MFA in Writing, BA in English and Technical Communiation, Hobby Artist.

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Ruination Review

DISCLAIMER: As I am approaching this review from the perspective of League of Legends fan, in this review I discuss what may be considered spoilers to non-League players. These spoilers are on the level of Powder->Jinx in Arcane; I won't spoil anything that isn't obvious to League players, or mentioned on the book's jacket copy.

Just like Arcane, Ruination is an exercise in dramatic irony. Players all know the tragedy that befalls Camavor and the Blessed Isles—the novel simply answers the question of how that happens.The story is told from multiple perspectives, though the primary three narrators are Kalista, Ryze, and Erlok Grael—the man who becomes the champion we know as Thresh. They're not yet the characters we know and love, as the novel takes place a millennium before the present day in Runeterra. Kalista, however, is a compelling protagonist. She's loyal to a fault and sees past Viego's mental illness. She believes that Camavor can be greater, and wants to usher in a new era where there's no gap between socioeconomic classes and no discrimination based on title or lack thereof. Kalista is righteous and noble, which makes her inevitable death all the more tragic.I wouldn't describe Viego as sympathetic. He isn't meant to be likeable; after all, he's one of two villains in this book, though his villainy is a product of grief. I'd use the word pitiable to describe him, as we know from the very first chapter that no one has ever had faith in him, sans Kalista and Isolde. Handling the representation of mental illness in media is a tricky thing—you don't want to play into harmful stereotypes, and you want to handle such issues with the realism they deserve. Viego is mentally ill. There's no denying that. Neglect is its own form of trauma, and it greatly influenced the man he became. In spite of who he is, he isn't a bad person at first. Kalista grew up alongside him, and is, perhaps, the only person who knows who he really is before he descends into madness. She constantly tries to pull him out of the darkness, knowing that his words and actions are the results of trauma and grief. As someone who struggles with mental health issues, I loved seeing her champion his true self. When I find myself overburdened with negative or intrusive thoughts, I have to remind myself that it's not me talking, it's my depression, my anxiety. Viego struggles in a similar fashion. It isn't his mental illness that makes him a bad person, but his desperation to save his wife. He warps into someone completely different from the man we see in the first few chapters of the book.Erlok Grael—I'll refer to him as Thresh for the sake of ease and clarity —is despicable. He's a hateful, evil man, and while we can understand why he's turned out this way, I'd argue he isn't worth pitying in the way that Viego is. Thresh's idea of punishment for those who wronged him far outways their "crime." That said, it's a great backstory, and I always enjoy seeing the antagonist's point of view in novels.I don't want to talk much about Ryze, because he isn't immediately present in the novel, and I feel that's getting into spoiler territory. He has a good character arc, and Ruination greatly informs the person he is in League of Legends.There are other League characters that make appearances, of course. The only one I'll name is Hecarim, as he's Kalista's fiance, and is a Shadow Isles character in-game. I feel it's obvious enough that he was involved. But there are other cameos, both big and small. Some are mentioned by name, some appear on the page, and some just get a single line hinting at their existence. These Easter eggs aren't just limited to characters, either. A few items make appearances, most obviously the Blade of the Ruined King. I won't name others to avoid spoilers, but I found myself smiling at each nod to in-game content.I could talk at length about this book, but I want to keep this review accessible to those who want to know more without spoiling themselves. Now I'll be moving on to the things I liked, and what I disliked.Note that I am not only a League lore enthusiast, but a high fantasy enthusiast in general. I'm also a writer with a Master's degree in writing fantasy, which is the primary informant of what I disliked about this book. Remember that these are all subjective and are in no way facts nor attacks on the author.What I Enjoyed
•The book was written by a Riot employee, with League players in mind. Like Arcane, you don't need knowledge of the world to read Ruination. It stands on its own two legs, but knowledge of the League universe makes for a very different reading experience. It's a tragedy, after all.
•The worldbuilding of Camavor reminded me of the Stormlight Archive. I'd like to think Viego and Dalinar are two sides of the same coin, but one dealt with his grief and the other succumbed to it. (Also loyal/noble, spear-wielders named Kal, anyone?)•Kalista. I resonated with her on a deeply personal level, and the pages leading up to her death had me in tears. Reading something knowing that a character is going to die is an entirely different experience than an author killing a character off out of nowhere.•Vennix and Jenda'Kaya. I won't touch on them, but they're the best characters in the book. Especially Vennix.•The epigraphs at the beginning of the novel and each part. The first question the book raises is "Who wrote this epigraph?" It's answered immediately, which is unusual, but again, dramatic irony and all that.•The references to in-game content•Shining a spotlight on ancient Runeterra!•Readability. Despite being high fantasy, it's approachable in its pacing and language. Players who aren't big on reading can still enjoy this book!•In broad strokes, I think representation was handled well, barring one comment I'll get on to shortly.What I Didn't Like
•Because there's so much needed to establish what is happening in the present, the first half of the book is very heavy on the "telling." Show don't tell is a guideline, and rules are meant to be broken, but I would rather have seen some of this information dramatized rather than fed to me through narration. I won't pretend to know what restrictions were placed on Reynolds, so I don't know if he was kept to a certain format or word count. I just would have loved flashbacks, or more epigraphs, flashing back to Kalista and Viego's youth, showing what they were like, or what their late family members were like.
•Internal dialogue. I found this a bit jarring with how infrequent these thoughts were used. They easily could have been narration instead.•Use of passive voice. Like show don't tell, there's a time and place for everything. But there were sentences here and there where I simply found it distracting/detracting from the language. I personally would have edited some of them out.•Use of gendered language. There are places where the phrases "he or she," "husbands and wives," and "men and women," were used. I would have liked to see "spouses" at the very least—I know CMOS doesn't like singular they and editors are going to do what editors are going to do. But you can also use "people" or "citizens" or "soldiers" depending on the use case.•There are two questions the book raises that are never answered. The first is who tried to assassinate Viego and Isolde? The second is spoiler territory. While we don't necessarily need to know who was behind the assassination attempt, or what kind of magic it was that killed Isolde, considering it led to the titular Ruination, I would like to know.•Since this is a thousand years in the past, any characters you're attached to that didn't die on the Shadow Isles are probably dead, with the exception of Ryze. This isn't a problem, I'm just very sad.•Kalista is dead and I am HEARTBROKEN :((((Overall, I'd rate the book a solid 4/5. I'm pretty stingy with my ratings, so what's a 4 for me is usually a 5 for most. I think that the League community is going to love Ruination, and I can't wait for everyone to get the chance to read it.