Book Reviews

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo | Book Review

Book Cover

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.

Ana Kuya used to tell me that hope was tricky like water. Somehow it always found a way in.

It’s been about a week or so since I finished Ruin & Rising, and even now going over my notes to write this review, I still have many thoughts. Ruin & Rising is by far the best Shadow & Bone book. I have no hesitations rating it five stars, even though I was fairly lukewarm to the first book in this trilogy at best. It gives me faith and reminders that even if a series is so-so at the beginning, it can get better (and the better is SO GOOD).

So first, let’s talk about what I was very very wrong about. Part of this is due to me making assumptions before I started the series to begin with, based on what I was seeing in the fandom and how other readers have interpreted it. I fully expected Alina to abandon Mal and turn to the Darkling. I thought the Darkling would have a redemption arc and that Alina would be the main cause of it. If you read my Siege & Storm review, you know that from the beginning, I was skeptical about what the Darkling’s true intentions were. I was sure that there was something we didn’t know, and that piece of information would turn everything around and make Alina re-evaluate what she knew about him. Right up until the Darkling’s demise, I was sure that something like that was going to happen.

I was quite wrong. This whole review is just going to be me telling you what I definitely did not see coming.

However, I do want to say that I ALSO predicted that Mal was going to die. An excerpt from my Siege & Storm review:

Three, is Mal going to die? It feels like Mal has to be sacrificed to the cause.

– Erin, March 28, 2021

…and I wasn’t exactly wrong. He kind of was sacrificed, he just…came back to life? I also very much wanted Alina and Nikolai to get together, which obviously was not going to happen, so that was just wishful thinking. (Although, considering she calls him her “polished, brilliant, noble prince,” how can she not be in love with him? That is what I want to know.)

The writing in this was really really great compared to the first two books. There were many quotable moments that I made notes of.

After fools rage their battles, it is the rats that rule the fields and towns.

This is a very telling line, and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the book. I thought making the White Cathedral a haven while also keeping Alina a prisoner was really clever, although I do not understand why they were keeping Alina locked up if she is their saviour. How do they expect her to do any saving if she’s locked away under “protection”? I’ve also never hated a character as much as I do the Apparat, whom I despise with every sliver of hate in my soul. (Genuinely spent the whole book wishing someone would just do us all a favour and *accidentally* kill him.) However, this quote:

A man so obsessed with holy fire should pay more attention to the smoke.

was excellent.

The pacing of this book was also very very good. I don’t necessarily want to compare Ruin & Rising to the first two for the whole review, but I can’t help it. Before, I found this series to be a bit of a rollercoaster – slow and boring, and then everything happening at once. This time, I found it to be well-paced, and I never once felt myself bored or alternatively, overwhelmed. Perhaps that’s because it’s the last in the series and Leigh Bardugo has again just gotten better at telling this story. She’s more familiar, found her groove, and it genuinely feels like you are thrust into this world. I didn’t see nearly as many of the plot twists coming (actually, did I see any of them? Debatable). It just felt nice to read and not feel like it was obvious the way things were turning out.

I don’t love The Darkling, and after reading all three books, I have come to peace with that. I didn’t find him to be as cunning or clever or morally-grey as a lot of people see him, which is fine. I don’t need to love every character (anyway, Nikolai exists, so my heart lies elsewhere anyway). I don’t see the relationship between Alina and The Darkling as enemies-to-lovers really either, because they never actually get together, which frankly was the most shocking thing of this whole series. Part of me wonders that if I were to reread this knowing how it ends, I may be better equipped to see their relationship as it actually is, rather than just assuming I know how it turns out. I STILL don’t love Mal either, although at this point, I’m much more open to his and Alina’s relationship than I was at the beginning. He was boring in Shadow & Bone, irritating in Siege & Storm, and now I’ve just kind of accepted that he’s here and Alina’s choosing him. I GUESS. Their chemistry was three times better in this than in the first two books combined, at the very least. I did really like the twist at the end about his role in Alina’s existence as the Sun Summoner (look at me avoiding spoilers this one (1) time). Overall, I am still rather neutral towards Alina in general, so it’s fine with me that they end up together, saving children at their little school, pretending no one knows who they are, etc. etc. It feels very full circle for them and in that way, it feels right. Alina’s been through a lot, she deserves it.

I don’t reserve my friendship for perfect people.

I think a lot of the endings make sense for a lot of the characters, actually. I’m very happy with where Tolya and Tamar end up (although PLEASE give me more Tamar and Nadia). I thought it was a nice end for Ruby to become Alina’s body after her death as one last act of service. I loved that The Darkling died the same way Mal did – stabbed by Alina. I’m VERY excited and looking forward to the King of Scars duology. I need more Nikolai in my life and I need to know more about how the course of events in this book affected him (and now I understand why there are wings on the cover of King of Scars). I’ll tell you what else I also did not see coming – I’m officially obsessed with Zoya, which is great news.

Most importantly though, both Genya and David survive, AND Genya was pardoned, so really anything else good that happened was just icing on the cake. A lot happens in this book, there are many major plot points, and I’m sure I’m glossing over some. It was a great end to a pretty good trilogy. I’m already looking forward to when I decide to reread it in the future. The point is, I’m ready for the show in a week, and also Nikolai Lantsov is now one of my favourite characters of all time. It was a productive March, y’all.


Read my Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm reviews, too!

Leigh Bardugo

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