“Ruin and Rising” is Leigh Bardugo’s final book in the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy. With just the right amount of suspense, adventure, twists, and romance, and of course, the ultimate showdown between Light and Shadow, Bardugo’s third book proves to be the perfect finale of the story of the boy and the girl.
Will The Sun Summoner Return?
Bardugo’s second book, ‘Siege and Storm,’ had a dramatic ending, where we found out that Alina had lost her sun-summoning powers while battling against the Darkling in the Grand Palace. ‘Ruin and Rising’ begins with a detailed aftermath of the encounter between the two most powerful Grishas. It has been over two months, and we see that Alina and Mal, along with a handful of other Grisha survivors, have taken refuge underground, in the White Cathedral, under the watchful eyes of the Apparat.
Alina is weak and feeble; she strains at the minimum physical activity, and her hair has turned white. When chaos and crisis had taken over the capital city of Os Alta, it was the Apparat who had helped Alina and provided a safe haven for her friends. Therefore, the powerless Sun Summoner has no choice but to entertain the whims of the scheming Apparat. She is neither allowed to associate with her friends nor go above the ground, and her only purpose has been reduced to focusing on becoming a better saint!
The other surviving Grishas include- David who spends most of his time peering into old journals looking for clues to find out more about Morozova and the amplifiers; Genya who is now infamously referred to as ‘Razrusha’ya’ or the ruined after the Darkling’s ‘nichevo ya’ had left her with scars, the two Infernis Stigg and Harshaw; the Squaller Zoya; the Healer Maxim; Nadia and her brother; and finally Sergei.
After some persuasion, the Apparat allows Alina to spend some time with Genya in the Kettle (Kitchen of the White Cathedral), only to be interrupted soon. The Apparat storms in along with Alina’s Grisha friends, who are held prisoners by Tamar and Tolya. The Apparat explains that they have been plotting behind their backs to make an escape from the White Cathedral. Even Alina is surprised and doesn’t seem to grasp the reality of the situation. Amidst all the chaos, Mal manages to throw a bomb toward the chimney, making it explode. Immediately sunlight rushes in. The light answers Alina’s call, and she can feel the power raging within her—the Sun Summoner is finally back.
Charged with her power and regained confidence, Alina makes a spectacle of her powers. She commands the ‘Soldat Sol’ (or ‘Sun Soldiers’) to pledge their loyalty to her. To further establish her presence, she even goes on to brand her symbol on one of them. Aliina then goes on to assemble a group of around twelve Grishas and begin their expedition to reach the surface. Somehow, the strong-headed and stubborn group of Grishas survive a ‘Marsh Gas’ attack and reach the surface through a cemetery. The group makes camp near a river, and Tamar goes out to look for any news of Prince Nikolai. Although Tamar fails to gather news about the prince directly, she says that there is a possibility of West Ravka declaring for Nikiolai, which means that the Darkling will not have any access to the West Ravkan coastline to gather ammunition.
What Has Nikolai Lantsov Been Up To?
While the other Grishas are busy gathering rations and making themselves useful, we get a peek into the growing complications in the relationship between Alina and Mal. Since the incident in the palace, and given Alina’s uncanny connection with the Darkling, the distance between her and Mal only seems to be increasing. While they discuss the course of action they should take next, Alina notices a tattoo stretching across Mal’s back. The tattoo says, ‘E’ya sta rezku’, meaning ‘I am becoming a blade.’ Mal explains how his purpose in life has become to protect Alina. He thinks it’s the only way he can prove to be useful to Alina, and it is a way of life that he has consciously chosen.
The somewhat intimate conversation between the two gets interrupted by a group of First Army soldiers turned hunters. Just when they decide to turn the Sun Summoner to the Darkling as ransom in return for some money, Nikolai Lanstov arrives. In a manner only the prince can pull off, Nikolai manages to rescue Alina along with her group of Grishas. They land in the ‘Spinning Wheel’, a place that was originally a pilgrimage site or the monastery of Saint Demyan and has now turned into a training ground for Nikolai’s men. The King and Queen of Ravka, along with Baghra, are also present in the Spinning Wheel, which becomes a cause of concern for Genya, given that she has tried to poison the King.
What follows is an intense session of strategizing, planning, and finding ways to track the third amplifier, the Firebird. After getting accustomed to the ways of the new base that Nikolai has made, Alina decides to visit Baghra. Alina has a feeling that Baghra knows more about Morozova and the amplifiers, and she is keen on getting that information from her. She confesses to using the ‘merzost’ during her fight with the Darkling in Os Alta, and just when she is about to question Baghra about the amplifiers, Mal interrupts them. A situation arises between the King and Genya, and Alina immediately rushes off.
The King wants Genya to be hanged for trying to kill him. Genya doesn’t cower to the King’s accusation; she boldly speaks that if she is to be tried, the King should be tried too. She accuses the King of sexually assaulting her. Genya explains that regicide was not her intention; instead, she had been strategically poisoning the King with a ‘vegetable alkaloid’ in small amounts over a period of time. Genya had poisoned her lips, so every time the King tried to kiss her, he took in the poison too. Nikolai takes matters into his own hands and commands the King to write an abdication letter. He orders the King and the Queen to leave the spinning wheel and go somewhere in the southern colonies. This is the first glimpse we get of Nikolai acting as a true ruler, and we understand that Ravka and its people indeed stand above everything for him. However, he does not let Genya go easily; he tells her that she will be facing charges after the war ends and that her punishment will be decided accordingly.
Meanwhile, Alina’s obsession with Morozova and the amplifiers grows, and this time Baghra caves in. She reveals to Alina that she is the daughter of Morozova and goes on to disclose how she was responsible for killing her own sister using the cut. Morozova, being a powerful healer, was able to revive his dead daughter. However, this series of strange events did not sit well with the villagers, and out of rage and spite, they chained Morozova and his youngest daughter and threw them off the bridge into the water. What happened after that remains unknown, but Baghra believes that a Grisha as powerful as Mozorova could not have died so easily. She goes on to say how the most powerful Grishas end up taking their own lives. This only makes Alina reflect on her own fate, and will she be able to gather enough strength to do what needs to be done when the time comes?
The Darkling Strikes Again
Baghra decides to give lessons to Alina once again, and with her guidance, Alina is able to maneuver her powers the right way. This time she manages to use her sword to cut and slice down the peak of a mountain. Although she is aware that the connection she shares with the Darkling does not necessarily give her an upper hand in her fight against him, Alina cannot help but somehow end up using it. Once again, Alina finds herself hallucinating. This time she watches the Darkling tending to one of his wounds. The Darkling once again tries to tell Alina how much they are alike and goes on to reveal his real name to her- ‘Aleksander.’ But before the vision shatters, the Darkling divulges his plans to Alina. He tells her that David had left some of his journals back in the palace, and they have helped him come up with a plan. A plan that involves crossing the fold without the sun summoner’s help. This only means that the Darkling would destroy West Ravka, leaving Nikolai with no allies.
After sharing her vision with Nikolai, Mal, and the other Grishas, they decide to ask the Apparat to send the Sun Soldiers. Even in the face of uncertainty, Nikolai doesn’t fail to charm his way around. He takes Alina to see something miraculous—a meteor shower. They share a moment, but it is a short-lived one as Mal arrives, and Alina realizes that he, too, wants to show her the incredible sight. Nikolai tries to tease Alina and asks her to forget Mal. He even goes on to tell her that he is thinking of asking Alina to marry him, but for that to happen, he will not let Mal be around her. While this might come across as selfish, Nikolai has his reasons; he will not want his children to grow up facing the same prejudices as he has—a question of their parentage. For the first time, Nikolai opens up his heart to Alina and tells her that, although he has always been aware of the fact that his marriage would be a political one as Ravka is his utmost priority, there is still a probability for them to find love.
While the night ends on a somewhat emotional note for Alina, the next day brings chaos. As the Grishas, Mal, Alina, and Nikolai, prepare to leave on their separate missions, the Darkling arrives with his Shadow Soldiers. Once again, Alina finds herself caught off guard and unprepared to face the Darkling; however, this time, she gets the added taste of betrayal. It is Sergie who betrays Alina and discloses her plans to the Darkling. However, since Segie betrayed the Darkling first, he feeds him to the ‘nichevo ya.’ While Alina struggles to process the ongoing brutality, one of the ‘nichevo ya’ takes a pick on Nikolai. This time, the Darkling does not feed him to his shadow monsters but infects him, making claws, fangs, and wings grow on him. Nikolai struggles with his inner self but does not attack his friends (like the Darkling has planned); instead, he takes flight.
Alina tries to fight the ‘nichevo ya,’ but she is highly outnumbered. Just when everything seems to be coming to an end, Baghra makes an entry. She stands on the balcony and faces the dragon. The ‘nichevo ya’ seem to share some strange connection with Baghra and get pulled toward her. She binds them to her and jumps off. But before sacrificing herself, Baghra reminds Alina not to fail her this time, and to her son (the Darkling), she says, “Know that I loved you.” “Know that it wasn’t enough.”
Every time the Darkling attacks, death, destruction, and ruins needlessly follow. Baghra’s sacrifice gives Alina and her group just enough time to escape the Darkling. Zoya and Nadia call on their Squaller powers to fly the ‘Bittern.’ After days, they land, and Alina decides that they need time to hide and heal before continuing their search for the Firebird—their last straw of hope. The burden of loss becomes too much for Alina to bear. Baghra’s sacrifice, losing Nikolai, Sergei’s betrayal, and the numerous lives lost take a toll on her. She decides to suffer in silence and solitude until Mal advises her to let others in on her pain. Looking around at her friends, Alina realizes that even amidst all the loss, grief, and pain, she has a lot to be grateful for too.
With whatever is left of them, the group strategizes and decides to split into two groups. Alina, Mal, Harshaw, Tolya, and Zoya decide to continue their search for the Firebird in Sikurzoi. The others are to stay back. With help from a Shu woman, Alina, and her group manage to get a map of the mountains, and they finally reach the ruins with the arch. The trail does not prove to be an easy one. After battling some bandits and trekking tirelessly for days, the group seems to be in no state to carry on any farther. Soon, Alina begins to question everything around her, and once again, Mal encourages her and gives her hope. As Alina seems to regain herself, they spot the Firebird. She readies herself, and just as she is about to perform the cut, Alina loses her footing and topples off the mountain, only to be caught by Mal just in time. As Alina hangs from the cliff, Mal grabs and holds onto Alina’s wrist with all his strength.
What follows is a series of revelations. As Mal holds on to Alina’s wrist, a shock goes through them (similar to the one they had felt in the woods once). There is a surge of power between them, and suddenly a realization dawns on Alina. With some miraculous strength, Mal manages to pull Alina up, only to be attacked by the Firebird again. However, this time the bird flaps its wings, hovers around them and flies off. Zoya arrives on the spot and fails to understand why the Firebird was not killed. Finally, Alina reveals that the Firebird is not the third amplifier, but Mal is. Mal Oretsev is the third amplifier. Alina begins connecting all the dots: her first sun-summoning powers were discovered when she tried to save Mal from the volcras; they were together every time Mal tracked an amplifier; and finally, the fact that they grew up in the same orphanage. Has destiny been playing tricks with them all along?
Alina retells Baghra’s story to everyone- how her sister was an ‘otkazat sya’ and has been resurrected from the dead by Mozorova. This might have given her some power, which got passed down to her descendants, making Mal one of the amplifiers. The revelations are devastating for Alina, and she cannot help but ponder Baghra’s warnings: “You may not be able to survive the sacrifice the merzost requires.” The group returns to the settlement, but there is also some disheartening news for Alina—the Darkling has attacked West Ravka and Keramzin, and the Shadow Fold has expanded.
Desperate, lost, and helpless, Alina uses her connection to visit the Darkling. She saw him amidst the ruins of Keramzin. Alina is heartbroken at the sight and questions the Darkling about the Grisha students who were supposed to be there. As an answer, the Darkling promises Alina that he is going to kill the children if she and Mal do come to him when he crosses the fold again. The Darkling threatens to destroy everything and everyone she loves unless she decides to join him.
Alina tells her fellow Grishas and Mal about her vision and how she has only five days to give in to the Darkling. While Mal and Alina debate about sacrificing their lives, Genya interrupts and says that she and David have a plan. Using Alina’s Sun Summoning powers, they decide to launch an invisible attack on the Darkling’s skiff and save the children on board. Although Mal is not very happy with the plan, he reluctantly agrees. Before entering the fold to face the Darkling, she spots Nikolai in an abandoned apple farm. In a desperate attempt to bring him back, Alina showed the emerald ring he had given her. Nikolai seems to recognize the ring, and Alina tries to use her powers to drive the shadow away from him. Unfortunately, the trick does not work, and Nikolai leaves.
The few Sun Soldiers who had managed to escape from the Apparat and the Grisha’s train together to fight the ultimate battle against the Darkling. Finally, when the day comes to an end, Mal and Alina have their long-awaited conversation. While Alina mulls over her failure to save Nikolai and so many others, Mal reminds her that the amplifiers could save everyone, but it would require only one thing: for Alina to kill Mal.
The next morning begins with goodbyes. Mal is already gone when Alina wakes up. She gives her emerald ring to Genya as a safe passage if things go astray. Finally, it is time to face the Darkling, and according to their plan, the Sun Soldiers and Grishas enter the Shadow Fold invisibly. They successfully manage to attack the Darkling’s skiff, but, to their surprise, the Grisha children are nowhere to be found. As Alina gets hit by a bullet, the Darkling laughs at how he tricked Alina into believing whatever he had said—that there were no children on the skiff in the first place. The wounded Alina tries one last shot and uses all her power and her connection to reach the Darkling and use her cut to destroy both of them together. However, the Darkling calls on his ‘nichevo ya’ and protects himself as Alina gets thrown into the fold.
It was not yet the end for Alina, for she still had to do the one thing she had been dreading the most, which was to kill Mal and complete the amplifiers. Mal gives Alina a knife and asks her to save everyone. Alina drives the knife into Mal, and as he dies, Alina can feel the surging power of a star inside her. However, as she tries to access her powers, she finds only a void. Alina panics, unable to grasp what is happening. Realization dawns on her, and she thinks it might be her greed for power that has led to this end. But as Alina stares at the fold, she sees the light. The ‘otkazat sya,’ or deserted (people with no Grisha powers), gleamed with the Sun Summoner’s powers. It finally makes sense to Alina. Mozorova had created the three amplifiers to increase the power manifold, but they were not meant for only one person. The amplified powers are multiplied and divided amongst the thousands of ‘otkazat sya,’ the ones the Darkling looked down upon.
The Darkling is perplexed and confused and fails to understand what has happened. He comes to Alina and seeks an explanation. He touches her face, and they both realize that the connection is gone. It is then that Alina notices that her amplifiers are gone—the collar and the fetters are on the ground—and she is left with no power at all. The Darkling is enraged; for now, he realizes he is truly alone. He orders his ‘nichevo ya’ to destroy the thousands of new Sun Summoners. Alina gathers whatever strength she has left and, using the same knife she killed Mal with, stabs the Darkling. As the Darkling dies, he whispers to Alina, “Don’t let me be alone.” The ‘nichevo ya’ disappear, and we see Nikolai return to his original form. The Sun Soldiers use their powers to destroy the volcras, and in what appears to be a miracle, Alina hears Mal breathe.
The book ends with Mal, Alina, and Misha setting out into a new Ravka. All the ‘otkazat sya’ the amplifiers touched gave them their powers, making hundreds of Sun Summoners. Nikolai retains his charm in spite of the darkness he has gone through and is now hailed as ‘Karol Resni’ or the ‘King of Scars.’ David, Genya, and Zoya have become the Grishas, heading the Second Army.
The story that begins with a boy and a girl in Keramzin ends with the boy and the girl returning to Keramzin. Only now, “They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things—if love can ever be called that.”
See more: ‘Shadow And Bone’ Plot Summary, Explained: What Does Leigh Bardugo’s Adult Fantasy Novel Hold For You?