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League of Legends’ Ruination novel is better than it has any right to be

A surprisingly strong fantasy novel from the League IP

League of Legends - King Viego splash art, which shows a handsome young man in blue and gold armor kneel and take his wife’s hand in a loving gesture. Image: Riot Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Ruination, the first League of Legends novel, takes place in the far past of the setting. The novel tells the story of Camavor, a nation founded on conquest, glory, and battle. Kalista, a proud general, searches for a cure for its doomed queen, while the king descends further into desperation and madness.

If you’ve played League of Legends, or if you’ve engaged in the League ecosystem of cinematics, comics, champion releases, in-game events, and short stories, you know how this tale ends. (Spoiler: not well!) The broad strokes of this story have been told repeatedly; Ruination dives into the fine details. Author Anthony Reynolds had a daunting task at hand — make something that’s coherent and engaging to people who have never played a single game of League, while keeping the tragic tale interesting to those who know the story by heart.

By and large, Ruination succeeds at this balance. The story starts in the empire of Camavor, and the old king is recently dead. His son Viego was never meant to be the heir, but he’s the one who ended up with the crown. Kalista is general of the Host and the King’s niece, betrothed to Hecarim, the grand master of the kingdom’s Iron Order. She’s doing her best to guide the young man away from his worst and most selfish impulses and into being a proper king while juggling her military duties, court politics, and her betrothed’s advances.

Kalista’s life becomes even more difficult when an assassin imperils the king’s wife, Isolde, and Viego sends Kalista to find a cure for the blade’s poison. Camavor is depicted as an empire built on blood, with the kingdom’s knightly orders regularly besieging and sacking new territory. Kalista and Hecarim represent both sides of the coin of Camavor. Kalista is noble, cares for her lowborn soldiers, and has a distaste for useless bloodshed. Hecarim is ambitious, talented at playing court politics, and willing to crush an enemy beneath his steed.

It’s nice to read a bloody, grim fantasy novel where women aren’t used as props to torment and torture. Kalista is a general, and she encounters several other women in positions of power and prominence. The narrative evades the common fantasy trap of “historical realism” by including queer love and female warriors. Best of all are the lovely character moments threaded between the piles of corpses and battle scenes.

I only wish there were more of these quiet character moments. League of Legends players have spent years playing as Hecarim or puzzling out lore theories on Isolde, and it’d be nice for Ruination to give us some more insight on these characters. The book keeps up a brisk pace, hitting all the story beats that have been explained through League early on. There are no big surprises that come up here, nor any twists on the narrative — it’s just a grim march from the story’s origins to its conclusion.

The end result is a novel that I could recommend to someone who just likes fantasy books, even if they’ve never played League. Upon finishing Ruination, I also realized the power this book could have as a launchpad into greater League lore. There are post-Ruination stories on the Universe website, and Viego shows back up in the Riot Forge RPG The Ruined King. Since Ruination is a competent, well-executed fantasy novel, it’ll be interesting to see whether it breaks out of the League ecosystem to bring in new fans.

Current-day Kalista and Hecarim haven’t received a ton of love or attention in recent lore, and it’s cool to revisit their origins and get some more detail. Ruination has one frustrating feature, and it’s that I want more — what are those characters up to now? Where will the Shadow Isles go now that Viego is on ice in Camavor? With Riot’s vast library of characters and plots, there’s still a lot of ground to cover. But Ruination is a good start, so I hope its successes encourage Riot to produce more fiction.

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