Title: Ruin & Rising (The Grisha, #3)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Rating: 4 Stars
As a die-hard fan of this series from its nascence, Ruin & Rising became one of my most anticipated titles of the year shortly after closing the last page of Siege & Storm. Unlike many readers, I found the sequel to Shadow & Bone to be even stronger, darker, and more complex than Bardugo's first installment and, with this finale, was expecting all that and more, only on a grander scale. Yet, though Ruin & Rising may lack the grand, epic sensation of a finale, it in no way disappoints.
Ruin & Rising starts up where Siege & Storm left us--with Alina in the hands of the Apparat, severely wounded and unable to reach her powers. From the first page itself, Bardugo sets this finale at a breakneck pace, propelling the plot to the final quest we know Alina must take: tracking down the last amplifier. For me, the plot didn't truly captivate until the last third when a huge plot twist is revealed. From that moment on, Bardugo simply outdid herself. While I appreciated the intricate plot threads in the beginning, everything came together towards the end--plot, complex characterization, romance, and depth. I was, however, disappointed that the beginning of this story felt too easy. Bardugo made the executive decision to focus on the plot, which meant that the story progressed quickly but the character relationships felt far too easy. At the end of Siege & Storm I truly despaired for Alina because of the position she found herself in--primarily alone. I had little hope that she would be able to quickly bridge the separations that had built between herself and a number of other characters, so the relative ease at which this story picks up in regard to the friendships in this story felt too simple to truly deliver the type of arc and growth I wanted to see.
Nevertheless, the true strength of this finale lies in the secondary characters. Where Siege & Storm went deep into Alina's psyche, particularly her struggle between her newfound powers and her morality, Ruin & Rising focuses on the people around Alina to define who she is becoming. While we see, through our own eyes, just how different Alina is from the Darkling, coming from the perspective of her friends it is even more compelling, simply because it is small instances--the respect with with she treats others, really--that set her apart from the villain of this tale. Moreover, characters such as Baghra and Genya truly come alive in this tale; the former because her backstory is finally revealed in spectacular fashion and the latter because she finally stands up for herself against the hand fate has dealt her all along. What's more, this focus on the secondary characters allows Alina to forge deeper friendships, all while taking care to recognize who among her followers is truly loyal to her.
Nikolai, a character I eagerly anticipated getting to know on a more personal level, is both a delight and a disappoint in this installment. In Siege & Storm we saw very little behind the veneer of sarcasm and light humor he puts forth to the world and while we are given an even larger glimpse behind his mask in Ruin & Rising, it wasn't quite enough to satisfy completely. Nevertheless, despite that drawback, the few instances where we do get to see Nikolai are transparently revealing. Now, so close to the end, Ravka needs a new ruler; one who will truly do the best for the country, not for himself. Nikolai proves himself to be a capable and fair king, one who will lift Ravka from the poverty and injustice which has seeped into its pores. What's more, a strange twist of circumstances find Nikolai unexpectedly showcasing his vulnerabilities and the loneliness he experiences is all too raw. In fact, I desperately want at least a novella that explores Nikolai's transformation at the end of this novel. I found his story arc to be one of the most compelling of the series and would love to keep peeling back the layers to this prince. I have a feeling there is just so much more left to him than we could even begin to imagine.
The Darkling, however, is the character whose final arc I was most pleased with. Over the course of Ruin & Rising, Bardugo builds up the Darkling's past side-by-side with his present-day activities. While there is no denying his actions are cruel, there is also no denying that the rumors of his evilness are significantly darker than the reality. It is difficult to trace the full complexity of this storyline as it pertains to the Darkling, but his humanization in Ruin & Rising felt both heart-breaking and true. Looking back, it is clear that Bardugo had the Darkling's path planned from the beginning as his presence in Ruin & Rising is sparse, but combined with his past influence on Alina, his ending is one that cannot be forgotten.
In fact, I found the entire conclusion of this story to be perfect. In a strange twist of fate, I even loved the epilogue to pieces--practically unheard of as epilogues so rarely work in a series. Yet, Bardugo crafted this ending in such a way that it managed to be both surprising, revealing in last-minute character depths, and equalizing. Of most importance, to me, was the fact that the final third of this novel created much-needed tension between Alina and Mal and their romantic arc was every bit as swoon-worthy as I hoped it would become. Siege & Storm truly pushed their characters beyond the limit, but the strength required to cope with and face a difficult destiny is conveyed so subtly, but strongly, in this finale. Ruin & Rising is, by no means, a perfect conclusion but the strength of its ending and the sheer rightness of its conclusion--it really couldn't have ended any other way--made up for the gaps in depth during the first half of this story. Like Laini Taylor's Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Ruin & Rising has done little to satiate my thirst for Leigh Bardugo; her next novel simply cannot come quickly enough!
You can enter to win a copy of Ruin & Rising HERE.