Siege and Storm picks up where Shadow and Bone left off – Mal and Alina are on the run with The Darkling in pursuit of them. Alina is still struggling between her darker nature and the girl she used to be, as well the unavoidable connection she has with The Darkling. New characters are introduced, all of them fantastic and of course Mal and Alina continue their tedious ~romance.
I really enjoyed this read, you guys. Sequels generally have a lot to live up to but I think Siege and Storm surpasses the first book by far, despite the frankly unforgivable lack of The Darkling *weeps* This second book in the trilogy is so good because the plot is advanced through the characters each developing, gradually revealing new layers to themselves that in turn lead to new paths that can be followed. I really enjoyed the glimpse into the palace politics; Bardugo, I think, is really good at subtly describing the opulence and wealth that the nobility of Ravka are used to; her prose is lush in these scenes, making the palace come alive with vivid colours and the scent of luxurious food. It’s such an effective technique because she balances out this extraordinary world of decadence with stark, brutal prose that describes the situation outside the palace walls. The peasants are starving in the streets, the Grisha have fallen from grace (with many seeking safety within The Darkling’s army) and the cult of Sankta Alina has taken the country by storm.
We’re also introduced to new characters, and one of them is seriously popular with Judith and Amber. Sturmhond, the pirate privateer with a secret is without a doubt one of the best additions to this series. He injects spark and humour into what is otherwise a very serious, often sad story. I also liked how much development he has over the course of the novel, going from a pirate privateer seeking his next fortune and not much caring where it comes from next, to a patriot, to a prince, to a refugee. Alina is quick to point out that Sturmhond has an uncanny ability to perform for any audience while never revealing his true self; I loved that duality to his character because it made him unpredictable and intriguing. His relationship with Alina, I think, is very sweet. Alina is quite a serious character but the banter between her and Sturmhond brings out her lighter side – he makes her laugh, pushes her to lead and command and she in turn, I think, inspires him to be more than he is. I think it’s nice because they both believe in each other, despite all the reasons each of them have not to.
Mal also is far more interesting in this book than he was in Shadow and Bone, I think because you get to see him through the eyes of characters other than Alina. Both The Darkling *weeps more* and Sturmhond weigh in on him, illustrating things about him that Alina is unwilling to see. For example, Sturmhond tells her that Mal needs to be a hero; he needs the freedom of the wild countryside and a purpose like being in the army afforded him to feel complete. Being trapped within four walls suffocates him, and we actually see that happen – while Alina flourishes in her new role, Mal spirals because he’s no longer in charge doing anything he thinks is valuable. The Darkling plays on Mal’s insecurities about Alina; it’s most entertaining. His big struggle in this novel is his acceptance of who Alina has become – whether she still loves him, whether he can compare, as an ordinary man, to the Sun Summoner. But while I did appreciate Mal’s development, because lord knows he needed it, he’s still not at all a likeable character. He becomes the very definition of a jealous boyfriend who can’t deal with his girlfriend doing better than he is. Once a loathsome little cockroach, always a loathsome little cockroach tbh.
The Darkling is mostly a periphery character in this novel but the few scenes he has are powerful. I love, love, love the moments he shares with Alina; they’re so private and intimate. He’s almost tender with her, brushing her hair away and kissing her literally all the time, and it kiiilllllllssssssssss me. I love what he represents to her – power – and how she turns from it until she’s ready. It’s just really a gorgeous love story – he is basically Death incarnate while she is life embodied, stolen away by him and instead of turning from him, Alina faces him, absorbs him, conquers him and he lets her. (I can’t shake how similar they are to the love story in Deathless, another novel based on Russian folklore.)
“So many men had tried to make her a queen. Now she understood that she was meant for something more.”
I just want to talk about Alina, who was my very favourite character throughout this entire novel. Her development is amazing; her struggles between who she wants to be for Mal and who she knows she is deep down fascinated me because it’s such a good depiction of female empowerment. I loved that Alina becomes a leader, accepting her position and using it to her advantage. This is a girl who goes from having little confidence in herself to having the nobility bow their heads to her, acknowledging the power she alone commands. She is glorious.
So yeah, I liked this book a lot. Again, the story has a lot of potential and I can’t wait to read the next one to see how it all ends. It mostly doesn’t get the four star rating I would otherwise have given it because there is just so much emphasis on Mal/Alina and I could not care less if I tried.