‘Ruin and Rising’ (The Grisha #3) by Leigh Bardugo

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

‘They wanted a Grisha queen. Mal wanted a commoner queen. And what did I want? Peace for Ravka.’ 

If you haven’t read my reviews of previous installments of the Grisha trilogy, check out my thoughts on ‘Shadow and Bone’ and ‘Siege and Storm’!

Continuing on in my attempt to finish more series in 2016, it was finally time for me to read the third and final installment in the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Seeing as I’d hoped to read ‘Ruin and Rising’ the week after I finished ‘Siege and Storm’, way back in October? This is fairly overdue.
Picking up where we left off with the second book, we start ‘Ruin and Rising’ with Alina powerless and under the care of the Apparat in the White Cathedral, a huge underground cave. With Alina being the Sun Summoner? Underground = very bad. She’s desperate to get her powers back but can’t escape from the Apparat, so her friends come together with an ingenious scheme and poof! Powers returned. All within thirty pages.
This meant that the dramatic conclusion at the end of ‘Siege and Storm’ was a bit wasted, and with the entire blurb focusing on this section you think it’s going to take up more of the story, but it doesn’t. It’s over, it’s dealt with, and then we’re rushing off to another thing… Which then gets quickly dealt with. And then another thing which, you guessed it…
There’s an awful lot of stopping and starting in ‘Ruin and Rising’, mostly because there are an awful lot of coincidences and convenient happenings that allow the characters to change their plans. Straight away, Alina decides to take Mal and her merry band of Grisha (now made up of three Squallers, three Heartrenders, two Inferni and Materialniks David and Genya) to find Nikolai, the Ravkan prince who became a focal point during book two. So they set off on this journey, and they have no idea how they’re going to find Nikolai, when SHOCK HORROR! They’re attacked at their campsite by a militia group. Guess who then swoops in to save the day? Yep, in massive coincidence one, Nikolai arrives and the day is saved.
Of course, this changes their plan, because they no longer need to find Nikolai, so they move straight on to the important task at hand: hunting down the third amplifier, Morozova’s firebird. Well, at least they decide that Mal and some of the Grisha will go to find the firebird – Nikolai needs Alina to travel with him to West Ravka, so that he can cement the alliance that is forming between them.
But no, then the Darkling turns up and attacks them, transforms Nikolai into a clawed, winged beast, and Nikolai flies off into the sunset. No longer needing to split up, after discussing it for nearly two hundred pages and making extremely in-depth plans, the group all head off together (well, minus an Inferni, Stigg, who gets left behind in the fight with the Darkling) to do what they set out to do halfway through the previous book.
So, as well as all the stopping and starting, there’s an awful lot of doing not much at all. Because they kept talking about plans and then having their decisions forced by their opponents it meant that I was getting confused quite frequently: it seemed as though they finally settled on what they were going to do, then all of a sudden they’d be off doing something else… It was just very difficult to keep track with all that was going on.
However, this isn’t the only thing that really annoyed me about ‘Ruin and Rising’.
Firstly: turning Nikolai into a monster? Really? The first book was trying to set up a love triangle between Alina, Mal and the Darkling, then the second book added Nikolai in to make it more of a love square, and as soon as Nikolai established himself as the most palatable of the men courting her, he gets turned into a monster and is written off. It seemed like such a cheap and easy way out of what had become a feasible and emotionally complex situation, and I was very disappointed by that choice.
Secondly: making Mal the third amplifier? Completely obvious. I thought that was where it was going about halfway through ‘Siege and Storm’, I just sincerely wished that I was wrong. I thought the inner turmoil that Alina felt, debating with herself as to whether her relationship with Mal was honest or was just their power drawing them to each other, was well-written, but other than that it was just bland because it was so obvious.
I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with that second point if it had then been done brutally and realistically. Alina knows that the amplifiers need to die for her to harness their power, so she’s going to have to kill Mal: it means that all of their friends go into meltdown mode and are instantly brainstorming ideas of how to save his life. If his death means the safety and survival of the entire rest of Ravka, I’d sacrifice him straight away – it just didn’t seem like a logical or feasible response from the rest of them, especially seeing as most of them had disrespected Mal for being a mere human just days before.
But after all of the brainstorming, finding the perfect plan to let Mal survive, to then have Alina kill Mal… Just to have him miraculously revived pages later? Let’s not.
It’s a huge cop out! Tell me that that isn’t taking the easy way out? Leigh Bardugo could have had an extremely strong conclusion on her hands if she’d decided to do away with the destined to be together, happily ever after crap and had let Mal bleed out in the Fold. It would have been heartbreaking, yes, but it would have been a brave decision – it would have been super effective, and it would have made for a much more emotionally engaging closer, and a very strong way to stand out from the rest of the genre.
If I’m completely honest, I just didn’t feel anything through this book. Maybe it was the predictable resolution, maybe it was the eye-roll worthy romancing, but I felt a lot less invested in this story than I had previously. Characters died all over the place, but the majority of the characters (see: Stigg, Harshaw) had only been introduced in this final installment as pure cannon fodder, so their deaths were completely overlooked and didn’t engage me at all.
It was just too easy: the girl gets the boy, the good triumphs over evil… It’s every single cliche, wrapped up in one disappointing parcel.
I did enjoy parts of the book: the dialogue and interaction between the characters still makes me laugh out loud, and Leigh definitely has a talent with writing quick and witty banter. I loved getting to explore more of Ravka and the world that Leigh crafts: she has a beautiful skill for writing scenery, and while the endless walking montages through mountains did drag on a bit, the settings are so beautifully described that I really did feel absorbed by them.
Nikolai still stood out as the strongest character, too: his complexities are developed and he has so many layers that are unexplored that I can only hope for him to get a standalone novel of his own at some point in the future. But while Nikolai was the strongest character, the rest of the ensemble stood out too: Zoya, the bitchy Squaller who had been fighting with Alina from day one, finally got some development and a personality; Genya, who was horrifically scarred during a confrontation with the Darkling, showed her insecurities and became one of the most endearing characters; Harshaw, a new introduction, had arsonist tendencies but loved his stray cat, Oncat, more than anything else. They were all so different and endearing, standing out and making the book much more enjoyable, that I just really wish one of them could have been the protagonist. I just didn’t get on with Alina.
I will admit that I liked how the conclusion was written, even if I didn’t like the way that the story got to that point. Alina and Mal getting married, taking over the running of the orphanage where they’d met and living happily ever after – it was cliched, but the writing was genuinely emotive and pulled at the heartstrings.
If you’re looking to read a trilogy with a satisfying ending, I wouldn’t suggest this one… Unless you really like cliches on your cereal. It’s so quintessentially YA that it couldn’t be any more YA – in fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a film already. But if you’re looking for a trilogy that’s a bit soppy and has a happy ending, go ahead – the Grisha trilogy is just made for you.