Monday, January 25, 2016

King Ruin by Michael John Grist

Standing in the ashes of his final battle with Mr. Ruins, at the edge of the floating slums, ex-Arctic marine Ritry Goligh thinks his long nightmare is finally over. His family are safe, his soul is his own, and at last he can go home.

Then comes an explosion that makes no sound, but blows all his thoughts to shreds. In an instant Ritry is prey again, hunted by a power so vast he can’t even comprehend it. This is King Ruin, and before him all Rit can do is run, so far and so fast he starts to forget who and what he is.

Soon half his mind is gone, the King is closing in, and the souls of billions are at stake. Because King Ruin wants the Bridge, a direct path into the minds of every living thing, and only the lost and broken Ritry Goligh stands in his way.

King Ruin picks up right where Mr. Ruins left off. Ritry doesn't get to savor his victory or even go home to see his family. He's right back in thick of it with a foe that is far stronger than Mr. Ruins.
Previous cover
Previous cover for King Ruin
Before I get into the review, I'd like to comment on the covers. Mr. Grist decided last year to redo his covers as sales for the Ruins War series had dropped off. It got him to thinking that maybe the covers weren't conveying enough of the mystery of the books. I disagree, but that's just one man's opinion. Anyway, this isn't the first time he's revamped his covers.

The series of covers I saw all featured scenes from their respective books—the skyscraper picture above is rather chilling in retrospect. The new covers are more focused on characters. Mr. Ruins himself is featured on the new version of his titular cover (new cover added to bottom of review). However, I don't recognize the person on this new King Ruins cover. The two red suns are pertinent though. I could make a guess on the character, but the appearance doesn't match up with the description in the book.*

On with the review
Current cover
Current cover for King Ruin
As I mentioned above, the book picks up right where the previous one left off. Ritry fights for his life only to find himself captured by Don Zachary, an organized crime boss of the skulks from the first book. Ten percent of the book has gone by before Grist lets Ritry and the reader take a breath. But it isn't long before Ritry is on the run again.

The marines return and are just as important to saving Ritry's life as they were in the first book. I won't spoil their connection to him if you haven't read the first book. But for those who have, their mission here is just as surreal and mysterious as before. Me and Far are missing, which is puzzling to the rest of the chord. But by doing so, Grist permits the reader to get to know the other members of the chord—Me and Far were the focus of the first book. Grist keeps their absence a secret until the story nears its climax, when all is revealed.

Mr. Ruins, Ritry's foe in the first book, was a bit of a mystery. While he offered an explanation for his obsession with Ritry, I felt like there was something more. He seemed to be hiding something, but with the conclusion of that book, I didn't hold out much hope of finding out. Fortunately for the sake of the story, Mr. Ruins makes a return, and we get to the truth behind Mr. Ruins' sadistic treatment of Ritry and others.

Whereas Mr. Ruins was a sadist, King Ruin is a ghoul. If we take it that power corrupts, then as power grows so too does the level of corruption. King Ruin does things to people that would make Josef Mengele proud, if not envious. Grist forces the reader to bear witness to some of these horrors and to the suffering that King Ruin's crippled victims struggle to recover from. It serves a purpose; this isn't torture porn. King Ruin is a being that feeds upon pain. He would starve to death without it. If you're one who is easily upset by disturbing imagery, then heed the "horror" tag I applied to this review.

Just as Grist revealed the origins of Mr. Ruins, so too does he reveal the ghastly origin of King Ruin. It makes sense. It might seem like this is just Ritry's battle against a bigger and badder foe, but King Ruin's reach knows no bounds. He strips everything from Ritry. Everything. Ritry must sacrifice his connections to everyone he loves, lest King Ruin find them and make them suffer too.

Unfortunately, my experience was marred by typos and punctuation problems. If he had hired a proofreader, I believe that the manuscript would've been much cleaner. Maybe the story has been edited since I received my copy. Anyway, if typos aren't the sort of thing that catches your eye, then don't sweat it. Just enjoy the story.

King Ruin is a journey through desolate post-apocalyptic wastelands, both physical and mental, full of madness and pain. At times surreal, it is also visceral. The overarching message I get from this story is that our pain defines us. The memories of that pain form strong bonds that entwine our souls. It twists us. If it doesn't break us, it shapes us into something different, possibly evil. In turn, we inflict that pain upon others, whether we wish to or not. Only love and forgiveness can break the cycle. And if we can find redemption for the pain we've caused, we can rest in peace.

For more information about King Ruin or Grist's other works, please visit his website.

* I spoke with Mr. Grist about her. She is whom I thought she was, just a different interpretation than the one I had.

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