”It’s not overselling if you deliver.”
I’m very reluctant to call the overselling but I also won’t go as far to say that this delivered.
And if I had a Lannister gold nickel every time I start my review with having conflicting feelings about a book, I’d be able to afford a new book to have conflicting feelings about.
That being said, I am very conflicted towards this book. On the one hand, I feel I should have at least re-read Siege and Storm before giddily diving into this. On another hand, I feel like that’s asking too much from the reader unless the books were released in close succession, if not simultaneously. If the story affected me well enough I should be able to enjoy the last book in a series on its own merits even after having read the last instalment a year and 250 books read ago.
Then on the other OTHER hand, when I started this series, I haven’t read enough YA-high fantasy books to compare with. So I can’t really tell if it’s a matter of evolving expectations or if its the book evolving away from my preferences. Unless of course I re-read the series again, which brings me back to hand number two.
I’ve gleaned from the way she writes that Bardugo had a very clear destination in mind for this series. And here, she proves me (and I expect, everyone) right. The last two, three chapters were very clear, powerful and well-defined that I got the sense everything in the book, maybe even the series, was written around those chapters. I had no problems with how this ended. My issue was how Alina, Mal and the Fellowship of the Bird got there from the Apparat's underground White Cathedral.
Ruin and Rising was a bit of a departure from the pace of the previous books. This starts off with a weakened Alina being used by The Apparat as a figurehead for the faithful devotees to worship. A Saint of shams and mirrors. With the help of Mal, her very own band of merry Grisha and some crafty manipulation on Alina's part, they managed to convince the Apparat to let them embark on the search for the last of Morozova's amplifiers and put a stop to The Darkling's crusade. After a Pit-stop to aweosmeness ofcourse.
One thing that niggled for quite a bit was that The Darkling's cause for doing all these heinous things seem to have taken a backseat in favor of that minefield of sexual tension and massively complex feels he had with Alina. Which was great. I mean, honestly every moment they use that Harry-Voldemorty connection juju thing was exquisitely delicious. But Alina just seemed to have taken precedence to everything The Darkling does. Whatever happened to his cause to free The Grisha from the bonds of servitude and exact revenge on their behalf against the persecuting Ravkans? It was such a vital dimension to the complexity of The Darkling's character that felt neglected here.
I was honestly far more interested in that character conflict than Alina's continuing issues of second guessing herself and her evident inability to pick which hat to put on: the savior Ravka needs? The Darkling's equal? Mal's object of over Emo-ing? We're on the third book, for fuck's sake! This would be expected in a middle book but not when you have four hundred pages to tie loose ends. It was frustrating to say the least, I kept drawing comparisons to Elisa, or Isaboe or Raisa. Sure they have moments of mooning and swooning but those bitches get things done! Alina, for the most part, felt a little lost for a concluding book.
He watches her the way Harshaw watches fire. Like he’ll never have enough of her. Like he’s trying to capture what he can before she’s gone.
Such lovely lovely sentiments for sure. But who's Harshaw again?
It was such a struggle remembering who was who among the secondary characters. Some, like Zoya, Genya and David, were quite memorable from the previous books but the rest was just a blur. It took me a while to realize that Harshaw was indeed a new character and I am not actually growing more senile by the page count. I am not sure I like seeing new characters get introduced in what feels like already overpopulated series. Even if he has a cat.
Zoya and Genya felt a little redundant when placed together in a scene, I couldn't remember Sergei, Adrik and Nadia for the life of me, and I really wanted to know what was the point of The Apparat in the end. Despite the banter being fun, this lack of economy in the use of characters made the chemistry of The Fellowship of the Bird feel forced, my investment for each character's outcome, save for David and Genya, non-existent and the impact of supposedly shocking twists, muffled.
Personally, Mal pulled no shocking twists in terms of character here. In the end, I was still fervently Team Anyone Else But Mal. I don’t think he’ll be able to redeem himself to me from his past stunts. And I know Leigh Bardugo TRIES SO HARD to make him the hero we root for. He gets his fair share of epic lines, he has the practically unbeatable Friends to Lovers Card up his sleeve and he gives these grand gestures of love that will easily make anyone swoon. Except I just end up laughing at that tattoo (sorry, Robin) and take his efforts to atone for past misdeed as selling me a drama I don’t want to buy.
I honestly can’t help but wonder if authors see characters such as The Darkling or from another universe, Javier Bernal, a blessing or a curse in their books. Sometimes I wonder if they ever regret making the villains so compelling and emotionally complex that the reader gravitates towards them better than the intended hero (who gets some second-hand hate).
Flawed as this book may be, I cannot deny that when this was good, this was exceptional. When Bardugo means to crush your heart, she does so with crippling force. She doesn’t do subtle. When she pulls the trigger, you know you’ve been had. She stirs images and themes that feels familiar, phantom pains that were altogether new and fresh, I saw shades of Raffe in everything Nikolai and that moment when The Darkling shows Alina Kremazin and whenever he asks Alina to speak his name, down to that very last moment, was truly heart wrenching. The moments when you want to look away to keep everything from happening even if you know it will happen anyway... those are the moments that will forbid you from ever forgetting these characters.
I thought the ending was executed beautifully my only disappointment is in how people can’t seem to rate this book objectively. I truly respect authors who stick to their guns, telling the story they’ve meant to tell without compromise and without catering to the whims of a temperamental audience.
Leigh Bardugo writes that her next book is set to be a heist within the Ravkan universe, about a band of misfits facing impossible odds with a hero that already begs some Han Allister comparisons from where I stand. I may not be fully satisfied with how Ruin and Rising was delivered, but I’d be lying if I told you this will be my last from this author.