The Darkling has taken over Ravka, and Alina, Mal and the handful of grisha who still remain had to go into hiding with the Apparat and his worshippers, a solution that is uncomfortable to say the least. Plus, Alina has other plans than to remain the Apparat’s protectee-slash-prisoner. She hatches an escape plan to look for Nikolai, hoping he is still alive, and to find the firebird, the third amplifier that should finally give her the strength to defeat the Darkling once and for all.
Ruin and Rising is a fitting ending for the trilogy in as much as it has just as many issues as the first two books and I never really grew to love it, although it was good enough to keep me reading.
Okay, the biggest issues I had all had to do with the three men in Alina’s life who all come with their own problematic romantic tension (why did we need three dudes in the first place? Nobody knows). With Mal, it was the way the romance was written. Mal can’t accept that Alina has powers, and in the end, the plot does him a solid instead of him getting over himself and accepting that Alina has powers and he does not (kinda).
With the Darkling, it was the fact that the book tries so very hard to make him a sympathetic character (also reinforced by the short story in the bonus materials that gives us a glimpse into his childhood). Yes, he had a hard time as a child. Yes, he is lonely. Yes, he has an honest connection with Alina. But none of that changes the fact that he is a manipulative, power-grabbing mass murderer and that is definitely not romance or sympathy material, SO QUIT IT ALREADY. That being said, I liked that Alina takes more control in their relationship now.
With Nikolai, it was the plot and its ill-thought-out ramifications. When he is turned into a volcra, he is apparently the only volcra in existence who can hold on to his humanity, and such exceptionalism is always fucked up. When he is healed from being a volcra, though, that’s where the real trouble starts because after that they don’t go around healing all the other volcras – no, they continue to slaughter them. If I thought, things were fucked up before, they are really FUBAR now.
Alina herself has to work her way through some difficult issues outside of romance territory and I thought the book handled that nicely for the most part. I also appreciated that she refuses to see Genya as punished (as her arc suggested in the second novel), and I really loved how Genya grows back into herself. Generally, Bardugo does pretty well with the supporting characters. There are a couple of new characters introduced in this book, though, that suffer a little from Redshirt syndrome – especially the dude with his cat (I forgot his name).
Anyhow, Ruin and Rising is still an intensely readable book that draws you in, and is over before you have time to have bigger complaints about it. But I can’t say that the trilogy is among my favorites in general now.
Summarizing: if you read the first two, you might as well read the third – I found their quality pretty consistent overall.