There were so many questions I had going into the last book: will Alina accept Nikolai’s proposal and become Queen of Ravka? Or will Alina and Mal set aside their grievances and find a way to be together? And perhaps the most important question: will she find a way to defeat the Darkling once and for all, or will she allow herself to be seduced by him and rule Ravka by his side?
The novel begins where it left off at the end of Siege and Storm: Alina and the other Grisha under her command are trapped in the underground church controlled by the fanatical Apparat, who has forced Alina into the position of ‘saint’ and the leader of the cult that has formed in her name. Because she is trapped underground, her sun powers are stunted and she is wasting away. Her rag-tag group of friends – who I consider the best feature of this novel – help her escape and restore her powers. Together, they make the perilous journey to find the last of the Morozova amplifiers, the firebird, so Alina can finally face and defeat the Darkling and his evil army.
The characters, especially the secondary ones, were perhaps the best part of Ruin and Rising. They really come into their own. The last few members of Alina’s army consist of: a brain-damaged pyromaniac and his cat, twin religious fanatics, a sassy and snobby Squaller, a redeemed traitor, her nerdy lover, and Mal. Zoya transforms quite a bit in this novel: she is just as bitchy and up-herself as usual, but this time she is focused and dedicated to herself and to what she believes is right. I love that about her. Although, my absolute favourite character was Harshaw – he was the cutest and the funniest of characters, and I just wanted to hug him and Oncat.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the novel was the Darkling’s complex personality. He and Alina are connected so we are given an exclusive look into his true personality: he is definitely power-hungry, but he is lonely, too, and just a boy. Like all human beings, he simply wants someone to love and to love him in return. He thinks he’s found that person in Alina, who, like he, is the only one of her kind. I wouldn’t necessarily say the Darkling loves Alina, but he does desire her and want her to belong to him. However, that is not love; that is wanting to control another person, which is why I grow mad when I see reviews criticizing the ending of Ruin and Rising, specifically who Alina ends up with. As much as it pains me to say it, the Darkling and Alina would not make a good couple. It would not be a healthy relationship; the Darkling is too obsessed with power and control to fully allow himself to love another. Despite this, I don’t hate him! Hell, I actually love the guy! And that, my friends, is the mark of an incredible writer, where the reader doesn’t even hate the bad guy. However, Alina deserves better than the Darkling. She deserves Mal.
Mal. Oh, Mal. Didn’t I say in my Siege and Storm review that I still loved him, even with most of the fandom hating on him? Well, look who’s laughing now. Mal really grows in this book: he matures and gives Alina the space she needs; he is no longer yelling at her, or pouting in the corner feeling sorry for himself. He becomes an active member of Alina’s army and many of the Grisha look to him when it comes to making the big decisions usually reserved for generals. His love for Alina just gets sweeter and more powerful each book. The sacrifices he is willing to make for her were gut-wrenching to read. I cried and cried during the last few chapters of the novel. I can’t say anything more without spoiling a massive plot twist, but be prepared to sob into your pillow.
The story progressed smoothly. I was a little disappointed that it did follow a similar storyline to the first two books – as in trying to find a Morozova amplifier – but that disappointment was thoroughly removed by the last quarter of the book. Every time you think you know where Bardugo’s story is going, she screws you over and effortlessly introduces a plot twist that seems to come out of nowhere. However, if you look back on the other novels, you’ll find that Bardugo had slowly been leading up to it all along.
Overall, I was very satisfied with the conclusion of the Grisha trilogy. I didn’t see the ending coming at all and was very glad that it did not go the way I thought it would, as in the clichéd YA fantasy heroine ending with the protagonist becoming Queen or something along those lines. Everything came together, every plotline had been resolved and even though I was an emotional mess, I felt as though the ending had done the series justice. Leigh Bardugo has concluded her original, beautiful triogy in a spectacular way. I can’t wait to delve into her new series that melds elements of the Grishaverse with a whole new storyline and fierce characters.
It’s been one hell of a ride, Bardugo. Thanks for the memories.