My rating: 4/5 Stars
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co (2014)
Length: 422 pgs
Series: Grisha, #3
Format: Hardcover, checked out from my local library
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Grisha trilogy. I started reading the books this spring and was underwhelmed by the first installment, as I liked the ideas of the story but felt the writing had room to grow and that the marketing had overhyped Shadow and Bone. I was completely turned around by Siege and Storm, loving the new characters, the political intrigue, and reading about the fascinating lifestyle at the Little Palace. Ruin and Rising fell somewhere in between for me, as it has a lot of surprises and twists that I hadn’t forseen, but there’s also a lot of slower moments when I became impatient during Alina’s quest to find the last amplifier.
What I did love in Ruin and Rising is seeing a lot of character growth and development. Alina became stronger and more independent, Mal became less obnoxious and more mature and chivalric, and even Zoya has joined the forces of good and shows unwavering loyalty toward the Sun Saint. Bardugo also does a fantastic job of making Alina’s struggle toward choosing a love interest palpable, making Mal, Nikolai, and the Darkling all so attractive in different ways as well as making them all stand as solid choices for Alina through her development of each of them as a strong character. By the end of the series I had no idea who I wanted Alina to choose!
Speaking of the Darkling. I admit, he’s what had me picking up the second book after Shadow and Bone underwhelmed me. Ruin and Rising continues to reveal more threads from the Darkling’s past, and the revelations kept surprising me, I was never able to guess them beforehand or was underwhelmed by the surprises. He’s a character who’s impossible for me to hate because he’s such an enigma, and you can’t help but be impressed by his intellect, even if it’s conniving. I was satisfied by the end of the novel with the Darkling’s storyline, and satisfied that Alina’s connection to him stays relevant and meaningful no matter what their romantic status, because they are bonded by the similarity of their powers (two sides of the same coin and all that).
While I loved learning about the small science and was so intrigued with how the Grisha are trained at the Little Palace in the first two books, this book focused much more on the aftermath of the Darkling’s takeover Alina’s leading of the refugees, her burden as a holy figure, and her want and need to find the last amplifier, the firebird. While this was all very important, this book has what I call Harry-Potter-Book-Seven-Syndrome, AKA a lot of wandering around in the wilderness looking for something elusive, which is important but also slightly boring. ***MILD SPOILER AHEAD: I also feel as though this book ended up emulating Harry Potter in a lot of ways (the whole revelation of what the third amplifier really was reminded me a LOT of a Horcrux, complete with the idea that one of the good guys must sacrifice themselves for the greater good of destroying an evil dictator, who also turns out to be related to said dictator…). Did anyone else feel like there were a lot of Harry Potter parallels in the ending too? ***END SPOILERS***
By far my favorite aspect of this book was Nikolai. I loved how he really came into his own as the leader of Ravka and of the resistance, and I love how he addressed the flaws in his parents’ rule of Ravka ( I was literally cheering up and down when he called out his dad on his misogynistic behavior and his treatment of Genya). While Nikolai definitely suffered in this book, he became a stronger leader because of it, and I won’t lie by saying I wasn’t rooting for him and Alina by the end of all the drama. Again, I think my increased love for Nikolai is a testament to Bardugo’s strength in character development in this book.
The ending was shocking. It’s hard to discuss more without spoilers, but Alina’s life is again irrevocably altered by the conclusion to this book. I found myself to be satisfied with the ending though, as I think things needed to end the way they did for Alina to truly become her own person, and I enjoyed seeing her fulfill her role as the Sun Saint, and her acknowledgment that everyone in Ravka’s war suffered, yet everyone, even the Darkling, started with the intention of bettering the country. I really respect that by the end of the series, even with the shocking events of the conclusion, Alina is wise and un-jaded enough to see the value in every struggle and every intention in Ravka’s war.
Overall: Ruin and Rising was a satisfactory ending to the Grisha trilogy, even if some of the plot twists seemed a little far-fetched or a tad bit unoriginal. Bardugo makes up for this though by creating characters that readers care about, and providing an intriguing back story for a fascinating villain. Though it dragged a bit in some moments and lacked some of the charm of the first two books, I was satisfied by the ending and wrapped up everything satisfactorily in the epilogue.
Series Thoughts: Like I said earlier, I had quite a hard time getting into Shadow and Bone, and I think that was due to the huge marketing campaign and hype it received leaving me with very high expectations. It merited a 3/5 star review from me, the charm and intrigue of the Grishas’ power and their political system sucking me back into the series for more. I’m so glad I kept reading, because I supremely enjoyed Siege and Storm, and loved all of the new characters that were introduced, along with a more mature plot line of political intrigue rather than just petty boarding school-esque drama. While it’s evident that Bardugo borrowed from other fantasy series (I saw a lot of Harry Potter parallels, but hey, no one writes in a vacuum and most fantasy series do borrow from older texts) I also think she had a lot of world-building elements that were unique, such as the distinction between magic and science (I love how the Grisha don’t practice magic but rather the “small science,” harboring the ability and affinity to manipulate matter at a molecular level leading to their “powers”…like calls to like) and how religion inter played with the small science with Alina’s ascent into sainthood. While the Russian-inspired tone of the book was a welcome change to YA fantasy, there was obviously some lackluster research and/or editing that took place that led to the authenticity of borrowing from the Russian culture to be questioned (one example is naming…last names are gendered in Russian so it would make more sense for Alina’s last name to be Starkova, not just Starkov). However, I think this was a great debut series by Bardugo that begs to be read by YA and fantasy lovers alike, and Bardugo’s strength in character development has me excited to see what she’ll write next. Series Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
Click here to read my review of Shadow and Bone.
Click here to read my review of Siege and Storm.