Series: Ruined #1
Published by Allen & Unwin on May 3rd 2016
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Romance, Action & Adventure, Young Adult
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Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped.
But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family.
In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family.
Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.
While Ruined was a very fun read, it didn’t really stand out from the dozens of fantasies out there in YA literature. The blurb comes off a bit dark, as the main character Emelina seems to be very focused on revenge for the deaths of her parents, the king and queen of Ruina. While there are heavy action scenes that would satisfy readers looking for some fights, the book came out as quite light for one with a revenge plot. The world-building was fairly simple, almost in a generic way that melded it to the rest of the multitude of fantasy worlds that exist out there. Despite that, the quick dialogue and steady pacing make it for a read that’ll keep you entertained from start to finish.
We being the book with Emelina, or Em, killing Casimir’s true betrothed Mary on the way to the kingdom of Lera. The politics of the world were fairly simple: Ruina had Ruined, people with magical powers ruled by a savage queen who enjoyed torturing people. That queen and her king were killed by the royals of the kingdom of Vallos, who in turn worked with Lera against the people with magic. The prejudice runs quite deep against Ruined, and Lera and Vallos don’t perceive them as real people. Adding on to that are the Olso warriors, who are neutral to the Ruined and play a pretty important role with Em getting her revenge. While these aspects were intriguing, we get a pretty limited view of the magic of the Ruined itself. They were explained, but certainly not explored. We see Ruined having different kinds of powers, but we don’t know what specific kind of powers. However, the book certainly seems to be leading up to more explanations later in the trilogy.
Although this has a revenge plot, Em is shown to be quite thoughtful. She’s also the worst at infiltrating kingdoms. Em’s supposed to be Princess Mary, who supposedly hates the Ruined. However, her attitude and actions regarding them don’t match up at all. She’s constantly standing up for them, which makes her deception plot quite unrealistic. Em is a very loyal girl, and her actions are based on what she thinks is right. In the beginning, it was the death of the Lera royalty. Later on, she starts falling for Prince Cas, which makes her rethink her decisions and she starts questioning how “right” it was to selfishly kill people, like her mother did. Em is also one of the few Ruined who doesn’t have any powers. She makes up for that by being kickass at weapons and training. I like how she doesn’t let her lack of powers bring her down, despite how the other Ruined with powers may treat her.
No one feared Emelina Flores, the useless daughter of the most powerful queen Ruina had ever known.
But they would.
Speaking of the romance: While it was sweet, it was also quite unbelievable on how quickly Em starts to warm up to Cas. It was not insta-love by any means, but it’s quite noticeable when the main character starts changing her view when getting to know the love interest. Cas is much more forgiving than his father, who openly hates the Ruined. He has the kind of level head that is great for ruling and is willing to think of the Ruined as actual people. That kindness is what draws Em to him despite her declaration to kill him in the beginning of the book. As with the author’s previous work, Rebel, I didn’t appreciate how her character took an almost 180-degree turn because of meeting the love interest. She got too sweet, too fast. That was my main complaint with the first half of the book, while the second really blew me away.
The first half focused on Em’s deception in the Lera court, and the second had her and her companions on the run and ready to carry out their plan to save Em’s sister, Olivia. It was action-packed and overall just killer. Readers who enjoy a faster-paced plot (like me) with tons of fighting will definitely appreciate the latter half. Both Cas and Em learn that their parents did not exactly have the best views (mostly because of the prejudice for or against the Ruined) as monarchs, and strive to put their own just rights into action. For Em, it’s not to be a torture-loving queen like her mother. For Cas, it’s not to have the extreme prejudice against Ruined “beings” like his own family has. These conflicts are thoroughly explored, and bring much dimension to the characters.
‘We’re punishing all the Ruined for the crimes of the few.’
The fairly modern dialogue and direct writing makes for a quick read for the reader. While I appreciated that, it also left me less immersed in the fantasy world. The court scenes were way too informal from what (I imagine) would happen in front of kings and queens. Em liked to cross her arms, and was directly rude to the king and queen of Lera. And while I appreciate that spunk, it also baffled me. Where were the sly comments that are used in court? Was this behavior even appropriate? It just didn’t fit in with the setting for me, and detracted from the overall world in the book.
Awesome action also equates to character deaths, which were used to drive the plot. As exciting as they were, one of the more important deaths left me unfeeling. It was for a character that was hurriedly written into the plot, inserted only for one reason: to fuel Em’s desire for revenge. As he was an significant outlet to Em’s past, it was quite disappointing to feel nothing for such a seemingly important character. So while the action was executed quite thoroughly and left me breathless, the emotions behind it didn’t cause much of a stir.
While the world had elements that have yet to be explored (mainly the magic) and didn’t stand out from the rest of the worlds out there, it was solid enough to enjoy. The informal court setting left me a bit confused, but it didn’t necessarily deter me from reading; in fact, the quick dialogue makes the pages go by pretty fast. Em and Cas’s character growth were awesome to read about, if you don’t count the quick-to-form romance that happened between them.
The ending definitely left me wanting more! It was abrupt and a bit disconcerting, but the cliffhanger game was certainly strong. While this came out as a solid 3.5, I will definitely be looking forward to more action in regards to the politics, magic, and battle that the next books will bring forth.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thank you Harper Collins and Edelweiss for the review copy!
Giveaway – 5 copies of Ruined for Australian readers!
Allen & Unwin are giving away 5 copies of Ruined to readers of Happy Indulgence! These will feature the beautiful Australian cover.
Fill in the entry form below to enter! Fake entries will be disqualified (we can tell!). Giveaway ends 1 May 2016. Winners will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond.