Culture, magic, and political infighting make this epic fantasy shine bright.
Genre: YA, Fantasy
No. of pages: 422
The capital has fallen.
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
The finale for a trilogy set in a fantastical Russia where protagonist Alina is going to have to test all that she is capable of to defeat the evil power-hungry Darkling and his supernatural army. I’m not a huge fantasy reader, and it has taken me a while to get to read these novels, but I have to admit, the debut, ‘Shadow and Bone’ drew me in to the world of the Sun Summoner (Alina) and an army of preternaturally gifted soldiers (Grisha.) The world building in this series, from the landscape, to the magic system, and the political manoeuvring was done so expertly it’s easy to see why so many readers rave about this series.
I have to admit, I purchased all the books in this trilogy as they were released, but it took the airing of the television adaptation for me to quickly pick up the books and explore the world in written form before allowing myself to watch the show. And the television series is definitely one of my top five adaptations of all time. I hope subsequent seasons continue to live up to the high standard it has set for itself and don’t stray too far from the original source material. (As there has been some departure from the original concept, but it seems to be for the better.)
Admittedly ‘Rage and Ruin’ felt like it took a bit to warm up and get the story moving forward. It also felt a bit busy. There were a lot of elements and arcs, political movements that bogged down the pacing. It wasn’t until the last third of the book before the plot really took its stride.
There is a lot of carnage… but there did not feel like there were a lot of repercussions and dealing with the loss, instead pushing it aside to wrap up the trilogy nicely. I see this quite regularly in YA and fantasy, and I understand why – you don’t want to get side-tracked with heavy emotion and change the tone of the story; but, I think valuable character development and motivation can be overlooked because of this. And endings can be bittersweet, impactful, when you celebrate both victory and loss at the same time.
There was a good twist in the concluding pages, but besides that I didn’t get any surprises from the plot. The previous two novels were so good with swaying predictability in a way ‘Ruin and Rising’ didn’t. I also wanted some more exploration about the theme of power and corruption – it felt like it got built up and then magically went away. It has been such a strong theme throughout the trilogy, and I was left wanting a more resounding conclusion. As a result, the ending felt slightly (teensy-weensy) anticlimactic.
I don’t feel like Alina or love interest Mal had a lot of character development for ‘Ruin and Rising,’ but rather faced bigger challenges to pit against their morals, their connection, and their love for the country Ravka. All of the character development was done in the prequels, in this finale it was about putting all they have learned on the line – for themselves, and the rest of the country.
Leigh Bardugo can paint such a rich tapestry in world building and culture, creating political factions and armies, and builds a diverse cast of characters. Even though the novel is told in first-person narrative from Alina’s point of view, it is not hard to pick the voice of other characters without a label to identify them. I think that is a pretty amazing feat and shows just how honed Bardugo’s writing style and craft is.
I’d definitely recommend this trilogy and have already purchased the rest of the series set in this universe – Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars series – as I have fallen in love with the mythology, the country, and the way Bardugo can craft a character driven story.
Overall feeling: quiet awe
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