Warning: contains spoilers for book one
Picking up where Shadow and Bone (previously titled The Gathering Dark in the UK) left off, Siege and Storm follows the adventures of Sun Summoner, Alina as she struggles to remain hidden from the Darkling and protect her childhood friend, Mal.
The close of book one left Alina and Mal on the run from the Darkling, endeavouring to escape as far away from Ravka as they can so they can live together in relative freedom. However, Bardugo shatters this pretence of peace within the first few chapters, as their new lives are torn apart when the Darkling discovers their location. He wasn’t torn apart in the Fold, and instead has developed the new power of summoning the nichevo’ya, or ‘nothings’, which are similar to the Volcra found in the Fold. These new beings are not as weak to Alina’s sunlight as the Volcra, but they do seem to cost the Darkling some strength and energy to summon.
Unable to fight their way successfully out of this battle, Alina and Mal are rescued by privateer Sturmhond, an infamous pirate of the seas who sells his services to the highest bidder (but he is not all he seems!). He has a fiercely loyal crew who will support whatever he decides, even if this means sacrificing their lives to a fruitless war with the Darkling. Two such members are Tolya and Tamar, a brother and sister fighting duo that become particularly protective of Alina. They are both Shu, a nation to the south of Ravka who might be called upon to fight when the time comes.
Before returning Alina and Mal to Ravka, a place they never thought they’d revisit, Sturmhond and his crew play a vital part in capturing another legendary creature, like Morozova’s stag. This is the sea whip, Rusalye, from which another amplifier is made and bestowed to Alina. With no Grisha being meant to hold more than one amplifier at once, this increases her power and makes her hungry for more, becoming determined to seek out the third and final amplifier, a fire bird. She believes it is the only way her power will ever be a match for the Darkling’s, but will her thirst for power destroy her already fractured personality?
When they finally reach Ravka, the nation is in turmoil, with the First Army of the Grisha having defected to join the Darkling and the Second Army left without command. The King is of little use, and the eldest Prince is more interested in buying race horses and whores than running a country. Alina is forced into numerous political situations and negotiations, taking an elevated role at Court. The people have begun calling her Sankta Alina, or ‘Saint Alina’, believing her to be a beacon of hope that can deliver them from this darkness. She hates the name of Saint, but at the same time she is determined to find a way to defeat the Darkling once and for all, no matter the cost.
Upon opening the pages of Siege and Storm I felt like I was being welcomed back into a familiar environment, with Bardugo’s writing hooking me from the very first page. I found it increasingly easy to slip into Alina’s first person narrative, as this is a YA book that finds a way around the annoyingly introspective angst which seems to pervade the market at present. Yes, Alina suffers a lot of difficult emotional situations and yes, there are some which produce turmoil or desperation in her mind, but there is never a sense of anger or bitterness with the world which has become so common. It is partly because of this that Alina has become one of my favourite heroines in the world of fiction, as she is often strong and wise beyond her years and is capable of making the best out of a seemingly bad situation.
This book sees her suffering under the weight of her new power, and the strain it puts upon her relationship with Mal. She feels like she is slowly losing herself under the weight of all the pressure placed upon her young shoulders, as there are so many people who all want something different from her. The pilgrims want a Saint, a martyr; the aristocrats want a diplomat, a figurehead for the cause; and Mal just wants his childhood sweetheart back from a time before all of this Grisha drama manifested. Alina is struggling to fulfil all of these criteria, and it is her relationship with Mal which causes her the most heartache, as she feels like the more of herself she sacrifices to her power, the more she loses him. It is almost impossible to find a balance.
As for Mal, even though we aren’t given his own perspective it is clear from Alina’s viewpoint that he is slowly feeling pushed out from her inner circle, and that she has begun to hide things from him. He is a capable tracker, having tracked down both the stag and the sea whip, but still his lack of magical power leaves him overlooked. With Alina’s new role at court, she sees him less and less as he tries to quell rumours that she is with him, as it doesn’t look good if the Sun Summoner is sleeping with the head of her guard. Then there is the added jealousy of Alina and Sturmhond, as the privateer’s carefree wit and casual proposals become too much for Mal to bear with a straight face.
I loved the new character introduction of Sturmhond, as Leigh Bardugo had told me in our interview that he was her favourite character in the series, so I expected great things. I definitely wasn’t disappointed, as he makes frequent funny jibes and has one-liners which will leave you laughing out loud. He isn’t all he appears, but I don’t want to spoil that particular detail as I certainly hadn’t seen it coming! Despite his carefree mannerisms it is clear that he cares about Ravka, and has the greater good in mind all the time. Whether he has a real interest in Alina is unclear as he hides so much behind his bravado that his real intentions are masked, but at the same time this makes him fragile and makes it clear that he is human beneath his multiple acting personas.
By the end of this novel I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Bardugo failed to disappoint with an epic final scene which will leave you clamouring for the final book in the trilogy. I had several jaw drop moments myself, as I had no idea what Alina would do next or if the Darkling would stage an uprising. He was fairly quiet for the duration of the novel, as the story is very much Alina’s, but at the same time he is always there, a shadowy presence hovering on the outreaches of our heroine’s mind. There are several returning characters from book one, but I was particularly shocked by the changes in both Genya and Baghra, two of my favourites. They undergo tremendous change despite their lack of page time, and Bardugo doesn’t pull any punches with the level of violence wrought by the Ravkan war. For a YA book I was a little surprised at the level of blood enclosed in the pages, but at the same time it was integrated so well into the plot that you feel every blow as it hits. This series has definitely captured my imagination with its flawless storytelling and characters which will remain with you long after the final page.
Siege and Storm carries on the fantastic plot which was so intricately carved in book one, and the writing continues to be clever, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. This book will have you laughing one minute and an emotional wreck the next, as Alina’s powers are pushed to the limit and her relationships are tested to breaking point. I for one cannot wait for the third and final book.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Shadow and Bone (The Gathering Dark)
- Siege and Storm
- Ruin and Rising
BUY YOUR COPY