Once again, Beaty has built a slow-burn plot packed with tension, intrigue, and action. This book 2 suffers from none of the usual issues middle books often face. From start to finish, it's every bit as edge-of-your-seat as the first book, adding to the expansive world without being dull or overwhelming. As far as second-books go, this is one of the most successful I've ever seen. Beaty's approach to this series is very insular, in that each book stands quite strongly on its own two legs. Ruin's story arc is big enough to drive both the characters and the reader onward without relying overmuch on information in the previous volume.
In Ruin, Alex gets a crucial new assignment that puts him once again in a position to prove himself against the many doubtful voices that haunt him as a general's son and nephew of the King. Haunted by the events of the first book and under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform in his new capacity, his chapters are thick with emotional tension.
Sage, determined to remain at his side, gets herself assigned to accompany Alex's new regiment as a tutor for the King's son Nicholas, who is a page in the army. Alex's internal struggles make this a particularly contentious move that serves to drive a wedge between them for the first third of the book. When the unthinkable happens, Sage and Nicholas get separated from the regiment and whisked off to the neighboring kingdom of Casmun. Alex is finally faced with his greatest fear: having to choose between Sage and his duty as an officer.
This second installment in Beaty's trilogy is full of political intrigue and court maneuvering, not to mention an emotional roller-coaster. As readers, we learn about the nation of Casmun and its culture right alongside Sage as she struggles to navigate the Casmuni court. The new characters introduced are just as vivid and unique as those we've already come to know and love, and the development of the young prince Nicholas was particularly satisfying to me. All the while, the back-and-forth points of view between Sage and Alex keep the romantic and emotional strain keyed up without it becoming tiresome. Ruin is another slow, steady spiral up to a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching conclusion that had me snatching the next book off my shelf and diving right back in for more.