Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Release: June 17th 2014
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, YA
#3 in the Grisha trilogy
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.
I absolutely loved every second of it, up until page 380, where it all spiraled straight into hell.
You know, what I loved most about this final installment was that it was really serious. It was no nonsense, down to the point, with a lot of trials and tribulations along the way, loss and grief etching every single character's storylines and with many terrible horrors on the way. Bardugo did not shy away from killing off key players, mutilating children or turning beloved characters into monsters. Something like that takes guts as an author, so it's something I always appreciate. In turn, however, the ending just seemed way too happy and optimistic, with everything turning out alright in the end with no real, lasting ... injuries, let's call it that. It was so at odds with the rest of this truly bleak book, I am calling shenanigans.
Anyways, I also liked that Alina and Mal seemed to finally be growing up about their relationship, and I could start appreciating their interactions at last. Mal acknowledged Alina's Grisha-ness and stopped trying to hinder her, stopped being bitter about her powers and responsibilities as the Sun Summoner and so on; in fact, he was so supportive and focused on aiding her in every way possible, I was very touched. I still don't ship them, I never will, but at least I'm not against their relationship anymore.
I also appreciated that we explore other relationships as well, some deeper and some we only scrape by, but all in all, I am very pleased with them, because they were all unique and interesting. As were all of the involved characters, there are a couple of new ones in there, but also a lot of old faces from previous books, that are getting more developed and fleshed out, and let me just say, Bardugo is damn good at it. Each one of her characters had something to make them stand out, make them memorable and they were all in some way or another compelling, intriguing and complex. I couldn't get enough.
The plot is also, of course, extremely engaging. There was never a dull moment what with all of the action and fighting and running. The constant not knowing, ever, what the outcome might be that lasts until the very last pages. There are books where they are clearly going to lay it all out for you, how it's gonna go and you can usually always make a few guesses at the outcome, but with this one, I was truly stumped. I was going insane halfway through, trying to imagine how it could all possibly end. There's always this undercurrent of dying to know, I was tempted to turn to the last page so often while reading, and I honestly have no clue how I managed not to. Pure willpower, I guess.
The only thing that really left me dissatisfied was the ending. I am going to say why, but be warned, these are spoilers. Like, really spoilery spoilers. If you haven't finished the book yet, don't read this next bit.
<spoiler>I didn't like that the Darkling died, but Mal survived. I wasn't sure whether Bardugo would really kill the Darkling in the end, because we, her fanbase, just love him to death and I guess I was doubting if she would be influenced by that or if she would go through with what she has planned, but I was fully prepared to watch him die, a part of me was even totally expecting it — I mean, after all, since he's the villain, he kind of has to die, right? So, why am I still mad that she killed him off, because, yes, I am? It's because she didn't kill off Mal. Not to mention that I absolutely hate fake-deaths, murdering characters only to have them miraculously survive after all, but it's just that it doesn't seem fair, or fitting, in a way. If Alina would have lost both Mal and Aleksander, because let's call him that shall we, it would have been a turning point for her, because she'd have essentially no one left, no one who truly understands her, you know? It would have been an acceptable ending to this series in my opinion, especially since this last book has portrayed it very do-or-die. But the way Alina goes skipping off with Mal into the sunset, it was unrealistic and just ended on a too happy note, that maybe just nags at me because I'm personally feeling bitter that Aleks isn't included in that happy ending in any way; no, he had to die, but I also think that it kind of ridicules the whole trilogy in a way.
Plus, it would have been very interesting exploring that outcome, instead of the wholly predictable we'll go rebuild Keramzin epilogue, which yes, I did anticipate as soon as Mal was suddenly alive again. Which, now that I mention that, I also kind of dislike that Alina lost her powers, but that is probably a personal issue. I just feel like her Grisha abilities were something that simply characterized Alina to a point, it was the be-all and end-all of the whole series and now it's just ... taken away, like that? It was always very important that with her powers, Alina has flourished and bloomed, they have made her healthy after not using her powers has made her actually physically sick and fragile, and now that doesn't mean a thing anymore. Humph. Anyways, I would have liked to see how a broken Alina would deal with the loss of not only one, but two boys she loved to a certain degree, and how she would rise after that ruin, how maybe she would have married Nikolai after all and how she would have made a magnificent Grisha queen, how she would still hold her head up high despite those grievous losses and be strong despite of it, not breaking under the weight of grief. It would have been so awesome but alas, it was not meant to be ... a pity, truly.</spoiler>
One more thing. I approve, very much approve, of the Darkling's real name. If you know me, you know that names mean a lot to me and can actually even make or break characters, yes even whole books, for me. It is not a secret that I often choose my books by what the main character is named, and how much I like that name, so I was really anxious he would end up with a really horrible and ugly name, but ... it kinda suits him. And, obviously, I like it. <spoiler>I swear it has nothing to do that Aleksander is so similar to Alexa. I just always loved that spelling.</spoiler>
Me disliking the ending so much kind of throws a certain shadow over the whole trilogy, unfortunately, but I still really like all of the three books. I still love Alina and the world and the plot itself, and for the most part, I did also enjoy Ruin and Rising. For the most part, it is a worthy and satisfying conclusion to a book series that I have loved to invest my time and effort and feelings into, because it really deserves it. Final installments to series you love are always bittersweet, they always will be I guess, I can't imagine it ever getting any less hard, but ... even though I leave slightly irritated, I will still love these books with all my heart, and I can definitely see myself coming back to re-read them some time in the future.
PS: Are you really surprised that I managed to get my hands on an early copy? Really? You should know that I'd do anything to get my claws on it as early as possible, and I already had an early copy of Siege and Storm as well. How did I do it? ... Well, that remains my secret, muahahaha.