I wanted Alina to be queen.
I suppose I planned to write a review after I finished the last of Leigh Bardugo's trilogy. I was so excited to read Ruin and Rising because there is a certain addictive quality to Bardugo's work. Something in the magic and the themes of her writing are so appealing to me. But I was disappointed. I can't write a review either, because my disappointment is in the story, and to explain it, I have to spoil what happens.
I wanted Alina to be queen, and she didn't. Instead, she is set to live out the rest of her life peacefully with Mal, without magic. Even if we disregard my historic disparagement of Mal, I'm more sad for Alina and I'm mourning the story I wanted her to have. I understand this is ridiculous and it's hard for me to review a book like Ruin and Rising because my sadness centres around the plot, and not because the plot is all that weak (I would say it was) but because it is not what I wanted.
It feels like an invalid complaint, but I will try to make it slightly more valid in explaining why I loved this trilogy and why I'm disappointed.
The Grisha trilogy explored corruption and power. Now, I love reading about power. I study it and question it and philosophize over it. It's just one of my interests (and maybe some people that have read Ruin and Rising realize, precisely at this point, why I'm not happy with the ending).
My interpretation of the Grisha trilogy came from the basis that the story was about power and its effects. The Darkling had unmatched power and it had corrupted him. He was alone, and hungry for more. He sought the companionship of Alina, when she, in a different exploration of power, came to gain immense power suddenly.
Alina's storyline explored what this sudden influx of power to someone who had previously felt extremely ordinary meant. Alina was scared of her power, scared of being different, but eventually, she started to relish her power. This was something she always repressed. Alina was scared of becoming the Darkling and as she amassed more of the amplifiers and felt a burning desire to complete the cycle and get the third amplifier, through the death of the Firebird.
This was the most compelling conflict of the Grisha trilogy. Could Alina, the innocent, pure heroine one day become the Darkling? Could she fight the corruption of power? Did she even truly want to? This was accentuated with Bardugo's own descriptions of the Darkling, an infinite being that Alina always saw as a sad, beautiful boy. The Darkling was written sympathetically, and his connection with Alina was dynamic.
Think Harry and Voldemort, except what if Harry has to make his own horcruxes too?
Alina was on her way there. During the last battle, she took her knife and stabbed Mal, who was revealed to be the last amplifier. She killed her love, and there was a fair bit of tragedy. I wondered what would happen to her; how would this shape her?
Alina would have made a great queen. She was commanding, and resolute. This seemed to be what the entire series was building up to. Other characters constantly obeyed her because of this seeming inevitability, and Alina was a major player. She wanted to get rid of the fold. She wanted to stop the Darkling. She was reluctant to be queen, but that was probably because of her fear for what power would do to her. She killed Mal, and it seemed like something extremely fascinating would happen next, because Baghra always said that the kind of power Alina was drawing on had a cost.
Except, in this case, it was a cost Alina would likely have been extremely willing to pay because this cost, the loss of her powers, was a relief. Alina did not have to ever worry about powerlust again because her power was gone. She would never have to make hard decisions because she would never again be in such a position. Alina would be normal, and live a peaceful life without too much responsibility.
I never learned if Alina could become like the Darkling and she never learned what to do with immense power because the 'sacrifice' was that her power was gone, and she didn't have to deal with any of this conflict. This storyline was effectively killed through a sacrifice that made it so that Alina could get what she wanted-- Mal-- and live happily ever after, except that she missed her power.
And what of the repercussions of enjoying immense power and having it ripped away? Alina seems to spend her life missing the sun, and being sad she can't summon any more, but that's all it is; a lingering sadness. Alina, without her power, decides to leave politics, and leaves any sort of power she could have ever had with Nikolai, or as a public figure within the court, and goes off to live remotely with Mal, deciding she does not want to actively shape the world and instead trusting it to Nikolai and her Grisha friends.
There's nothing wrong with any of this, except for the way-too-convenient way that Mal and Alina end up together, because she stabbed him and he should have died, and the explanation seems weak. I'm just a little sad I never saw Alina grow into the person she was becoming; strong, fierce, ruthless.
There were other problems I had with Ruin and Rising, and I still loved some parts of it. But this broken storyline is what remains in my head. Especially because Alina's story is very common. Alina isn't the first or last heroine to reject power. I'm just incredibly disappointed that this is the resolution.
Now, I swear, if Celaena does the same thing *curses indescribably* Please Ms. Maas...