Anyone that knows me knows that I’m mad about this sort of book, so when i saw the plot introduction on goodreads I couldn’t help myself. I wasn’t disappointed. Ruined was exactly what I was looking for- drama, a blossoming love between enemies, and a new fantasy world to sink my teeth into. Overall, I really enjoyed it. I’d definitely recommend it, if this is your sort of thing. This review is a bit more critical than I originally intended (probably because I’m less than a week out of finishing my degree!), but I really did love the book and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next for Em and Cas.
Ruined is about a girl who has lost everything in a war with an enemy country. Her parents are dead, and her sister has been taken captive. To rescue her sister, she infiltrates said enemy country’s royal family, and marries their prince. She’s desperate to hate him, but it turns out he’s not so bad after all.
Yes, this is a story we’ve heard before. It has the feisty young girl who cares a lot about her family, and the handsome prince who turns out to be reasonable despite his morally vacant family, and the hint of a love triangle with a childhood friend that we all know is never really an option. These are all things that have become a sort of staple in the trend of fantasy-dystopia YA novels in the last few years. Personally, I’m a huge sucker for all this stuff, but from a brief skim of Ruined‘s reviews on Goodreads, I can see that at least a few people disapprove.
I can understand that. There were definitely times whilst I was reading Ruined that I felt for certain that I could have been reading The Selection, or something similar. Both novels have the love interests live together in a palace immediately after meeting, and in both cases the parents aren’t exactly thrilled with the bride-to-be. Something that The Selection did marginally better, I feel, was that the relationship moved at a much slower pace. The love between America and Maxon took its time, at least compared to Em and Cas.
I don’t think the familiarity of Ruined‘s characters is necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, and I mean this with no offence to writers of YA (as I am one myself!), if you’re looking for the latest and greatest most original fiction, you probably shouldn’t be shopping in this section. Personally, I enjoy this kind of book. I love the intense drama, and Ruined certainly has no shortage of that.
There’s quite a lot of fighting. It seems to be something that’s very important in the culture of all of the countries involved (except Vallos?), and everyone is also very good at it. All of the characters, both male and female, young and older, seem to have a knack for swinging a sword about, and many of them are really quite aggressive. Cas seems to be the only largely peaceful character, which to me makes a lot of sense. He’s never seen war. He even says that it’s easy for him to pretend the Ruined don’t exist.
I was a bit worried about the amount of fighting, especially at the beginning. It struck me immediately that this was going to be the sort of novel where the author gives the female characters a sword and decides that’s plenty enough to make them the ‘strong female character’ current readers demand. I don’t think I was wrong, not exactly. Whilst it’s clear that the female cast of Ruined are tough, I don’t think they’re well rounded enough to be considered strong characters. Yes, they’ve killed. They’re sullen and not really in touch with their emotions, and they much prefer trousers to skirts. So really, rather than strong female characters, they’re just women with the stereotypical traits of a male character, and that doesn’t make them strong characters. I hope that character development in the sequels resolves this at least a little.
There are things that Ruined did well. The setting, to me, was something I haven’t seen a lot of. Rather than the English or Celtic influence that a lot of similar novels seem to have, this one had something of a Spanish or even South American influence (correct me if I’m wrong!). The names of the characters fit with their respective backgrounds, and the jungle made for an interesting change from your average forest. I will say though, I didn’t feel that the change of scenery really made a difference for the story. The characters could just as easily have been traipsing through the Forest of Dean. Perhaps the introduction of more jungle-related things would have helped. Bugs, jungle-related animals, and more description of the trees perhaps?
More description in general is something I definitely would have liked. I’m a big lover of world building, so when a new world is presented to me, I like to get to know it. I would have loved to know more about Ruined magic, for example, but I got the impression from Olivia that we’ll find out more in book #2 (which I’m excited to read!). I also felt like I didn’t or couldn’t really visualise the Ruined marks. In my head they were like tiger stripes, or Blaschko’s lines.
There were a few things I wasn’t sure about. The whole impersonation plan, for example, I didn’t find really believable. Surely there would have been more checks, more guards, more investigation. I also noted that at one point it’s said that Em is resistant to Ruined magic, but at the end, Olivia heals her. How does that work? Is the resistance passive (à la Bella’s shield in Twilight) or does she have to think about it?
Something I particularly liked was the boat scene. I got the impression that until that point, Em had never considered that her mother might be a bad person. As a reader, I had that impression right from the first quote Em gives about her, but it seems that Em was so focused on the wrongs done to her people, she hadn’t really considered the wrongs her people had done. I was also, in a sad way, glad that Damian died. It was true to what the King would have done, and I respect that. I would have loved more information about him though, particularly regarding how Em felt about him.
With Olivia, I was very surprised. I didn’t expect her to be so much like her mother, if you get what I mean. She certainly shook things up! I was afraid for the characters before this, but now… I can sort of understand why the humans are so afraid of the Ruined. That kind of power shouldn’t be underestimated.
So where do we go from here? I’m deathly afraid that Olivia or the Warriors will kill Cas. The issue with wanting to make peace is that if you’re the only one who wants it, then you’re probably going to die. It’s not like Em can really back him up politically since blood-thirsty Olivia is (I assume?) in charge of the Ruined. I hope we get to learn more about the four countries, and about some of the characters that were mentioned but not involved, like the King of Olso.
Overall, I’d say Ruined was pretty good. If you’re a big fan of the fantasy-adventure-dystopia YA trend then I’d recommend it for sure. The world has a lot of potential, and the magic system is something I’m looking forward to learning more about. I’m hopeful for some real character development in the sequels, and I’m excited to find out how it all ends.