(Taken from Goodreads)
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.
I can say with total and complete confidence that I am glad to be done with this series. Out of the three I found Ruin and Rising to be my least favorite (it’s only saving grace is the lesbian relationship between Tamar and Nadia, which is cute and incorporated so well, and with Tamar being coded as Asian is also a good plug for diverse queer individuals). It’s hard to formulate why, so bear with me. First of all, I have a similar problem with this book as with Siege and Storm, I can’t really tell you what happened. I feel like this stems from a not much actually happened problem. While the world building and concept continues to be vast and intriguing the actual plot falls rather flat. There is a lot of walking and hiding and running in this book. The slow start didn’t help much either. Alina and her group of Grisha and human rebels take refuge underground for the first fourth of the book, and a lot of it just felt unnecessary.
Another issue I had was the continued love story between Alina and Mal. There is no chemistry between them, they don’t communicate with one another, and there is an expectation that they will be a constant for one another. I honestly felt like Alina’s character would have benefited from a break-up with Mal. I wanted her to be more than magically powerful, and I really, really feel like she wasn’t. Her story and character depended so much on Mal, who was barley a character to begin with, that it’s actually hard to distinguish them. Also, the whole thing with Mal being the final amplifier was the most annoying and convenient incident to happen. I don’t buy into the whole “we were meant to be together because of fate” shit, I really don’t. I’m not a romantic. So having Mal be this final version of power for Alina did not sit well for me. The fact that she was most powerful with him isn’t so much what got me. I am a more powerful person with my current partner, because he compliments my strengths and weaknesses very well. Mal and Alina do not complement one another, they create nothing but drama and stress for the other and the reader. Alina being more powerful with Mal isn’t an issue, my issue is that we have spent three books knowing Alina will not feel complete unless she has all three amplifiers. She does not feel complete without Mal. I call complete and utter bullshit on this entire concept. This is most likely the hinge my disappointment with this series comes from. I LOATHE seeing female characters and actual women who are only completed by a man (or another woman). Alina cannot stand on her own, which is a double edged problem. The story stresses relying on your friends and those close to you for support and working together for a cause. This is a very good message to have. Complete reliance on a romantic partner is not.
Secondly, the ending just did nothing for me. I spent over 3/4ths of this book waiting for something exciting, for some more rising action, for some kind of draw into these characters. I was again disappointed. The final battle against the Darkling finally came and felt much too short! That could possibly be me being a glutton for fight scenes, but it did not feel like it got the justice it deserved. But this could also be because I’m honestly confused about what happened in it as well. Honestly, after Mal “died” things got very confusing. It felt like Bardugo was trying to explain things that looked amazing in her head, but don’t translate very well to page. So the entire last half of the finale was a little muddled for me, even after reading it again.
Finally, everything that happened after the battle with the Darkling was irrelevant and should have been cut. Alina’s conversation with Nikolai was unnecessary and annoying. The epilogue was obnoxious and dragged. For me with was like the five endings to The Return of the King when you’re seven years old and have held in your pee for over forty minutes now. Painful. Grueling. Not needed. I know the reason for this: I did not care about these characters, least of all Alina and Mal. I wanted their story to be done and I wanted to be six books away from them.
I think what I find the most disappointing is that I can see that Bardugo is talented. Her writing style, especially in the opening of Shadow and Bone, is so lyrical. The concept behind this trilogy is original and fascinating, it made me really excited to start these books. Her supporting cast is diverse, interesting, and actually develop more than her main characters. That, I think, is the main problem. Despite her talent Bardugo allowed her mains to fall very flat, and have a stale, book consuming relationship that, quite frankly, ruined the series for me. However, I will explore some of her other work, because her style is beautiful, and there is still a lot of developing as a writer to be done.