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.

Suffice it to say - I'm conflicted.

The Ruined are a formerly-dominant and now-conquered race, and Em is the closest thing they have to royalty. Her little sister, Olivia, was meant to be the next queen. But then her family was killed, her people scattered and hunted, and Olivia was taken by Lera - the conquering kingdom. In order to get Olivia back, Em must assume the role of a foreign princess, marry the prince of Lera, and bring their kingdom down from within.

If we the readers had a dollar for every time this plot came about, we'd be tantamount to royalty, too. At the very least, we'd be able to afford a castle or two. Hey, we can aid Em in her efforts - she certainly lacks financial backing.

And I would help Em on her quest, too. Because, despite an uninspiring plot, Em and Cas - her future husband - are interesting as individual characters. And for the first time in a long time in YA fantasy, Em is more interesting than Cas. Usually a heroine is designed as a blank canvas onto which we can project, and the love interest gets all the actual personality. Not in Ruined! Em is deliciously dark and angry without the accompanying angst and melodrama, and that is everything one could ever want in a protagonist of this type. Both Em and Cas have a dry sense of humor that borders on deprecation, and it's where this book really shines.

The king sighed. "I suppose you could have done worse than Mary." 
"We should ask the priest to say that at the wedding," Cas said. "'And now we unite Casimir and Mary. They both could have done worse.'"

Also, they are both incredibly flawed. Em's main purpose is to assume another's identity and basically become a spy and a mole. And from very early on in the book, she absolutely sucks at it. (Like... she's truly terrible, you guys.) And Cas's main purpose is to train to become king. Except he's never given two figs about the way his country is run, and asked no questions about it at all, apparently. These flaws are both the book's up side - because big flaws are important in my little Lexieverse - and the down side, because it renders you...


So the characters are compelling and humorous and flawed, and now that I've lulled you into a false sense of security, let me for a second reflect on how thoroughly I didn't buy their relationship as a couple. Technically, they needed to marry, and with that I had no problems. But psychologically, there is as little reason for Em to be infatuated with Cas so fast, as there is for Cas to be with her. It came out of nowhere, it came too fast, and I feel like the story would have been forced into some more daring and interesting places and the plot would have been tighter had there been no romance to speak of.

Also, the side characters in Ruined are well and truly side characters. (What complexity? What individual arcs? What personal goals and motivation?) Further demonstrated by this entire review centering on Em and Cas. That is no accident.

And at the same time, as a whole, this cast worked. (Are you getting the conflicted thing yet?) Possibly this is due to their coming from two three opposite sides of a war. Possibly it's due to their being a generally mixed bag which ranged from unflinchingly nice to possibly insane and definitely murderous.

(Grotesque murder, my friends. At times there's truly grotesque murder to be found.)

Which is just as well, because the worldbuilding was shoddy and confusing. And nothing detracts from shoddy worldbuilding like murder of epic scopes. Early on in the book, the kingdoms are laid out in a "this is next to this, and this next to this" manner - which is about the level of detail that Ruined sticks with. (Why no map, Ruined? Whyyy?) One of said kingdoms is then never mentioned again, and the other three are different in a way that makes them the same. In both Lera and Ruina, characters have Hispanic names (Jovita, Emelina Flores, etc.) with an occasional inexplicable Slavic addition (Casimir). Both Lera and Ruina (and apparently Olso) had or have tyrannical leaders and supreme prejudice against one another's people. There don't seem to be language barriers, no cultural shock that comes with moving to a new country, no differing social norms or even fashion choices. Olso is a land of warriors, but Lera and Ruina seem hell-bent on warring themselves. Color me confused.

On the flip side, however, these inherent similarities between kingdoms at least make it abundantly clear that there are no true winners in a war, and certainly no "right side" - a fact which many idealistic fantasy authors often forget. And for that alone (and for going to an interesting place in the end), Ruined has my appreciation, and my commitment to the sequel.

Being conflicted about a book clearly does a disservice to the overall review length. IT WAS GREAT, BUT IT WAS NOT, AND THEN IT WAS, AND THEN IT WASN'T. I was clearly at the height of my decisiveness with Ruined.

Talk to me, pumpkins! What was the last book that rendered you indecisive? And have you read Ruined, or any of Amy's previous work? Leave us a comment below and let us know. There may or may not be virtual cookies as compensation.