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. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. 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.
*Minor spoilers if you haven’t read Shadow and Bone*
Having recently finished the first book in this series (find my review here), I was eager to get my gnashers stuck into the second. We pick up with Alina and Mal where we left off, with the lovestruck pair trying to outrun both the Darkling and Alina’s fate as the Sun Summoner of Ravka. The fragile peace of their life on the run is quickly shattered when His Royal Darkness catches up with them, and thus continues the battle of darkness and light.
Whilst I was reading Siege and Storm I didn’t feel like I was enjoying it as much as I enjoyed Shadow and Bone, but on reflection I actually feel like it had a lot of aspects that made it a much better book. The series is progressing in a way that I didn’t necessarily expect, and the choices Bardugo makes with her characters really helps to set the Grisha series aside from a lot of YA fantasy I’ve come across recently. It’s original and unpredictable, and that’s hard to do in such a crowded market.
We get to know Alina in a lot more depth in this book, and I thought her development had fantastic depth. Much like Katniss Everdeen as The Hunger Games series progressed, Alina becomes a character of contradictions. The scared girl who believed she was useless and boring has been replaced with a young woman who struggles morally with the implications of her power, whilst still hungering for more, more, more. I sympathised deeply with Alina, who finds herself stuck consistently between a rock and a hard place as she comes to realise that she can’t be the girl from Keramzin who fell in love with a Tracker in the First Army AND the Sun Summoner. She is asked to bear so many burdens by everyone around her, and I thought her struggle to hold onto herself as her power and responsibility grew and ate away at her was conveyed fantastically.
Although the romantic in me would have loved the relationship between Mal and Alina to work out, I think the right choices were made. Fantasy books shouldn’t be easy just because they’re not set in the real world, and the moral questions in this book are thrown into stark light by Mal and Alina’s disintegrating relationship. Bardugo asks us and her characters to consider whether power is worth giving up the things you love for, and if you can continue to be with someone you care for when what you both want for yourselves and for each other is so different. I felt like Mal got a lot more page time in this book, and although the breakdown of the romance really tugged on my heartstrings, the development it afforded his character was much needed. His growth allowed me to see Mal as an individual in his own right, empathising with his loneliness and his inadequacy instead of viewing him purely through the context of Alina’s love for him.
Some new characters are introduced in Siege and Storm, and we’re also return of some characters from the first book (Botkin is bae). The Darkling is notably absent for quite a period of time, which lent a different atmosphere to the story. Some Darkling fans will hate this extended period of absence, but in his wake Bardugo gives us the gift of Sturmhond, the fox-fierce Captain of the Volvolkny pirate ship, who may or may not be out for himself. As the story progressed I warmed more and more to his character, and he eventually became a favourite of mine; one who brought another perspective to the battle between Alina and the Darkling as well as some much needed charm and wit.
The pacing and the plot occasionally feels a bit sluggish; bogged down in the weight of its own politics and the inward focus on Alina’s morality. Saying that, as the story hits its final third the pacing picks up and I found that, like Shadow and Bone, there was a pretty good balance of action, drama, darkness and fantasy. Bardugo’s world-building is still absorbing, and I really loved the epilogue, which showed off a different and beautifully poetic side to her writing.
This book has a darker and more adult tone than the last, and aside from the occasional trademark flash of humour or sarcasm from Alina or other central characters, this book feels much more serious. The focus isn’t solely on the battle between good and evil anymore, but a much more personal battle between Alina and her own moral compass. Will she finally succumb to darkness and sacrifice herself in order to gain the power she needs to defeat the Darkling and save Ravka, or does Bardugo have another ace up her sleeve for the former Keramzin orphans? I have absolutely no idea, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out how the final part of the Sun Summoner’s story will end.
Stars out of five:
- Publisher: Indigo (UK)
- Pages: 435
- Publication Date: 5th June 2014
- For fans of: Sarah J. Maas, fantasy, action and adventure, eastern European culture.