Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha, #2
Published: 2013, Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Source: Personal collection
Contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone (my review)
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"I don't care if you think I'm a Saint or a fool or the Darkling's whore. If you want to remain at the Little Palace, you will follow me. And if you don't like it, you will be gone by tonight, or I will have you in chains. I am a solider. I am the Sun Summoner. And I'm the only chance you have."
With the constant self-inflicted pressure to read more and more these days, it seems I'd forgotten the power that settling into a familiar and beloved story can possess. I tend to read series back-to-back when possible, and, while I love re-reading, I haven't re-read anything for a while now. In opening the pages of my copy of Siege and Storm, viewing the expanded map of Ravka and its surrounding lands, once again reading the description of Grisha orders, I felt a palpable sense of relief. I knew these characters, this story, and was more than ready to see what would happen to them next.
Alina and Mal have successfully dashed the Darkling's plans to expand the Shadow Fold. Leaving him and his crew to the monstrous volcra, Alina and Mal have attempted to start over in Novyi Zem, far across the True Sea from Ravka. Although they both left everything behind for each other, Alina has a much more difficult time accepting their new lives and the limitations that come with them; primarily, her guilt in not acting upon the good she could do for her people as the Sun Summoner. She's willing to try, though, for the sake of Mal.
Before the two of them can decide where to go and what to do next, however, the Darkling has caught up to them once more. He has new and frightening powers, but still craves the amplified power that Alina possesses while wearing Morozova's collar. And better yet, he's discovered a the fabled ice dragon of the northern seas holds the key to yet another amplifier. The Darkling hasn't given up hope of harnessing Alina's power, and he's not the only one.
Where Leigh Bardugo really excels as an author is in her attention to detail. Shadow and Bone introduced readers to a whole new fantasy world, replete with Russian influences, an order of element-wielding sorcerers, political intrigue, destiny, and a young orphan girl caught in the middle of it all. Does this series bear similarities to many other published fantasy series? Certainly. But Bardugo skillfully writes a story that is worth reading, both in comparison to other fantasy novels and as a unique work of fantasy fiction in its own right.
Like any good sequel should, Siege and Storm reintroduces readers to the world of the first book and then expands it tremendously. While Shadow and Bone took place solely in the country Ravka, this newest installment offers a much wider scope of the world. Even though the characters do not explore all the various lands themselves, through the introduction of new characters and political intrigue, Bardugo convincingly fleshes out the world. Alina finds herself back in Ravka at a certain point in the novel, but it's more than simply the Ravka introduced through her childhood at Keramzin, her time spent in the First Army, or through her Grisha training at the Little Palace. Bardugo treats her worldbuilding much like a character, slowly revealing bits of new information. Readers become acquainted with the upper workings of the Grisha order, the royal family, tense political alliances with outside countries, and even with a fanatical new religious movement.
Solid characterization is another strong point of Bardugo's, and in Siege and Storm there are three secondary characters worth mentioning: Mal, the Darkling, and Strumhond (although there are many other great ones as well). Not all three function as love interests necessarily, but all do offer something different and relevant to Alina. Mal is Alina's best friend and has recently become more than simply the subject of her unrequited love. He has given up everything in his life for her, but their relationship is not all bliss. Sure, he's a bit edgy and becomes increasingly discontent with many of Alina's decisions over the course of the novel, but he also is the only person who looks at Alina and sees Alina, not the benefits her power has. The Darkling remains the most enigmatic character in this installment, in part due to his lack of presence. He is only physically present for a small percentage of the novel, although his influence extends far beyond his page count. His desire to possess Alina's powers may border on obsessive, but so, too, does Alina's constant preoccupation with his presence indicate that she's just as drawn to all he can offer her. Strumhond, the privateer that the Darkling hires to transport them all to the northern seas, is new to this book but has already become a major player in the story. The twists and turns associated with his character are among some of the best. Although the best secondary characters are all male, there's no true love triangle (or quadrangle) that develops. All three are incredibly well depicted, and all three have distinct relationships with Alina herself.
Against three such male characters, it would have been easy for Alina to fade into the background. She still retains a tendency to think of herself as unremarkable, as unimportant. Certainly not as the all-powerful Sun Summoner, the girl sought after by some of the most powerful men in the world, or even as Sankta Alina. And yet, that's the type of person she's become to the rest of the world. Through much of the book, Alina still struggles to reconcile the difference between the image that she has of herself and what she's truly capable of. As the Sun Summoner in possession of an amplifier (with the possibility of acquiring another), Alina also struggles to balance the dynamic between what her powers could and should allow her to do. It's a very slippery slope that Alina balances above, and she does rely on the suggestions of others. But this is ultimately Alina's story, and it is she who gradually comes to learn just what she hopes to accomplish both with her powers and by herself.
Siege and Storm is an even stronger work than Shadow and Bone. As Bardugo herself has grown as a writer, so, too, have the story and characters matured. Bardugo has left many typical fantasy tropes behind in this latest installment, and the ending will be sure to leave her fans eagerly awaiting the release of the finale. Strong writing, strong characterizations, strong world-building, and a ton of originality make Siege and Storm well worth a read. Without a doubt, Leigh Bardugo has become one of my new favorite fantasy authors.
Rating: 5 stars