Ruin and Rising: A satisfying end to an engrossing story

Ruin and Rising by Leigh BardugoRuin and Rising by Leigh BardugoRuin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The third and final instalment in Leigh Bardugo‘s GRISHA trilogy was far more rewarding than I had ever anticipated. Though I liked the first book Shadow and Bone and really liked the sequel Siege and Storm, it was Ruin and Rising that I truly loved.

It’s difficult to summarize the finale of any book series without giving away details of its predecessors, but here goes – Alina Starkov is a Sun Summoner; a very rare Grisha that can conjure light out of nothing, a skill that’s highly prized considering the country of Ravka is divided by a terrible darkness known as the Shadow Fold. But her abilities also make her a valuable commodity, and everyone from the royal family to the renegade Grisha to the humble commoners look to her as a saviour of one kind or another.

Being revered as a saint or propositioned as a potential queen are things that Alina finds rather appalling; she just wants to secure the safety of her loved ones (namely, her beloved Malyen Oretsev) and destroy the Shadow Fold that threatens the lives of so many. As the Darkling gathers his forces and consolidates his hold over Ravka, Alina knows that she has to claim the third and final amplifier – the life of the magnificent Firebird – to increase her powers and make her an equal match for the Darkling.

With a small band of loyal friends and followers, Alina sets out for her best bet on where the Firebird is to be found, knowing that the longer she takes, the greater the threat from the Darkling grows. Her journey requires her to delve deep into her own past and the history of the Grisha, leading to several surprising twists.

From the underground caves of the White Cathedral to the heights of the Cera Huo Mountains, Bardugo has created a world based on tsarist Russia that’s filled with its own unique geography, culture and history. Her world-building is exemplary, and it’s her clarity of prose and eye for detail that bring it so vividly to life. The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Take this for example, a cavern that Alina passes through during an underground journey:

Then there was the eerie, partially submerged iron portcullis we called the Angelgate. It was flanked by two winged stone figures, their heads bent, their hands resting on marble broadswords. The winch worked and we passed through it without incident, but why had it been put there? And why? 

We never find out or even revisit the location again, but it’s a haunting passage among many in Ruin and Rising that lends depth and weight to the world Alina inhabits.

I’m usually not fond of first-person narration, but Alina has a clear and sympathetic voice that carries the reader through the book’s events without sacrificing its sense of suspense, or depicting the other characters with an overly biased point-of-view. Indeed, the supporting cast is given enough characterization to make you invested in their survival, from the charismatic and razor-sharp Nikolai, to the unnerving Harshaw (who believes he can communicate with his cat), to the unpleasant Zoya who demonstrates loyalty despite her attitude problems. Each one is given a chance to shine, even if it’s just in sharing an anecdote from their past, and each one feels like a fully-realized person regardless of how much “screen time” they’re given.

Of course, Bardugo lets the characters find their way through the challenges and restrictions she’s set up for them, but the emotional and physical toll that’s inflicted means their ending feels deserved. More than anything else, this is a war story, and Bardugo knows that victory comes with a hefty price.

All this makes Ruin and Rising a rewarding read, one that ticks the three necessary boxes of any fantasy novel: strong characters, intriguing plot and fascinating world-building, all working in accord to produce a fantastic trilogy.

Published in 2014. The Grishaverse will be coming to Netflix soon with Shadow and Bone, an original series! Enter the Grishaverse with Book Three of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy by the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Soldier. Summoner. Saint.The nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army. The Darkling rules from his shadow throne while a weakened Alina Starkov recovers from their battle under the dubious protection of the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Now her hopes lie with the magic of a long-vanished ancient creature and the chance that an outlaw prince still survives. As her allies and enemies race toward war, only Alina stands between her country and a rising tide of darkness that could destroy the world. To win this fight, she must seize a legend’s power—but claiming the firebird may be her ruin.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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