(Thank you to the publisher!)
Published by: Henry Holt and Company
Siege and Storm (Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Darkness never dies.
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
You can read my initial impressions of Siege and Storm here. I have since reread the novel, so my review may be slightly altered from those impressions. Also, there may be spoilers for the first novel if you have not yet read it.
1. (+) Alina, the protagonist - Alina starts off the book as she was before: slightly insecure. Weakened by not using her power, she feels tired constantly and compares herself to the other women... but quickly circumstances force her to become otherwise. As the times grow rougher, so does Alina. Yes, she can be vain and insecure, but she is also so much more. She evolves into a stronger, smarter, more capable leader, and with a growing list of responsibilities added to her mantle, she too becomes more hardened and mature, and she's a fascinating heroine to follow. I love her snark and I can't wait to read what happens to her next.
2. (+) World-building - I believe some of the criticism of Shadow and Bone was that it took too much from Russian culture--or the issue was with what was changed. Whatever the criticism, the czarist-inspired feel is still present, but the world has clearly expanded. There are more fairy tales, more adventures to be had, greater exploration of the bounds of both Alina and the Darkling's powers and their mutual connection, more parties and court politics, more on the Saints and the Apparat's shadiness, more on the Grisha and their power dynamics as well as those of the First Army... More, more, more. This world has become much more clearly developed, and it's all so wonderfully visually painted for you.
3. (+) Romance - A lot of sequels/2nd books in trilogies are about breaking up the main couple or testing the MC and interest to see whether their love can sustain multiple trials. As such, Mal and Alina will have to deal with her powers, the unique situation they place her in the Grisha world, and the fundamental difference between the two, although they both are the hero and heroine of this series. Of course there's also the Darkling ever looming, and his last attempts with Alina are clearly not over. And there too may be someone else... The tension and conflict in each and every situation was heightened and developed, stakes clearly raised, and it was a job well done indeed.
4. (+/-) The Darkling - For those of you Darkling fans out there, understandably he's not as present in this novel. That's not what bothered me, since I thought the way in which he was included was really creative and well done. His actions in relation to Alina, however, confused me. I understand intimidating and confusing and still seducing her, but it's a fine line to walk between having him act mysterious and be transparent, and I'm not sure his motivations made sense to me. Granted, he is a villain, and I probably shouldn't have full access to them, but... to me, he seemed more complex in the first novel. Perhaps because he wasn't always the villain, and there were plenty of scenes to wonder at later--wonder at his authenticity, that is. Now it's not really wondering at his authenticity or end game, just fighting him and whatever he has in store.
5. (+) Plot - If you've read the first few chapters, you know that the action starts right at the beginning... and really it doesn't stop. Political machination, religious zeal from cults, romantic drama, court drama, war preparations, dark v. light, the trappings of power and its consequences... yeah, so some of those are more themes than plots, but as you can tell, there is a lot more going on in this book... and I loved every detail. Plus, the plot twists were more subtle and careful and unpredictable and clearly, highly exciting to read.
6. (+) Character Cast - Loved the new characters! All of them. Not just Sturmhond, though I've lost count of how many reviewers I've seen become Team Sturmhond. Also: Tolya and Tamar, and many more but some may be spoilers to discuss. Suffice it to say, although the series is dark and becomes darker, the unique mix of humor and political intrigue continues in this novel, and the characters, both new and old, really make the book what it is.
7. (+) Character Growth/Series Advancement - This was the thick chunk of the book, as this sequel was less about Alina realizing her destiny and more about her embracing it and the political consequences of those actions. She is tempted by power as much as the Darkling, and she becomes a leader in times of crises. She rises magnificently to the occasion. In addition to the plot of this novel, the series plot also thickens with greater intensity, and there's no question that Ruin and Rising will be an epic final installment.
8. (+) The Writing - It's no secret that I love Bardugo's writing. I loved it in the first book (favorited some GR quotes), and I think it's become even more refined and beautiful and atmospheric.
9. (+/-) Pacing - This book is clearly more dense than Shadow and Bone. With the introduction of many new plot lines, I thought the pacing in the middle dragged, though there was still advancement of the story. It was all essential, and truthfully I'm not sure what I would have done differently, but it was a tad slow. It may simply be that I noticed it more in this sequel just because of its additional length.
10. (+/-) The Cover - I'm still not a huge fan of the cover. It certainly represents the book well, but it's just so much showier and bolder than Shadow and Bone--they don't seem to go very well together.
In short, my only issues were with the pacing and the Darkling's motivations. The rest? FANTASTIC. I'm going to quote from my initial impressions post now: "Siege and Storm is a great mixture of religion, politics, court intrigue, magic, romance, character introductions and growth, and subtlety... Leigh Bardugo has earned herself an assured spot on my trusted authors shelf. She knows how to tell a story, how to create characters whose motivations and growth are shown, how to expand on a world while keeping its previous intrigue and consistency. How to create a protagonist whose struggles you can relate to, and how to include humor, intensity/passion/sexiness, and doubts within a budding romance." If you haven't started reading this series yet... what are you waiting for?
Watch the trailer below!