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REVIEW: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

READERS PLEASE NOTE: Since Siege and Storm is the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, the review of this book below will by necessity include spoilers for the first book, Shadow and Bone. My spoiler free review of Shadow and Bone can be found here.

Dear Ms. Bardugo,

Shadow and Bone, the first book in your YA fantasy trilogy, had many things going for it and except for in one or two places in the story, I was enthralled until around the two-thirds mark. That was when one of the heroine’s love interests (and for my money, the more dynamic and fascinating one) was revealed to be a villain of such proportions that I consider him irredeemable. The story was still interesting after that, but to a lesser degree, and I was not sure what to expect of book two.

SiegeandStormNow comes Siege and Storm, book two of the Grisha trilogy. Siege and Storm begins with Mal and Alina crossing the ocean from their home country of Ravka (which is very loosely inspired by Russia) to the western continent of Novyi Zem. For the moment the two are free, but the evil and powerful Darkling, once Alina’s suitor, and the Grisha working for him, all invested with magical powers of their own, are in hot pursuit.

For Alina is the Sun Summoner, the only person who could perhaps heal Ravka by ridding it of the Fold, the dark rift that the Darkling, unbeknownst to most people, created centuries earlier. Once a normal section of Ravka, the Fold is now pitch dark and populated by flying monsters called volcra. As the only person ever born in Ravka who possesses the ability to summon light, Alina is also Ravka’s only hope. The Darkling, however, wants to use her power to expand the Fold.

Having escaped the Darkling, Alina and her childhood friend-turned-boyfriend Mal arrive in the city of Cofton. Alina cannot use her power for fear of revealing her identity, but not using it leaves her wan and weak. Meanwhile Mal, with his talent for hunting and tracking, is as strong and competent as ever. Though she loves him, Alina feels like no match for him, and it’s clear the local girls don’t see her as one, either.

Despite her frailty it is Alina who senses something is wrong when, one night two weeks after their arrival in Cofton, she and Mal return to the boardinghouse where they have been staying.
But by the time they discover the Darkling’s ambush, it is too late to do more than try to defend themselves. During this confrontation, the Darkling reveals a new power, the ability to create creatures from darkness.

The nichevo’ya, as these beings are known, are the gift Alina gave him, the Darkling tells her. When she abandoned the Darkling to the volcras’ tender mercies on the Fold, he learned to create them. Alina uses her own weapon, the Cut, to slice the creatures in half with light, but eventually one of them manages to reach her and bite her. Alina passes out as she and Mal are taken captive.

The coming days pass in a haze for Alina, who has been drugged. When she comes to, she is on board a ship. The Darkling is in control of the situation, with several of the Grisha who are loyal to him assisting him. Among them is Ivan, who despises Alina, and Genya, whom Alina once considered a true friend.

Alina soon learns that the ship is headed north in search of the sea whip, a mythical creature whose scales would make a powerful amplifier.

Like the stag whose horns Alina now wears around her neck to amplify her power, the sea whip is one of the legendary Morozova’s creatures. Like the stag, it is imbued with magic. And as he did with the stag, the Darkling intends to kill the sea whip and turn it into an amplifier for Alina to wear, although no Grisha should ever have more than one amplifier.

For this the Darkling needs Mal alive, since Mal can hunt and track like no other man. Neither Mal nor Alina wants to hunt the sea whip, but the Darkling threatens to harm Alina unless Mal cooperates, or to harm Mal unless Alina does.

Also on the ship is its owner, the pirate or privateer, Sturmhond, a scourge of the seas which surround Ravka. Present as well are Sturmhond’s crewmembers, which include Tolya and Tamar, twins who can fight and hold their own against any Grisha, as a confrontation between the two of them and Ivan reveals.

While Tamar and Tolya seem to feel some compassion for Alina, Sturmhond refuses to consider her pleas for help from him and his crew. The Darkling is paying him handsomely to ignore Alina and Mal’s captivity.

I don’t want to give away how it happens, but Mal and Alina eventually escape the Darkling’s clutches and return to Ravka. By then Alina wears a fetter made of the sea whip’s scales, and her power has grown beyond her imaginings, yet she hungers for more.

But is Alina truly free? In Ravka, many consider Alina a saint risen from the dead. Pilgrims gather and seek to pay homage to her, and a religious movement develops around her legend. At the same time, the mysterious Prince Nikolai begins to pay her marked attentions, and Mal grows jealous.

Worst of all, as Alina takes control of her destiny, the same circumstances which allow her to do this cause Mal’s own strength and agency to diminish. Both find it difficult to speak about this, and Alina cannot bring herself to tell Mal that she fears the Darkling still holds power over her.

Like a storm on the horizon, the Darkling looms over their lives, and as they prepare for his return, each wonders where the future will take them. For there is a third and final magical creature, the firebird, which could make Alina’s power a true match for the Darkling’s…

Like Shadow and Bone, its predecessor, Siege and Storm engendered mixed feelings in me. I think my ambivalence about this series boils down to this: the reveal two thirds of the way through book one of all the evils the Darkling had perpetrated and the ways he’d manipulated Alina have made him completely irredeemable, yet he’s still the most compelling and fascinating character in these books.

I thought I’d stop caring about him after what he did toward the end of Shadow and Bone, but to my surprise, the Darkling was still multidimensional and interesting (as a villain) in this book, almost as much as he’d been as a potential hero in book one. Still, I don’t see him as a potential love interest for Alina anymore.

Then there is Mal who is basically a good guy, but seems incompatible with Alina to me. The truth is that Alina’s Grisha power removes her from Mal’s sphere, and Mal’s own strengths as a hunter and tracker make life with the Grisha miserable for him.

Yet without her powers, Alina gets frail and weak – clearly hiding her light under a bushel isn’t good for her. If Mal truly loved her, he would accept this and let her go, but instead of encouraging her to use her power, he fears it. This is human enough – for one thing, her power could take her out of his life, and for a second, Alina’s hunger for yet more of it makes her frightening and potentially destructive.

So at one end of the spectrum, we have the Darkling, Alina’s counterpart in potential strength, thirst for power, leadership and destructiveness. On the other we have Mal who doesn’t want Alina to have power and whom she fears losing to such a degree that she spent most of her youth burying her power so as not to acknowledge his incompatibility with her life and her nature.

I can’t root for her to end up with either of these guys.

Alina needs to end up somewhere in the middle, I think, but the only guy who perhaps represents the middle is Prince Nikolai, and while I found him an interesting character in that he was both chameleon-like and charming, I’m not even remotely sold on him as a potential partner for Alina. Like the Darkling, he wants her partly for political reasons. And Nikolai doesn’t bring to the table the childhood love, trust and loyalty that Alina feels with and for Mal, nor does he create the sizzling sexual attraction that Alina feels with and for the Darkling.

So I can’t ship this one either.

Honestly, at this point I’m kind of hoping that Alina ends up alone at the end of book three. That will be sad (especially if Nikolai or Mal die in book three), but it seems best for Alina to wait a few more years and then find a fellow Grisha who has no political interest in her and whose presence in her life doesn’t diminish her.

Enough said about the romantic relationships. As a romantic fantasy this novel didn’t work for me, but as a fantasy about coming of age, it does. What I really liked about this book was that the plot was eventful and the pacing even stronger than in book one. There were twists and turns I did not see coming though I tried to anticipate them and guess ahead, and I was not bored at any point.

Your voice is a strong one, Alina’s first person narration conversational and vivid at once.

I also really liked that after spending most of book one being passive, Alina took charge of her destiny here. I especially liked her action to resolve the situation with the Darkling toward the end of the book.

The non-communication between Alina and Mal was frustrating, especially since Alina’s motives for not telling Mal what was worrying her so much was only revealed toward the end of the book. I think that had the motive been given sooner, Alina’s silence on an important subject would have made sense to me a lot earlier in the book.

Ultimately, I’d say this book was slightly better than the previous one. It was entertaining and interesting, well-paced and different from most of the YA I read. If a reader is looking for a really romantic YA, I advise steering clear of this series, but for someone who’d like to read a solid fantasy/adventure story, this one is worth a try. B-.

Janine

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

13 Comments

  1. JN
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 13:14:58

    I had a similar reaction to book #1 and because of that I have been on the fence about reading book #2. Reading your review helps. The problem with this not being a romantic YA is that it totally seemed like it was going to have a very strong romantic element with the Darkling and then I had it yanked out from under me. I felt resentful. Don’t tease me like that. If the first 2/3 of the book hadn’t introduced the romance between them I would have been ok with Darkling being so evil.

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  2. Janine
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 14:11:42

    @JN: I completely understand your resentment — I felt that too after what happened two-thirds of the way through book one.

    I wouldn’t say that this series doesn’t have romantic elements – they are still very much present in book two. It’s just that I personally don’t find any of the potential pairings working for me. This may change in book three — Bardugo could still pull it off, but it would be tricky.

    Regarding the Darkling, I was impressed that I still found him fascinating in book two, even though I consider him irredeemable given what happened late in book one. What’s interesting is that he still shows vulnerabilities and there is still an attraction between him and Alina, but there’s no way in hell he can get a happy ending after all he’s done. Even I, who love redemption stories, can’t imagine a redemption for him.

    So I find that interesting, that the dark, sexy, powerful guy turns out to be the villain here. I do kind of wish I could read an alternate version of the books, one where the Darkling wasn’t evil, and he and Alina could be a couple. I did love the first two thirds of Shadow and Bone and I do miss that element, but there were other compensations for me here.

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  3. AmyL
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 15:31:11

    I liked the first book better than Siege and Storm. While it started off great, I thought the book quickly lost steam once they got off the ship. And Nikolai was super annoying.

    I really liked that the Darkling was revealed to be the villain in book 1 precisely because he does seem like the obvious love interest. The dark, powerful, brooding hero who falls only for the heroine can be found in soooo many YA novels and I was expecting Shadow and Bone to follow the same old pattern. I was totally shocked about the revelation and that’s what made the book so memorable for me.

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  4. Janine
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 16:31:24

    @AmyL: I completely understand your POV re. Shadow and Bone — what happened with the Darkling can be seen as a great twist or it can be viewed as pulling the rug from under the reader. It all depends I think, on how much that reader likes the Darkling and wants a romance between him and Alina. I loved him in the first two-thirds of Shadow and Bone so while I do think it is interesting to have the dark, brooding, powerful guy be the villain, I also understand why JN felt as she did.

    To me Siege and Storm was slightly better than Shadow and Bone. I wasn’t annoyed by Nikolai, and I thought the pacing was even tighter. There were some sections in Shadow and Bone where the focus was on things like Alina eating at the Little Palace dining room, noticing the food and the cliques, or trying to train to fight and failing miserably, and the Shadow and Bone seemed to be stalling a bit in those sections. Siege and Storm didn’t have those issues, at least, not for me.

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  5. LethalLovely
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 22:52:44

    *LL pops her head out of her lurking lurker hidey-hole* Great review, Janine! I agree almost with everything you said, especially about how tighter this book was and how nice it was that Alina finally found a backbone. And can I just say THANK YOU for your comments about The Darkling being irredeemable. I’ve seen loads of reviews on GR where the reviewers were all “Darkling, take me! I’m yours.” Do you not understand that he is EVIL? Sure, he’s an intriguing, darkly seductive character but no amount of good deeds can wash away the bad things he’s done and will continue to do. He’s the guy I’d enjoy a roll in the hay with then IMMEDIATELY leave because I might wake up to him trying to smother me with a pillow.

    Meh. I’ve resolved to push away any hopes and dreams I had about the romance in this trilogy and stick firmly with the fantasy part. If I don’t, it’ll drive me crazy. I’ve been Team Mal from day 1 but he was such an insecure dick in S&S that I can’t see him & Alina ending up HAPPILY together and Darkling and Nicolai are definitely not what Alina needs.

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  6. Loonigrrl
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 03:40:15

    I was totally the same way with The Darkling in book one. Finding out he was a true villain made me less interested in reading book two because Mal didn’t seem like a possible match either. Also, isn’t she going to have an extremely long life like the Darkling? I thought I remember reading that. So for me, he was the only possibility of spending her life with someone and yet he was too villainous.

    The other reason why I haven’t been interested in book two is because the author seemed to be backtracking. The stakes were so high in book one and the author placed such significance with the stag and how that was the one creature that could be used to make her The Darkling’s pawn. And then, in the excerpt for book two, it was like: oh wait, I take that back!! There’s one more super powerful, rare, magical creature that can fulfill the same purpose!! And oh wait, yet another one!! Anyway, I was frustrated because for me it diminished the significance of the first book and the conflict with the stag.

    But I ‘m still thinking of picking it up one of these days…

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  7. Janine
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 13:00:15

    @LethalLovely: Unlurk here anytime!

    and how nice it was that Alina finally found a backbone.

    It was about time, wasn’t it? I loved the action she took against the Darkling toward the end of the book. It was so great to see her in control of the situation for once.

    And can I just say THANK YOU for your comments about The Darkling being irredeemable. I’ve seen loads of reviews on GR where the reviewers were all “Darkling, take me! I’m yours.” Do you not understand that he is EVIL? Sure, he’s an intriguing, darkly seductive character but no amount of good deeds can wash away the bad things he’s done and will continue to do.

    Yeah. I have a lot of tolerance for morally ambiguous characters and even for those who start out initially cruel. I’m the kind of reader who wants to see almost any dark, powerful, sexy guy learn his lesson and redeem himself for love. But in this case, no. Just no.

    There is no possible redemption for all the Darkling has done. I’ve felt that way ever since late in book one, and given his actions in book two, and what we learn when Alina encounters Bahgra again, I feel that way even more strongly. I don’t see what the Darkling could possibly do to atone, and what’s more, I don’t see Bardugo even attempting to take his character in that direction.

    I’ve been Team Mal from day 1 but he was such an insecure dick in S&S that I can’t see him & Alina ending up HAPPILY together

    I understood his insecurities even though they didn’t thrill me. My biggest problem with Mal is that it’s evident he knows that Alina thrives when she uses her power and withers when she doesn’t, yet he still doesn’t like to see her use her power. If he could deal with his own insecurity enough to place Alina’s happiness and well-being above what he wants for himself, he could be a wonderfully romantic character, but I’ve never seen that in him.

    @Loonigrrl: For what it’s worth, I was also unsure about reading book two but I ended up enjoying it slightly better than book one. Reading it helped me accept the Darkling as a villain, and find other aspects to enjoy.

    Re. the amplifiers, I didn’t feel the author was backtracking there. The explanation for how these creatures came to be satisfied me. I’m fascinated by Morozova now and I would love to read a book about him and the Darkling in the days when the Fold was created.

    One thing that does bug me is that Mal’s tracking ability seems like a magical power. Mal is constantly referred to as someone who isn’t Grisha, but he’s so good at tracking and hunting these magical creatures that it seems to me the Grisha ought to accord his ability more respect.

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  8. Janine
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 13:04:56

    @Loonigrrl: I forgot to respond to this part of your comment:

    Also, isn’t she going to have an extremely long life like the Darkling? I thought I remember reading that.

    I don’t recall that being stated in book one, but perhaps it was. There was no mention of it in book two, so I don’t know if a long life is guaranteed for her.

    My husband read this book with me and he has this theory about what will happen in the third and final book. It’s a possible spoiler for book three, so I’ll hide it as I would a spoiler.

    [spoiler]He believes that Alina will sacrifice her life at the end of book three in order to rid Ravka of the Darkling and heal the Fold. [/spoiler]

    I don’t share this theory but I have to admit that it would make a compelling ending.

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  9. Loonigrrl
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 18:03:39

    I just picked up book 2 again and found a mention of the age thing. Not sure if it was in book 1 or if this passage is what I’m remembering. On page 54 of the hardcover edition, there is a conversation between the Darkling and Alina about Mal:

    “The Darkling shook his head. If I hadn’t known better, I might have mistaken the look on his face for pity. ‘You think you’ve found a family with him. You think you’ve found a future. But you will grow powerful, and he will grow old. He will live his short otkazat’sya life, and you will watch him die.’”

    And then on the following page: “… I pressed my face into the covers, trembling , trying to drive the Darkling’s words from my head. Mal’s death. The long life before me…”

    Anyway, I think it was at this point that I gave up on book 2 originally because it made me think there was no happy ending for her and Mal. Buuuuut…I’m giving it a second shot. :)

    (btw- I’m holding off on the spoiler in the comment above just until I finish book 2.)

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  10. Janine
    Sep 30, 2013 @ 12:47:41

    @Loonigrrl: Thanks for those quotes. I somehow forgot about them, but I remember them now.

    I hope you enjoy book two! Keep in mind that I enjoyed it for the fantasy, coming-of-age and adventure aspects, but really not for the romance. It will be really interesting to see where book three goes.

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  11. JN
    Oct 01, 2013 @ 11:29:05

    Me again! I was thinking about this some more and I think if Darkling had any other kind of relationship with Alina — substitute father or brother — it could have still given that sense of betrayal without upsetting people who were rooting for Darkling as a romantic interest.

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  12. Janine
    Oct 01, 2013 @ 19:56:37

    @JN: I see what you mean but I actually feel Alina has more chemistry with the Darkling than with Mal or Nikolai, so if the attraction between Alina and the Darkling were removed from the series, a lot of the zing would go out of these books.

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  13. Janine
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 19:40:15

    Siege and Storm is currently on sale for $1.40 to Kindle users.

    ReplyReply

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