***WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS SLIGHTLY SLIGHTLY SLIGHTLY SPOILERY***
Let’s start this show off by dealing with the creepy Rasputin-priest-Asparant situation. Oh my goodness, I do NOT know about the rest of you but I was so ready to be done with him by the time this book started. He is absolutely horrid and unbearable, which, of course, means that he’s been written and rendered perfectly for the Rasputin-parallel he draws into focus (or at least, that’s how I’ve seen him from the start). I’m glad this book didn’t keep him in the forefront for too long, instead bringing him in at the perfect moments to ruin your good mood. He’s slipperier than a dead fish (and not nearly half as pleasant).
Of course, I probably should have actually started with Alina. Man, does she develop in this book! This is probably her strongest book, though I think her development was set up nicely throughout Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm. But this is the book where stuff really hits the fan, and the strain on Alina takes its toll in full force. This is the book where I felt her character is fully flushed out – I understood her so well that I felt at times I was her. I began to think like her, and I felt like this strong connection allowed me to understand her choices and follow her logic so that as the plot thickened I kept up and felt good about what was going on (there were no “plot cop outs” in this book, at least in my estimation).
And Genya! Oh my goodness, how I freaking LOVE this newer, “ruined and ruinous” version of Genya. It’s like she’s been reborn. I have to say, without giving away anything, that I fell in love with her the second she stood before the king. I know I probably shouldn’t feel that way, since what she did was pretty freaking awful, but come on! It was also pretty freaking awesome, and I couldn’t help but feel like spitting in his face myself, just for good measure. He really did get what he deserved.
Then there’s Baghra. The woman with so many secrets. I’ve always had a soft spot for her, and I think she shines brightest – like so many of the characters – in Ruin and Rising. It’s good for everyone to have someone around to keep them humble (and people as powerful as Alina probably need two or three), and Baghra is just so good at that. She literally does not care when anyone accomplishes anything, and she can cut you down to size with a few well-chosen words. Plus, this book really fleshes out her servant-boy, Misha, and I think the two of them make a killer (and hilarious) pair.
Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to get spoilery, but I can’t hold it in anymore. OH MY GOODNESS WHAT THE EFF DARKLING, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO NIKOLAI?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!? HOW COULD YOU HOW COULD YOU HOW FREAKING COULD YOU?!?!?! Oh, I guess that wasn’t that spoilery, but I came pretty close. Whew. It feels good to get that off of my chest. In all seriousness, I, like many other readers, have a pretty great love-hate relationship with The Darkling, and I’m usually pretty excited to see what he’ll do next (he’s a pretty awesome villain to have around complicating everything with his quick wit, glorious evil good looks, and backstory shrouded in mystery and intrigue). But what he did to Nikolai… I don’t know if I can ever really forgive him for that. That was heart wrenching. He couldn’t have torn me in two faster if he were an actual heartrender instead of The Darkling. I really could not handle it.
One thing I did love about The Darkling in this book is how much of that yummy backstory we get. I think it’s great (and true to life) that Bardugo paints The Darkling as someone who is both evil and tragic and idealistic and messed-up and about a hundred other things all at once.
“How could he be so cruel and still so human?”
Spot on, Alina, spot on. It was gut-shattering to see The Darkling’s past unfold and be brought into the harsh realities of why he is the way he is, but it was also realistic. People are rarely as black and white as we want them to be. The Darkling had vulnerabilities and even a few traits I would describe as hesitantly good, but in the end he made bad choices that led to his own downfall (and I’m not just referring to his fate here, I’m talking the downfall of his morality and his own core of goodness). He destroyed himself piece by piece, and as much as you want to blame him and him alone much of the time, there are so many indicators that it’s not entirely his fault that he ended up the way he is. There are so many factors that go into making a person who they are, and he’s no different (though at times that’s easy to forget when you want to stab him in the eyes and then the heart for all the horrific things he’s done).
And say what you will, but I liked how dark this book – really, this whole series – was. It’s gritty and there are real things at stake, and that means a lot of good people die. Not everyone gets what they deserve. And sure, there was still a certain amount of protagonist protection going on (but, seriously, who actually wants their favorite characters or their beloved creations to die – you know, besides, GRRM), but I think it’s safe to say that most readers prefer death and loss of second-tier characters, or, at most, we’ll tolerate one main character per series (I’m looking at you, John Green). She does a great job of amping up the tension and anticipation, and making sure that by the final moments you have no idea who is going to live or die anymore. That’s beautiful (even though it’s also, in the moment, pretty infuriating).
Basically, this book was perfect. Seriously, if I thought Siege and Storm was a 5 star book, then Ruin and Rising is like a 15 star book. It’s that good. The plot is well-planned, with no gaping holes, and it’s a climax that doesn’t leave you rolling your eyes over how predictable and dumb this point or that point was. Plus, it’s just genuinely thrilling, and I thought the ending was absolutely PERFECT. I want to curl up and live in that ever after.
If you haven’t already started the Grisha Trilogy then consider this your last warning: you MUST read these books. Don’t be like me, constantly pushing them further down your wishlist. Go forth and read, read, read, because these books are freaking wonderful.
On a side note, do the Volcra remind anyone else of fellbeasts (the Nazgul’s flying steeds) in Lord of the Rings?