Book Reviews

Grishaverse Re-read: RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo


In preparation for the Netflix show, Thea is re-immersing herself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and rereading the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books! Today, she tackles the third and final novel in the original trilogy: Ruin and Rising.

Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Paperback: 417 pages

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.

Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Warning: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for Shadow and Bone and Ruin and Rising. If you have not yet read the first two books in the trilogy and wish to remain unspoiled, look away!

Review

The Darkling has won.

At least, that’s what it seems like at the beginning of Ruin and Rising, the third book in Leigh Bardugo’s original Shadow and Bone trilogy. Thanks to the disastrously ill-informed actions of Prince Vasily, the Darkling and his loyal Grisha were able to slip across borders and march directly on Os Alta, devastating the Crown loyalists and killing nearly all of the Grisha that Alina was working so hard to train and organize under her leadership. Still, Alina was able to fight the Darkling and win a (admittedly pyrrhic) victory, by using his own tricks against him,channeling his darkness and power to do her bidding.

Alina and the remaining Grisha survivors find refuge from an unlikely source–the Apparat and his zealous flock of Santka Alina followers are able to provide enough cover to whisk the survivors underground. Now, while the Darkling recovers his strength and amasses power above ground, the weakened, frail Sun Summoner finds herself in a different kind of trap. Unable to call sunlight or use her abilities, kept separate from her friends–all in the name of her protection, of course, the Apparat claims with his shrewd piousness–Alina is become a ghost.

But she is not defeated.

Slowly, Alina gathers her strength. And all the while, the Apparat’s network of underground tunnels and secrets fuel her ambition–using the mad Morozova’s lost notebooks, Alina is single-mindedly devoted to finding her third and final amplifier. If she can get to the firebird, if she can convince Mal to help her this one last time, she is sure she can kill the Darkling and destroy the Fold. But a growing part of her also knows that her hunger for power is no longer purely patriotic or born of a sense of duty–her desire to understand Morozova’s past and unlock her own power becomes an obsession. And Alina must ask herself: what is she willing to sacrifice, and for what real end?

Ruin and Rising is not an easy book. It’s not easy to start, knowing that Alina’s Grisha have been utterly decimated, their plans ruined. It’s also hard to see Alina broken and dissembling once more, unable to call the sun and feigning meekness to appease the Apparat. Since she didn’t have the good sense to be a martyred saint, the Apparat is single-mindedly focused on controlling her every move (in the hopes that she doesn’t ever recover her strength). In many ways, this is another another defining moment of the series—the way miracles of power are presented to a desperate population who knows only war and conflict; the way Alina’s sanctity is wielded as yet another weapon by powerful men with vested interests in the throne; the way Alina herself is inconsequential, when compared to the symbolic figure she may pose. Ravka has a sickness, rooted in the greed and power of the Fold–commoditizing and weaponizing of the Sun Summoner’s power and body is natural, even expected, leap.

It is because of this discomfort, this lack of easy answers, that makes Ruin and Rising so memorable. Unlike Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo is not afraid to go there in this third and ultimate volume in Alina’s story. While she begins the story as a dissembling waif, it’s no surprise that Alina is so utterly focused on finding the Firebird and unlocking the final amplifier to harness her power. In a world where even the most powerful Grisha is cajoled, manipulated, imprisoned, and intimidated, of course she yearns for power of her own and damn the consequences. I also very much love that the consequences are anything but inconsequential–when Alina finally learns what she must do to unlock her third and final amplifier, it is a powerful reckoning. There are a lot of things that I don’t like about Alina as a character (her penchant for self-pity and complaining, especially earlier on in the series), but at the end of book 2 and throughout this book, I admire her determination. Her arc is poignant and painful, and I appreciate how she grows up over the course of the trilogy.

But let’s get to the real star of this book: Prince Nikolai, who we are scared we will never see again after the events of Siege and Storm. Nikolai’s brand of confidence, strategic decision-making, and sheer audacity makes him one of my favorite characters in the entire Grishaverse–his return in Ruin and Rising and what he endures in this book have deep ramifications for the future of Ravka (and for any readers who are Team Nikolai). The other characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of the trilogy also play important roles in this final book, from Genya and David (their relationship is one of the few non-toxic ones in the entire trilogy), to Tamar and Nadia (I love them so much), and especially Zoya (whose attitude towards Alina has softened to the point where, by book’s end, Zoya and Alina count each other as true friends).

And of course, there is the ending. On that item, I will say simply this: Ruin and Rinsing is a perfect, epic ending that changes everything, and a bitter, sweet and fitting close to Alina and Mal’s stories. (And yes, even, the Darkling’s.)

I loved it. Absolutely recommended.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

The re-read continues next with Six of Crows (the first book in the Six of Crows duology)

Thea

Thea James is one half of the maniacal duo behind The Book Smugglers. She is Filipina-American, but grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Japan. A full-time book nerd who works in publishing for her day job, Thea currently resides in Astoria, Queens with her partner and rambunctious cat. COOKING FOR WIZARDS, WARRIORS & DRAGONS (available August 31, 2021) is her first cookbook.

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