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
Let’s get the “bad” of this book out of the way:
- The first 90 or so pages of this book are a bit slow; much more so than the previous two books.
- If you haven’t read Siege and Storm recently, you will start out lost as most of the characters in the first quarter of the book are from this last book. It’s not fatal, because of Bardugo’s gift for characterization (I grew to re-love Harshaw and Oncat, but completely had no idea who they were when I first started) but it probably does add to that feeling of sluggishness.
- There are a couple of moments whose sadness and tragedy are tempered later on by future events. None of it feels like a cheat, but I always find it hard in a book series that is about war when there are no true casualties from the real main characters.
But that’s really it. For even if it is my least favorite of the books (it’s more action heavy – which is to be expected, and is necessary and I prefer her characterizations and world building, which, also by necessity is less prevalent in this book), it’s still at the level that if most YA fantasy was this kind of “bad” we’d have an amazing treasure trove of fantasy YA at our finger tips.
For all that Bardugo says she doesn’t outline, a lot of thought clearly went into these books. Plot lines from previous books – like Genya’s abuse at the hands of the King – get pay offs in this book. Deeds taken never feel out of character, and there are some genuinely sad and surprising moments sprinkled throughout. We also learn more about the Darkling’s past, and it’s good stuff.
The biggest positive change in this book for me was Mal. I was on the rare side of the fandom that wasn’t a fan of him previously. In particular, I found him rather obnoxious in Siege and Storm as he pined, and treated Alina like, the girl she was back when they were simple orphans and not the woman she was becoming. Here though, he was much more likable, and felt more mature. There’s even an interesting explanation for his sometimes too-incredible-to-explain tracking skills.
Finally, the Barnes & Noble edition contains a short Darkling prequel. Bardugo stated that she wrote it so it wouldn’t spoil anything in Ruin and Rising, but suggests reading it after the book. I agree with this suggestion. I think it’ll have more meaning for you if you’ve finished the main text.
Overall, while I can’t say that I loved this book quite as much as the first two books, it’s still fantastic, and it’s still an easy recommendation. Bardugo remains one of the best YA authors writing today and she’ll remain my go-to recommendation for newbies dipping their toes in YA fantasy for the first time.
Verdict: Buy it