Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising 
Author: Leigh Bardugo 
Series: The Grisha #3 
Genre: Fantasy, YA 
Publication date: June 17, 2014 
Rating: ★★★★ 

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.

In this moment he was just a boy -brilliant, blessed with too much power, burdened by eternity.

I’m wondering if maybe my four-star rating of this series is too optimistic. I didn’t love this the way I hoped I would. It wasn’t bad and it had a ton of wonderful ingredients but somehow the end product is too average. Not what I had expected from it at all. The fourth star I gave Ruin and Rising is entirely for the ending. Take away the last eighty pages and it definitely wouldn’t have deserved this high a rating. 

The start of the book was plain boring. And that beginning was about one third of the book so it was pretty problematic. It starts with Alina being the apparat’s prisoner, living underground with a bunch of devoted lunatics who think she’s a saint. I just really didn’t care. The apparat is a creeper, but that’s about all I felt back then. I really had to push myself through those initial chapters. They were just that dull.

And there’s also the case of Alina. I didn’t like her in the first book, I thought she was a bit better in the second one… Now I think I’ve realized what it is that has been bothering me all along. I am just completely, 100% unimpressed by her. She’s supposedly the second most powerful Grisha in the entire world but what did she ever do to deserve that title? Either people thought she was a saint or they wanted to marry her. Why? She was honestly not that special. Her sun-summoning powers are mediocre. The only thing remotely cool about it is that no one else can do it. There are heartrenders, Grisha who can summon fire, heal, change appearances, the Darkling can cloud the world in darkness and create shadows and Alina can.. blind people with sunlight. Yawn. Sure, it’s necessary to save the fold and blabla, but I just don’t like this power. It’s not exciting or dramatic it’s just… unimpressive. And she always needed others to tell her what to do. I also realized that the moments I did somehow like her, it was always because she was in the company of someone I genuinely liked. Like Bagra, or the Darkling, or Nikolai.

Mal then. Common, human Mal. It had been said so many times that I knew there just had to be something more to him. I was not disappointed. He turned out to be a lot less average than people thought he was. If anything, Mal’s the one that grew on me in the end. He was a lot easier to relate to in this third installment and I was not as indifferent towards him as before. I might even carefully admit to liking him a bit.

Not that he had anything on Nikolai. The book only started getting interesting the moment he showed up. I went from bored to excited in a matter of sentences. I love him. He is the best character in this series - it wouldn’t stand a chance without him. He was not as constantly present as I would have liked him to be. His absence was painful every time. I admired his humor, his wit, his ability to adapt in difficult situations and his leading skills. I didn’t really get that he kept pining for Alina when he deserved someone who was so much better, but okay..

The Darkling was as great a character as before even though I hated just how little we got to see of him. He is my favourite kind of villain. The kind that struggles, the one that still feels he’s trying to do something good, the kind that is lonely and desperate for attention, suffering… I liked the way his part was handled. Ravka had to be saved from him, but the situation was a grey zone. I loved how Alina still seemed to care about him even though she knew he had to be stopped. I’m going to miss him.

Maybe love was superstition, a prayer we said to keep the truth of loneliness at bay.

Overall the end was the best part. I didn’t think Alina would have the guts to do what had to be done to save Ravka. I was surprised when she showed determination at last and did the most cruel thing possible because it would save the people. I was annoyed when her sacrifice miraculously got undone though. I always hate that kind of thing, so it’s nothing personal. I just can’t stand it when someone loses something really precious and you grief, only to suddenly have it return to you anyway. A sacrifice is a sacrifice and should not be reversed. But everything else was really enjoyable. The melancholic vibe of the aftermath, the future Alina shapes for herself, the path she chooses… It was beautiful. And it made the book worth of a fourth star after all.

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

When I look back on the entire trilogy, I’m not exactly sure what to say. I definitely liked it, but not sure if I also loved it. I think Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows series has a lot more potential and has characters that are infinitely more likable (if not as ‘good’ as the ones in this series).

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