Author: Leigh Bardugo
Published: June 17, 2014
Length: 422 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780805094619
Trade Paperback ISBN: 9781250063168
Weakened by her last encounter with the Darkling as he laid siege to the capital of Ravka, Alina and her people work to escape from the underground and the holy armies of the Apparat so that they can seek out the final amplifier. Alina knows the Firebird is out there and her drive to find it and claim its power once scared her, but now she knows it’s the only way to defeat the Darkling once and for all. With Mal still by her side – though their relationship has changed because of the future they both know Alina will have – they must stay ahead of the Darkling long enough to find their allies, complete the set of amplifiers, and destroy the Unsea once and for all.
There is a pattern I have noticed in a lot of trilogies where the third novel places the protagonist in a position of weakness from which they must rise to defeat their adversaries. This can be very effective at raising the stakes, showing that the character has more to overcome than ever before in the final book. Unfortunately, this can also lead the protagonist becoming stuck or trapped in a position where the plot seems to be happening somewhere else or just stagnating. Ruin and Rising does not feel like it suffers from this problem, but it also feels like nothing very much is happening for long stretches of the novel. Alina traverses Ravka, makes moves in her battle with the Darkling, but occasionally I found myself realizing that I’d read entire chapters that revolved around a single conversation or that Alina had basically traded one static location where she prepared to do something for another. Thankfully, enough does happen to keep the momentum moving and it manages to happen right when its most needed.
What Ruin and Rising does particularly well, something that I felt was a little lacking in the first two novels, is flesh out the world outside of the events transpiring in the book. Little moments where Alina considers ruins, notices architecture, and considers the history of Ravka help to give the impression that Ravka has a long history and will have a history after the events of this novel. The world gains a new level of depth when you realize that not everything Alina encounters in her world is directly linked to what she’s doing at that moment. This little detail made it feel like Ruin and Rising was the most fantastical of the series.
The character development in Ruin and Rising also comes across as the most mature of the series. While there is still drama between her and Mal, her and the Darkling, or her and Nikolai, it feels as though it has shed the melodramatic baby fat of the previous books. There is emotional tension, but it is an understandable product of the character’s feelings and their circumstances. Mal has also matured; I liked Mal more in this novel than I did in either of the previous two. Even the Darkling has some new and compelling character moments, fulfilling the unspoken promise that these characters had the depth to offer up new layers and surprises for three books.
Ruin and Rising decides to tighten its focus and have the final confrontations of the series be between the characters. There is nothing wrong with it being a character driven narrative. But I can’t help but be disappointed that the scale of events in Ruin and Rising always felt diminished from what I expected and wanted. Considering the centuries old conflict coming to its resolution in this novel, I was hoping for a grander sequence of events. For a fantasy novel, I was hoping for the fantastic to play a bigger role. But it always felt toned down and less than it could have been. I understand the decision – I even respect the decision and agree with it on some level – but I wanted more Lord of the RIngs from the final book of the Grisha trilogy.