Siege and Storm picks up almost immediately right where Shadow and Bone ended in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Mal and Alina have escaped the Darkling and crossed the ocean. However, when they are forced to return to Ravka, Alina, more powerful than before, is faced with an overwhelming mission. Will she be able to overcome her self-doubt to fight and defeat an enemy whose power has taken on new and darker forms?
I am so glad that this book is a great improvement on the first installment in the series. I enjoyed reading it and seeing the characters grow. And I have to say that the story’s climax and ending is heart-stoppingly spectacular.
I feel that I enjoyed reading this book much more than Shadow and Bone, and this was partly due to the writing. One of the best examples is the description of the flying ship, which was well-written, reminding us once again that this book is set right at the advent of modern warfare – guns are still primitive, yet developing quickly, and airplanes had yet to be invented. Additionally, the flying ship also lends a bit of believable magic and fun to the novel, and its mere presence makes the character of its creator, Sturmhond, all the more interesting.
Having said that, there were some minor parts where the writing was confusing. For example, in the beginning of the novel, there is a scene in which Alina keeps Mal talking because “she knew when she slept, she would dream.” But on the very same page, we are told that “The dreams were the only place it was safe to use her power now, and she longed for them.” So does she or doesn’t she want her dreams? Another example of writing is the use of foreign words. I didn’t understand the need for words that weren’t the proper names of something within a fantasy novel. The premise is that the setting is a fantasy world, with countries that don’t exist in our world, so why the foreign words? If an author is going to use foreign words, then they should either explain or provide a glossary.
Mal: We keep being told (by Alina) that he’s handsome and charming and that everyone loves him, but we see very little of that charm. Instead, for much of the book, we see a primarily sullen, jealous (both of Alina’s power and other men’s interest in her), and somewhat simple character. The short scenes with lighter banter between him and Alina, when they aren’t being jealous or possessive of each other, help to make him slightly more likeable. I only wish there were more scenes like this.
Alina: Let me start by saying that Alina changes throughout this book, which is definitely a good thing. I generally dislike both excessive impetuousness and excessive hesitation in characters. Somehow, in the beginning of the novel, Alina has both these qualities, which, when displayed over and over again become annoying and childish. At this point, her main goal is saving herself and Mal. She has no interest in saving her country. There was a glimmer of hope when she embraced her power and used it confidently. That’s when I thought she was finally a character I could come to love. However, just when you think she’s about to finally step into the role that was meant for her all along, she has to burst your bubble by either doubting herself for the millionth time or by asking stupid questions. ***SPOILER ALERT***An excellent and eternally frustrating example of this is when she is told that as the new commander of the army, she will have guards. Her first question is: “Do I really need guards?” Why? Why must she ask such stupid questions? You’re going to be the commander of an army, facing off an enemy whose power you have yet to understand, but have felt and been defeated by over and over again, and you’re still asking if you need guards?***END OF SPOILER*** I find this trope of a heroine being difficult and contrary just for the sake of being difficult and contrary irritating in YA literature. It is overdone and makes it almost impossible for me to like these characters. However, she slowly but surely starts becoming more serious, more focused, and more confident, and the more she does so, the more I root for her.
Sturmhond: I have to admit that I am officially in love with this character, and so far, he is my all-time favorite in this series (with the Darkling coming in second). ***SPOILER ALERT***One of Sturmhond’s most endearing moments (to me) was when he replied to Mal’s accusation that his proposal to marry Alina with the following: “Did you think you could just carry off one of the most powerful Grisha in the world like some peasant girl you tumbled in a barn? Is that how you think this story ends? I’m trying to keep a country from falling apart, not steal your best girl.” I think I almost cheered at this point.***END OF SPOILER*** Finally, someone takes it upon himself to knock some sense into these two self-absorbed characters. As the story progressed, I often found that he would articulate my exact frustrations with Alina and Mal, and wonder whether the author created him specifically for this purpose. Seriously, the more I get to know about Sturmhond, the more I wish this novel had been about him, rather than Alina and Mal. I hope he shows up in the third book.
One of the best features of this novel is how deeply it delves into the politics and power dynamics of this world. This gives the book much more gravity and substance than its predecessor, making it a much more satisfying read. Important and universal questions are explored: should we seek to gain dubious, almost infinite, power to destroy evil? Is all power bad?
I am definitely looking forward to reading the third book in this series, and hope that the story keeps getting better.