Ruinsong / Julia Ember / Book Review


When Cadence sings, the whole nation listens. They have to, by law of the queen. Cadence is one of the queen's most powerful mages, and her magic, like all magic, is sung. By order of the queen, Cadence uses her voice to keep the disgraced nobility in line. Songs for burning, for freezing, for laceration: Cadence is a master of torture, and her entire life is indebted to the ruthless queen. Cadence does her bidding. She must.

When noblewoman Remi finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, she lands in prison and at Cadence's merciless hands. But Remi and Cadence knew each other long ago.

When Cadence is reunited with her childhood friend, who may or may not have ties to an underground rebellion, Cadence confronts a difficult choice: she can continue to be the queen's monster and save her own life, or she can risk everything to follow after her friend and stand for what is right.



Balanced Worldbuilding Every element of the worldbuilding in this book stands in perfect harmony. Julia Ember's descriptions are beautiful and her magics are tantalizingly deadly. These world elements are incorporated in a way that does not bog down the reader. Every piece is exactly what the reader needs to make sense of the world without getting lost in the details. This perfect balancing act is especially evident in the prologue. Prologues have a bad reputation in the writing world, especially in science fiction and fantasy, because new authors tend to use them as an opportunity for an "info dump" to build their world. Here, however, Ember beautifully sketches out her main character, her cruel magic, and the sense of a world right on the brink of becoming the nightmare that the rest of the book will exhibit. Every piece is exactly in its place and executed well.

Complex Killer Character Cadence is a torturer and a killer, but she does not fall completely in line with this modus operandi. She is not the typical YA assassin who takes pleasure or pride in her job. She has regrets. She wrestles with the implications of her life, but at the same time, she doesn't fall completely into the other type of YA killer character--that is, the whiney "they make me do it, but I don't actually want to" character. Cadence does wrestle with the pressure she feels to perform, certainly, but she also loves and cherishes her power at times. She wrestles with what she does and has to do, but she doesn't shy away from it entirely. This complexity in a killer character is just what YA needs.

Too Short Anything prefixed with "too" sounds like it would be a negative, but this isn't. Whenever a book feels like it is too short, that's a good thing. When I was only halfway through the book, I was already sad that I only had half of the book left. I was sad when it ended, not because it was incomplete but because I wanted more of it. This book isn't a series, so it ends where it stands. Because Ember's writing is lyrical, her world is intriguing, and her characters are so dynamic, I wish there was more to come. There was so much within this book already, but I definitely wish there was even more.


I didn't find the gore in this book excessive or unwarranted. The main character, after all, is the queen's torturer. Some people, however, will dislike the gory nature of this book. There is a lot of gore--lots of blood, burns, and death. It isn't gratuitous, but it is present. Some readers should beware. Gore

Characters mentioned in passing where almost always described simply as "white." Race/ethnicity/skin color doesn't play any sort of part in the worldbuilding here, so this descriptor just felt a little strange to me because it is so entangled in our own world politics. This isn't a big deal, but it is definitely something that stood out to me. Side Character Descriptions

There is a very sudden shift in the middle of the book between two characters. They start thinking of each other as romantic interests almost as soon as they come into contact with each other. This is not to say that they can't admire each other and consider the possibility, but the depth of their interest felt a little too quick. It felt like they bypassed the "crush" or "attraction" level of interest entirely. This does not overtake the plot, so again, it wasn't a big deal. Still, it managed to irk me. Quick Romantic Shift



Fans of the morally-ambiguous lead in Marie Lu's The Young Elites should check out this new gray protagonist. Anyone who enjoyed the killer magic of Adalyn Grace's All the Stars and Teeth should check out this complex look at torture magic.


Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Date: November 24, 2020
Series: N/A
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  1. It is nice that there is a complex killer character instead of a stereotypical one.


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