There is always a bittersweet feeling that accompanies the end of a trilogy and it is such a shame Ruin and Rising marks the final book of the Shadow and Bone series. However, as they say, all good things must come to an end. So without any further delay, let’s proceed with the book review of Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.
The book starts with Alina and her remaining Grisha being sheltered in an underground city by the Apparat and his followers where she is revered as a living saint. Everything seems grim for Alina. She is extremely weak after her recent battle with the Darkling and being underground prevents her from recovering as she has no exposure to sunlight. Additionally, the underground city is under the Apparat’s control who is intent on using her as a puppet.
However, with the help of Mal and the remaining Grisha who are loyal to her, Alina regains her powers. With her powers back, Alina intimidates the Apparat into letting her and her companions go. The group slowly finds their way towards the surface and on their journey, they realize that the Darkling had been orchestrating tunnel collapses as an attempt to find Alina. Once the group finds their way to the surface, they attempt to find Nikolai Lantsov. With Vasily dead, Nikolai is the only heir to the Ravkan throne. However, there are no clear trails of his whereabouts as he goes into hiding after the Darkling’s attack in Os Alta. Their search for Nikolai was unsuccessful and their group gets captured by Deserters from the First Army. Before they could be presented to the Darkling, Nikolai comes to the rescue. He saves the group and whisks them away to his secret hideout in the mountains.
In Nikolai’s hideout, Alina and her friends are reconnected with the Baghra and the Ravkan King and Queen. The King and Queen learn that Genya is part of their crew and they demand her to pay for her crime of poisoning the King. However, Genya reveals that she was frequently raped by the King and he would have never been poisoned if he did not rape her frequently. After hearing both sides, Nikolai banishes his father and informs Genya that she will have a hearing for the crime she has committed after they reclaim Os Alta from the Darkling.
Alina is reunited with Baghra and she learns that Baghra is the daughter of Morozova, a powerful Grisha who made the amplifiers. She also learns about the dark past of the older woman. Baghra then teaches Alina how to become stronger and under her tutelage, Alina learns to create a cut that can sunder mountains. Alina also tries to intimidate the Darkling using the telepathic link they shared.
During their stay in the hideout, Nikolai once again proposes marriage to Alina. Not out of love but because being married to her formed a powerful political alliance. Being mindful of the political role she has to play, Alina reluctantly agrees. Mal is unhappy about the decision but he eventually admits that he is unworthy of her.
The group creates plans to visit West Ravka to bolster support for Nikolai’s claim to the throne. However, this does not push through. The Darkling launches a surprise attack to the hideout with his army and transforms Nikolai into a nichevo’ya. Baghra tries to buy the group time to escape by using her power to attract the Darkling’s army of nichevo’ya to her. She then jumps off a cliff, forcing the monsters to follow her as she falls to her death.
Alina and the rest of the group were able to escape by getting onboard one of the airships. To conceal them from the enemy, Alina bends the light around the ship to keep them invisible. During the retreat, she briefly encounters Nikolai as a Nichevo’ya and she is convinced that he has managed to retain his humanity despite the transformation he has undergone.
The group lands on the mountainous border that splits Ravka and Shu Han. They divide into two groups. The first group is tasked to look for shelter and to care for the wounded. The second group tracks the Firebird. Alina, Mal, and the other Grishas within the second group spend several days searching for the Firebird and once they finally encounter it, Alina realizes that the bird was never the third amplifier. It was Mal. In order to save his second daughter, Morozova placed the power he intended for the Firebird into her, making her the third amplifier, and this power was passed down to her descendants. Alina is distraught because she refuses to kill Mal and they agree that she will kill him only if there was no other way for her to gain his power.
The Darkling reaches out to Alina telepathically. Alina learns from the Darkling that he is holding the Grisha children she sent to Keramzin for shelter as hostages. He further riles her by showing her the corpses of the three Grisha instructors she sent with the children, Botkin (The martial arts instructor) and Ana Kuya (The woman who headed the orphanage she grew up in) hanging from a tree. To rescue the Grisha children, Alina and her crew hatch a plan to ambush and have a final battle with the Darkling in the Fold.
To help them with the battle, Alina asks for support from the Soldat Sol (The military division of those who worship her as the living saint) and they arrive to help her fight. To ambush the Darkling, Alina uses her powers to keep them invisible and the skills of the Squallers to make their entry to the Fold soundless. It was momentarily successful but chaos ensues as the Darkling discovers their presence. Alina narrowly escapes him and she meets Mal while she is fleeing. He forces her to kill him and it releases his power as an amplifier. Alina becomes powerful and she creates her army of light by bestowing her abilities to the non-Grisha warriors on the field. However, in return, she loses her ability to summon sunlight, and the stag’s antlers and the sea fetter’s scale which were previously fused into her skin, detached. The Darkling manages to find Alina again in the darkness and they fight a final battle where she kills him using a Grisha dagger.
After the battle, the Grishas in Alina’s army were able to bring Mal back to life. It turns out that he had two lives because he was an amplifier. Mal and Alina both decided that they did not want the rest of Ravka to know that they were still alive. Their friends support their decision and staged their funeral and Ravka mourns the death of the Sun Summoner. Nikolai becomes king, Genya is pardoned and she becomes a member of the Grisha council. Mal and Alina return to their hometown and rebuilds the orphanage that the Darkling destroyed.
What I like about the series is that you have the opportunity to watch the characters grow. I liked how well Ruin and Rising showcased the character development of the main cast. From being a weak and insecure girl, you observe Alina transform into a woman who is capable of leading an army. Zoya changes from being an unlikeable character to someone who eventually begins to learn how to get along with other people. You also get to know about the silly quirks of minor characters such as David who loves books so much that he insisted on carrying all of Morozova’s journals that it almost led to his death when they were trying to flee from the Darkling or of Harshaw, the cat-loving Infernii who brings his pet cat wherever he goes- even if it involved hunting the Firebird. Sadly, you also observe how certain characters digress to the extent that they become a shadow of their former selves. I also like how the transformation of the characters is realistic. Even though they have grown since the first book, they still have some character flaws. Take Alina for example, even though Alina has grown considerably, she still pines over Mal and this is what makes the book unique- it provides a human touch to all of its characters by keeping their character development realistic.
I also liked how strong the bonds between Alina and her Grisha friends have grown. In the previous books, her discussions with them were very straightforward and it lacked friendly banter. In Ruin and Rising, her dialogues with the other Grisha are fun to read because of their playful and sometimes teasing exchange which occasionally amused me.
There is also some world expansion within Ruin and Rising. The reader is exposed to other cities as the quest of Alina and her crew takes you from the underground passages of Ravka that are brimming with gemstones, to the formidable, icy mountains in Fjerda and to the hostile lands of the Shu as the group hunts for the Firebird.
Ruin and Rising also provides the backstory of Baghra and the Darkling. Helping you to understand why they are who they are in the books.
As the last book of the series, I felt that the ending was rather rushed which led to a few plot holes. For instance, I find it strange how Alina never realized that Mal is an amplifier. Considering that she can feel the surge of power that an amplifier provides, it is odd that she never experienced this surge when they were still children, considering that she was able to suppress the amplifying technique that the Grisha examiner used on her.
The book also explains that the descendants of Morozova’s second daughter are amplifiers and it makes you question how both Baghra and the Darkling are amplifiers when they are not descendants of Morozova’s second daughter. Lastly, how Alina used Mal as an amplifier seemed to have broken the basic principle which all amplifiers within the book followed. That is, the user has to have a part of the amplifier with them. The previous books also noted that Morozova’s amplifiers had to be fused to the user. The stag was fused to Alina’s neck and the sea fetter’s scales were melded into her wrist. However, for Mal, this was not the case. She killed him and then she had access to his powers. Who knows, maybe it was his blood on her shirt when she killed him or maybe because they spent the night together before the battle? I have no idea but it baffles me how his ability to amplify is different from the others as it was not further detailed in the book. I also found it strange how they were able to resurrect him when this was considered as a forbidden form of Grisha magic and they did not have a powerful Healer within their crew, just skilled Heartrenders.
It’s such a shame that Baghra had to die but I think that her death was not necessary to save the group. The book shows that she can control the Darkling’s nichevo’ya. It is also stated that these creatures are extremely strong that they are unaffected by sabers and bullets. Baghra was already aware of these and that she was just providing a momentary distraction, so it baffles me why she jumped from the cliff and forced these creatures to jump off the cliff with her when she knew that the fall would only kill her but it would not kill the monsters. Who knows, perhaps she could have wrestled with her son to gain control of his army or have the creatures turn against each other?
Additionally, Ruin and Rising introduce a telepathic connection between Alina and the Darkling. I find it odd that the Darkling did not leverage this connection so that he could hunt down Alina from the very beginning considering that he previously used this power for his benefit in Seige and Storm.
Furthermore, the book delves into themes that not everyone may be comfortable reading about. It touches on rape but this was only mentioned in passing and not in graphic detail. Some of the crimes that the Darkling commits were rather brutal, however, these were not vividly described. It also touches on LGBTQ relationships, though I have nothing against these relationships, some readers may have reservations.
The Shadow and Bone trilogy has led its readers into an epic quest in a fictional world that is rich with detail and it is such a shame that the trilogy has come to an end. With its unique magical principles and interesting lore, I am more than happy to recommend the series for readers that are looking for a great fantasy book to read.
“You are stronger, wiser, infinite in experience but I am an apt pupil” – Alina in Ruin and RisingTweet
“You were meant for more than me, and I’ll die fighting to give it to you. But please don’t ask me to pretend that it’s easy”- Mal from Ruin and RisingTweet
“I don’t reserve my friendship for perfect people. And thank the saints neither does Alina.” Mal from Ruin and RisingTweet
“Beauty was your armor. Fragile stuff, all show. But what’s inside you? That’s steel. It’s brave and unbreakable. And it doesn’t need fixing.” David from Ruin and RisingTweet
“I am not ruined. I am a ruination.” Genya from Ruin and RisingTweet
“Suffering is cheap as clay and just as common. What matters is what each man makes of it.” Baghra from Ruin and RisingTweet
“A privateer learns to press any advntage. Princes get used to the word yes.” Nikolai from Ruin and RisingTweet
“I will strip away all that you know, all that you love until you have no shelter but mine.” The Darkling from Ruin and RisingTweet