Book Review + Discussion: Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo

12:00:00 PM

Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: June 17, 2014 by Henry Holt & Co.
Rating:  4/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads):  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.

As the conclusion to this thrilling trilogy, Ruin & Rising gets a mixed review from me. I would have to say that this is my favorite book of the three, even though I really dislike the way the series ended. There are a million different strong points in this novel that all contribute to why I love it so much, but there are just a few things that grated on my nerves. For the purpose of giving a fair review, I will do my best to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. However I will also discuss in detail the parts I liked and dislike about the way the book ended, with fair warning as to where the spoilers begin and end. I have a lot of opinions about this book that I just reeeeally want to get out there! So consider yourself warned if you haven’t read this book yet!

Okay, starting with the SPOILER-FREE review:
I adore Leigh’s writing voice. It is so strong and defined, especially by the third book in the series. Leigh has this way of capturing the reader with beautiful one-lines. I am consistently floored by the magnitude of meaning in each of these lines. Each book has its standout lines, but for some reason this one had the most that meant something to me, most importantly the well-known “I am not ruined. I am ruination.” uttered by Genya Safin. Other favorites of mine include "In this moment he was just a boy -brilliant, blessed with too much power, burdened by eternity," "I am an apt pupil,” "I'm the Sun Summoner. It gets dark when I say it does," and the question that has plagued Alina since the first book, “What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men;” along with plenty of Nikolai’s trademark witty humor. Yet at the same time, Leigh can turn on a dime and deliver witty and snarky humor with ease, and it feels so natural and never out of place. To me, that’s what makes this series so special. The standout lines and the wonderful and cohesive voice that Leigh has just bring the entire thing to another level for me.
The conclusion to the trilogy, we follow Alina and her friends as they escape the grasp of the Apparat and try to gather enough forces to bring down the Darkling once and for all. To me the journey was satisfying; the destination, however, wasn’t. I loved the story right up until the very apex of the action at the end. More on that later, though. As you should know by now, the Darkling is my favorite character in the whole series, while Mal is my least favorite. I was really hoping for a stronger Darkling presence in this book, and while he was included more than he was in the previous book, it wasn’t enough for me! There were moments where I found Mal to be tolerable, but I was constantly craving more Darkling. The scenes that involved Alina and the Darkling were absolutely beautiful, I cried in pretty much all of them. This book is definitely one that will tear at your emotions.
While this book was very fast-paced, I found that some points dragged for me because I felt as though I knew how the book was going to end. The ending was in clear view by the midpoint of the book, but I usually just pass this off as the fact that I’m a creative writing student who has read enough books and written enough pieces of my own to pick up on cues and tell what will happen at the end. This isn’t the first book where I have experienced this, and it isn’t a testament to the writer’s abilities but to the fact that I’ve spent the last four years studying the formula to a story arc. Did that make sense? I hope it did. No matter, I was never really bored by this book, so the mini-slumps I fell into usually only lasted about a day or so. And, as it turns out, my predictions for the end were somewhat incorrect.
I adored the characters in this book, for the most part. Tolya, Tamar, and Nikolai were a welcome addition to the cast of characters in Siege and Storm, and their continued presence in the third book added a certain depth to the characterization of the whole novel. Each character had a clearly defined personality, and I was very glad to see my second-favorite character, Genya, make her return after so long not knowing what happened to her. Her storyline played out in a beautiful way, despite her struggles (to say the least). Baghra, Tolya, Tamar, Nadia, Zoya, and Harshaw all furthered the story by leaps and bounds; without them, the story wouldn’t be as emotionally charged. Can I say that Oncat was my favorite character in this novel? Forget the Darkling. Yeah, Oncat is my new favorite. Silly cat.

Altogether, this book sent me into an emotional tizzy from start to finish. When I say emotional rollercoaster, the last third of the book is the very definition of one. I loved everything about this novel EXCEPT for the ending! Which, if you have read the novel and wish to see just why I was so displeased, continue reading. Go ahead and scroll to the very bottom of this post for my wrap up, which will be bolded as usual. Be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD.

At this point, consider yourself sufficiently warned against the spoilers to come. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
I never expected to care so much about the villain of this story. I don’t know what it is about the Darkling that makes me love him so, but his story is such an intense and layered one that I can’t help it. He is every facet evil and, well, dark to the core; but inside of this there still lies a man whose desires are simply to never be alone, to share his unique abilities with someone just as unique as he is. A boy who never knew warmth or love, taught to harden himself to the affection of others, he only knows power and brutality as a result. To put a name to this face is to humanize someone who was before only seen as cold and unfeeling. The fact that he told Alina his true name, Aleksander, shocked me and made me love him more. To me, it proved there was still some part inside him that yearned for a human connection, a part of him that was still redeemable. He wasn’t beyond saving yet. And that, perhaps, is what was the most heartbreaking about his death. I read the page where he dies over and over again the night I finished this book, crying and crying with each re-read. His death hit me, especially because even with his dying breaths he only wants someone to be there with him, someone who would make him less alone. He asks Alina to say his name once more before he dies. He did not die as the Darkling. He died as Aleksander Morozova, a man burdened by the weight of his actions and a power too special to bear alone.
Despite all this, my main problem with the ending was Mal’s death. Or rather, his resurrection. Bringing somebody back to life was only ever accomplished by Ilya Morozova so long ago, as we learned from Baghra and the 230248563474 other times Alina referred to the fact that resurrection was only ever accomplished ONCE BEFORE in ALL OF GRISHA HISTORY. So for Tolya and Tamar to have set to work and just so easily have brought him back from the grave when he had essentially bled out prior to their attempt to revive him? I was not satisfied. We get absolutely no explanation for this! If the twins could bring Mal back successfully, can they bring others back? If that’s the case, then why didn’t they immediately haul ass over to where Harshaw lay dead?! Did I miss something here? Was there an explanation given that I somehow just didn’t read???? I demand answers here. I will not rest until I get them.
Lastly, the fact that Alina lost her abilities gave me mixed emotions. I understand why Leigh did it, and the fact that three amplifiers was just too much for Alina to handle is what led to the loss (redistribution?) of her power made me, well, sad. While I understood why it had to happen, the fact that no Grisha was ever meant to possess that many amplifiers, I felt like a limb was cut off. Alina was the Sun Summoner, Sankta Alina, and now she had exhausted her abilities. If it were me in her position, I would be utterly heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine a loss that magnanimous, something that was such a big part of me just gone in an instant. And as we see in the epilogue, it had a big effect on her in the long run. She missed that part of herself she had gotten so used to.

I really don’t mean to sound as though I’m complaining about this book, because that is definitely not my intention. I loved this book with all my heart, the ending just didn’t sit right with me! I will always hold this series dear to me, nothing can change that.

What’s your favorite book in the Grisha trilogy? I’m currently reading Six of Crows and noticing all the subtle references to the events in the other Grisha books.

Did you enjoy my first discussion post? How did I do? Let me know your thoughts and if you have anything eating away at you about the ending of these books like I did!

While you're at it, go check out the soundtrack I made for this book here!

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