Review: Ruin and Rising

The time has finally arrived: to talk about the end of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. I have now read the third and final book of the series, Ruin and Rising, and it’s the first series I’ve read in its entirety so far this year. I’ll refrain from spoilers (as usual), but you’ll probably want to read Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm before going further with this review.

About the book: The Darkling is getting what FullSizeRender (18)he has always wanted: control of Ravka, virtually uncontested. The only person who may have the power to fight him is being held underground, “for her safety.” Alina knows she needs to get back up to ground level to find the third amplifier, which will make her more powerful, to find out whether Nikolai survived the attack at the end of book two, and to challenge the Darkling to one last, epic battle. The Apparat, though, tells her it is not safe above ground. She is not strong enough to gather supplies and forces before the Darkling would find her and put her out of commission once and for all. Maybe he’s right… or maybe he’s holding her prisoner. Either way, it’s time to take a chance and set the future in motion.

‘Na razrusha’ya. E’ya razrushost. I am not ruined. I am ruination.”

On character development: by this point in the series, most everyone has undergone (or is about to undergo) some major changes. The fact that none of them are the same people by the end of the trilogy as they started out is the mark of effective character development. However, Alina remains my least-favorite character. While she does make some tough choices, she still seems to me more selfish than strong. Nikolai becomes infinitely more interesting in this book. But it’s the Darkling, as always, who keeps the pages turning. He’s such a good villain because he’s not entirely evil. Mostly evil, maybe, but somewhere at the core of his being is a scared little boy who was thrust into a dangerous life and forced to eat or be eaten.

“I felt that pull, the longing of a frightened girl. Even now, after everything he’d done, I wanted to believe the Darkling, to find some way to forgive him. I wanted Nikolai to be alive. I wanted to trust the other Grisha. I wanted to believe anything so I wouldn’t have to face the future alone.”

The book is called Ruin and Rising. From that alone, the reader assumes there will be destruction and finally a victor for Ravka. However, none of my guesses about the destruction prepared me for the horrors the Darkling has in store for this final volume. Furthermore, especially after the “ruin” Alina has already faced in this novel, nothing could have prepared me for the way Ravka “rises” at the end, and who ends up back on top. The magic continues to expand in new and necessary ways. Where the second book lacks action, this one is packed full of it. The best part is that it’s not the sort of action that happens to the characters (arguably, it is when they act upon each other, but even that is not passive), it’s the sort where they’re all out there making choices and changing the world for better or worse.

“Suffering is cheap as clay and twice as common. What matters is what each man makes of it.”

Alina’s relationship with Mal has always been tricky, but here it changes again. The way Mal acts is always justifiable, always reasonable, and yet there’s something off about him. Maybe what’s off is the way Alina sees him. That, in itself, is odd. With Mal so in love with her, how is it possible that she doesn’t even understand him enough to see that? With the Darkling, Alina’s apparent oblivion to his affection for her is intriguing because the Darkling is less obvious about his vulnerabilities. It’s quite possible that his feelings for her are a show, or that he himself remains unaware of them, or that I’m simply reading too much into his reactions and facial expressions (although I doubt it). With Mal, the clues are all right there in front of her with everything he does or doesn’t do and say, and yet they still doubt each other. I suspect that this is partly a writing tactic to preserve tension throughout the trilogy–will Alina and Mal finally figure out how to get along and be together? Or have they always been doomed?–but it feels unrealistic. Their problems are generic “problems,” discord between them that doesn’t quite make sense. Are they willing to do anything for each other without question, or are they not? Mal’s fate will remain up in the air until the very last chapter. Alina could end up with anyone–including herself, or, of course, that strong and tricky warrior, death.

“Maybe love was superstition, a prayer we said to keep the truth of loneliness at bay. I tilted my head back. The stars looked like they were close together, when really they were millions of miles apart. In the end, maybe love just meant longing for something impossibly bright and forever out of reach.”

The edition I read also includes a bonus short story about the Darkling’s past, a story called “The Demon in the Wood.” I liked this short story even better than the one about Genya in Siege and Storm. Again, it is in no way a necessary read to understand the overall Grisha trilogy. Even the events within the story, while not described in any detail in the books proper, are largely unsurprising given what the reader has already learned about the Darkling and his past in the trilogy itself. That said, the Darkling was my favorite character in these books, and while I don’t think “The Demon in the Wood” gives the reader any fresh information, it does provide a closer look into the Darkling’s mind and emotions, a tactic which almost always makes a villain more interesting. If you’re interested in short stories, this is the Grisha story to read–but wait until you’ve read Ruin and Rising, because it makes more sense after digging some key facts about the Darkling out of the final book.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. Here is where, if I used half stars, I would say this one was more of a 4.5 for me, to reflect that the first book in this trilogy was actually my favorite. Although the Darkling remained my favorite element of the trilogy throughout (he’s always such a wild card), I think he had a lot of potential for grayness between good and evil at the end of the first book that was never quite realized as strongly as I wanted it to be. But this third book is a close second place. And now, I’m looking forward to starting Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology soon because I suspect I’ll like that set even better.

What’s next: I also finished Ruta Sepetys’s latest YA historical fiction novel, Salt to the Sea, at the end of April. I’ll have a full review of this powerful story about a lesser-known aspect of WWII history ready for you to peruse tomorrow.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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