Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Thursday, July 3, 2014 5:16 PM
Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Published: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Series: The Grisha #3
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 417
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3.5 stars
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*Warning: This book review contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm*
“I wanted to believe anything so that I wouldn’t have to face the future alone. The problem with wanting is that it makes us weak.”
― Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising

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. (Goodreads)
My Thoughts
First off, let me apologize because this is a really long review, and probably longer than any of my others. But I had so many feelings and emotions that I needed to express, and they all just poured out when I started writing this review. So here we go...

Ruin and Rising is both an uplifting but also heartrending finish to a wonderful trilogy. It is a dark read, filled with suffering and loss, leaving the reader gutted from all of the powerful emotions it evokes. Yet scattered throughout are small sunbursts of hope and longing for a new age, a new Ravka. Alina, the Sun Summoner and our protagonist, brings the promise of this new age with a power that dispels the spreading darkness and despair. Yet the reader is left heartbroken with each new obstacle that hinders her quest and with every loss that she must endure. From start to finish, I found myself racing through the pages, eagerly anticipating the grand finale, only to be disappointed in what I found. Ruin and Rising is just as beautifully written as Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, but at the same time, it left me wanting more, longing for a more satisfying conclusion.

Once again, I am in awe of Bardugo’s writing skills, rendered speechless by her lovely prose. Even when I wasn’t thrilled with what was happening in Ruin and Rising, I still couldn’t help but admire the beautiful writing. Bardugo truly is a master of words, and I fell in love with her writing all over again, along with the fantasy world she has created. Ravka is only a shadow of its former self, shattered to pieces by war and clinging to the hope of a Sun Summoner, a girl that may or may not be a saint. The Darkling finally sits on the throne he’s been lusting after for generations, and the country is plagued by constant fear, as First Army deserters and wandering pilgrims join the Sun Summoner’s flock of devout followers. 

Even as it’s shrouded with darkness, there are still parts of Ravka that remain untouched by the Darkling’s forces and by the war raging in other areas. As Alina and her companions travel in search of the firebird, the last amplifier and perhaps Alina’s only hope for beating the Darkling, they find themselves in wild, uninhabited areas where they can still witness an unbroken Ravka, an ancient Ravka filled with wonders. It is these small glimpses of an unscarred world that allow me to see just how beautiful this country could be if Alina succeeds in her quest. It is also these scenes that make me love this series all the more.

As for the characters, I was eager to meet all of them again in Ruin and Rising, even the Darkling. I anxiously awaited their reappearance, and I rejoiced in seeing them again, as I would for an old, dear friend. I love all of the wonderful, loyal secondary characters. These are the dear friends Alina has made and that stay by her side throughout it all, like Tamar, Tolya, Genya and David. Even Zoya has emerged as a trustworthy companion, and while she may not be a close friend of Alina’s, they seem to have formed a shaky but dependable alliance in Ruin and Rising. As for the character I was most anxious to see again, Nikolai was full of charm as always. I was entertained by his quick wit, and I loved the much-needed levity he brings to a mostly grim tale. When Alina doubts herself, when she fails to see how the Darkling and her drastically differ, in both values and goals, it is these characters that remind her that she is a good person. They show her that despite temptation, she always chooses the right way instead of the easy way. I think that Alina could never have come so far if it wasn't for these amazing friends, who believe in her throughout the trials she faces. 

And then, of course, there were Mal and Alina. I so badly wanted to see these two resolve their issues and get back together, and I enjoyed the sexual tension that radiated between these two throughout Ruin and Rising. There were many different paths that Alina could have taken, and three romantic interests she could have chosen from, but in all honesty, I think Mal is her wisest choice and where her heart truly lies. He balances her, keeps her grounded in reality, and he reminds her of her roots and the girl she once was and can still be. Both Nikolai and the Darkling offer her power in entirely different ways, but Mal offers her something so much more precious: true and uncomplicated love, well, as uncomplicated as love can be.

Then there is the Darkling. I should despise him, as he has committed so many heinous crimes, and seems to feel no sorrow for his nefarious ways. Yet, I find myself sympathizing with him, as more of his past is revealed. He is alone in the world; until Alina, he was the only Grisha that possessed his kind of powers. Well, besides Baghra. He believes in his cause, not realizing how wrong and misguided he really is. The Darkling doesn't make many appearances in Ruin and Rising, more there in name than in actual blood and flesh. But his presence is still strongly felt, as his corruption and darkness cuts through Ravka. He is a wonderfully developed villain, and I rather enjoyed finding out his weaknesses, and who the Darkling truly is underneath his armor.

Despite my unbridled love for the setting and the characters, I can’t help but feel that Ruin and Rising had so much unmet potential. True, it sets a breakneck pace from the very start, and I was never bored or tempted to put down the book. I still loved all of the characters because I had come to know them and adore them in the previous installments, but I felt like they could have evolved more than they did. There was plenty of action, but at the loss of the rich character development that we saw in the previous books, and Nikolai suffers the most. Yes, he offered his usual witty banter, but I was left craving more of him and what lay beneath his sarcastic veneer. All of the characters fascinated me, and I couldn’t help feeling cheated that more of their characteristics and backstory weren’t revealed. Although we did learn so much more about Baghra’s past, and the Darkling’s, and that was rewarding. Perhaps, this story wasn't meant to reveal so much of their past, as it focuses on Alina, but I couldn't help feeling like it was incomplete and I longed for more detail.

Along with my craving for more character development, there was that ending. The ending left me feeling ambivalent about Ruin and Rising, and it started to eat away at all of the good feelings I had up until that point. Simply put, and this may be harsh, but I feel like the ending cheapened the entire series. I can't reveal all of the reasons why I disliked this ending without spoiling the plot, but I suspect that this ending served as a crowd pleaser. Yes, I can understand the reasoning behind writing a conclusion that will appease the readers, but I don't agree with it (just as I didn't with Clockwork Princess). The ending was a copout, and I think it could have been done so much better. Especially since some of the dialogue seemed unoriginal, and I was just so disappointed. After all of this, after everything Alina and her friends have faced, this is what we've been working up to? It just fell flat for me, and I was expecting more of a shocking, mind blowing ending.

Overall, Ruin and Rising was an enjoyable read, but it can't hold a candle to the earlier books. Maybe, I went into this book with too high of expectations, and I was setting myself up for disappointment. Either way, I am sad to see a favorite series come to an end, and I would still recommend it to anyone who's looking for some good fantasy. I will end this review on a positive note, and say the epilogue left me teary eyed and nostalgic for the days when I was first picking up Shadow and Bone, unaware of what was in store for me and how much I would come to love this series.


  1. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the ending, Courtney! I absolutely LOVED the epilogue, but I'm such a sucker for Mal and Alina so...yeah. ;) I do agree, though, that this book contained unmet potential since all the action and constant plot sequences essentially took away from deeper characterization. Like you, I felt that so sharply with Nikolai's character and missed seeing more of a difficult character path for Alina the way we had in Siege & Storm. Still, this managed to be such a rewarding trilogy all throughout and I can't complain about this in the least. Lovely review, Courtney--I hope Bardugo's next trilogy works out even better for you! :)

  2. I found this book to be very satisfying, so I'm sorry to read that you weren't as happy with it! I understand some of your points though - definitely more development for Nikolai would have been fantastic. He is one of my very favorite characters. I'm sure it was hard for Leigh to wrap up such a big series with so many potential outcomes, but I was pretty happy with how all the characters ended up thankfully. It was interesting to read your review, and I loved your final comments in the end! It is pretty melancholy to come to the end of a great series!


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