Review: Ruined by Amy Tintera

Thursday, May 12, 2016
Title: Ruined
Author: Amy Tintera
Genre: fantasy
Series: Ruined #1
Pages: 368
Published: May 3 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

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.

I have read Amy Tintera's scifish/dystopianish books published before and considered myself a fan, so I was not prepared for how lukewarmly I end up would feeling about this attempt at fantasy. Ruined is a series-opener that starts out with a strong action element and a fresh plot idea or two, but wavers in its execution over the near 370-page length. It's got a few of the best hallmarks of the genre working for it: plenty of action, deceptions anchor the plot, intrigue is unavoidable, assassins abound, spies and allies contend for both sides, hidden identities and twisted loyalties, and there's even a romance or two. Unfortunately, all that fun stuff is a bit light on depth -- world-wise, character-wise, and emotional depth-wise. 

The worldbuilding in Ruined is so shallow that it's practically negligible. There's vague handwaving from a few characters about X country hating that other country but allying with another different country because of their shared hatred of magic and their combined plans for country number two's future. But there's no real culture or atmosphere for any of the places or people involved; Tintera doesn't work the feel of a real country into the narrative. It's hard to envision the world that the author is creating and describing  because I don't have the basic foundation to understand how it works, or why it works the way it does. 

The biggest reason this book merited two stars was directly due to how much I enjoyed Em/Mary's character and plot arc, no matter how much other elements of the novel might not have totally worked for me. I found Cas (and his parents) and Aren and Damian to be a bit thinly-drawn, but Em's case was not the same. From the first page, she grabs attention and she does what she has to; she's the most fully-realized person on the page. I'm always drawn to antiheroes and Em qualifies. She's not evil but she's not exactly your typical heroine, either. I loved the way her personal drive was explored and challenged over the course of Ruined; the romance between the two may have been a bit hasty for me, but Cas does a great job of being a foil for Em's life and ambitions. 

I also really enjoyed the moments of humor and acerbic wit that pop up over the course of Em's drastic mission to get revenge. It was one of my favorite parts of the book and of her character, but I can see why people who don't like levity or fatalistic humor during tense battles/scenes might find it jarring or unnecessary. I previously loved Tintera's macabre sense of humor shown in Reboot and Rebel and find the author's style well-suited to it here in a fantasy. The plot is pretty original and engaging for YA fantasy; even if I wasn't wholly invested in the story, the author makes it an unpredictable read and resolution.

I had wanted to love this new book in my favorite genre, and while it was not too bad  (and, it must be said, it's far from the worst fantasy I've read from Harper this year....), I was not wowed. Though  the premise was interesting and the magic angle had potential but remains woefully unexplained and the characters were unpredictable, it's also painted in very broad strokes, with little real worldbuilding on offer, and only one developed character to engage attention and empathy. There is a lot of potential here and I haven't mentally checked out of the series, yet -- Em is enough to hook me enough to at least try the next sequel. If you're the type of reader willing to give a trilogy room to grow into itself (see Gilly's perfect post about this here!), Ruined  might be a book worth a try.

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