The writing is excellent, but the story and the characters falter.
The beginning is slow. Alina is hiding. She’s lost the strength of character she developed over the first two books, never to fully regain her inner strength. The Apparat is hiding them and trying to control Alina. He’s a weak antagonist. The Darkling and the world outside the caves is worse than ever, but that’s off stage. Alina is going to hunt the firebird, but that adventure doesn’t begin right away. When Nikolai returns to help her, the story begins in earnest, and he’s charming, witty, and injected action back into the story. The later half of the book works better than the first half.
For me, and I realize that many readers will find Mel a heartthrob, he doesn’t live up to the potential I saw in the first book. The Darkling still has power over Alina, which ads some tension to the story. Alina’s choices seem more like the middle book of a trilogy.
The romance gets settled; however, there’s a Deus ex Machina wrap up that left me unsatisfied. I felt Alina took the easy way out.
In YA fantasy, romance is mandatory. I usually ignore that part of the YA genre because the outcome is always predictable with little variation. There’s a pattern to these romances, and Ruin and Rising follows the safe path, which is a shame because the ending could have been much more powerful.