolai could have easily sided with the king. He is, after all, king and can do whatever he wants. Too often, those with power are let off the hook as the attention turns to victim blaming. But here there is no question and no hesitation. Rape is rape, and though the king and queen try to protest otherwise, they are roundly overruled. Genya still has to answer for her own crimes, but in no way is the king pardoned or excused. It’s a brilliant scene, one that could have been easily passed over for the sake of the larger story, but one that I’m thankful the author kept.
Ms. Bardugo plays with the nature of good and evil, of the hunger for power vs. the hunger for knowledge, of ends and means, of actions and intentions. In the end, there is no Us vs. Them. All sides trade in shades of right and wrong. Grisha and otkazat’sya, Darkling and Sun Summoner, noble and peasant, Ravkan and Shu and Fjerdan. Thisness and Thatness. We are not so different.
Like I’m going to tell you! I will say that I was content. I will say that Ms. Bardugo was less bloodthirsty than I had feared, and I yearn for some of the more shocking decisions that I had imagined. However, all the threads came together satisfyingly. I mourned for what was lost and held tight to the new threads that might be explored in the next series. I liked how the story ended and where it left us. But beyond that, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself.
Thank you, Leigh Bardugo, for such a wonderful adventure. Thank you for the friends we’ve made and the places we’ve traveled. I wish I could give you a review equal to what you’ve given us, but my talent falls short. So all I can say is thank you. And I can’t wait to read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.
Buy it here:
Kindle Edition: amazon.co.uk
Also see: Shandow and Bone by Leigh Brdugo