Last year, I ended my review of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone by demanding that Bardugo hurry up and write me a sequel, and I am very pleased to report that she did. (Although I am sure it had nothing to do with me.)
Siege and Storm picks up merely a few weeks after where Shadow and Bone left off, and Alina’s role in the course of events has expanded to take a broader and more world-driven perspective, which allows the reader to see the plot unfolding on a global scale. With the truth about the Darkling exposed, he has become an enemy of the Ravka and has clear designs on the throne. Meanwhile, Alina must decide where her place is. Should she run, and try to hide herself in the mountains of some foreign country? Should she return to Ravka and serve the King in the fight against the Darkling? Or should she surrender to the connection between them, and take her place at the Darkling’s side?
Since Shadow and Bone had a very slow build, I expected to see something similar from Siege and Storm, but it starts off with a bang instead, barely giving us time to reunite with Alina and Mal before they are thrust back into peril. Bardugo doesn’t make us wait long to see the Darkling again, either. Much to my delight, he’s back by page 16 to retake his prisoners and to reveal new powers and a new plot: there’s a second amplifier, and he means for Alina to have it.
This sequel also gives us some intriguing new characters, including the mysterious twins, Tolya and Tamar, and Sturmhond, a cunning and ruthless privateer who may have more to do with Ravka’s fate than Alina realizes. Sturmhond is a character who’s always one witty retort and two steps ahead of anyone else, which means that Alina doesn’t like him much, but the reader thoroughly enjoys him. He’s just about as mysterious as the Darkling was in the first book, although in a very different way, and his presence complicates the plot, as well as every conversation he has with the other characters. Fans of adventurous rogues and heroes will be fond of Sturmhond, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can be trusted.
All in all, there are more major players and more opposing sides in Siege and Storm; besides the Darkling, Sturmhond, and the ailing King of Ravka, Alina is also faced with the problem of the Apparat. This mysterious figure was the King’s religious advisor in the first novel, but we saw little of him, and he only had a few direct encounters with Alina. Now, however, he has created a cult around a Saint Alina, and has amassed a huge following of peasants and pilgrims who worship the sun. Still somewhat in the periphery of the action, the Apparat nevertheless is always on Alina’s mind because of the book he gave her long ago at the Little Palace, which may hold the key to understanding her amplifier. What the Apparat knows, and what his true intentions are, remains to be see, but the cult of Sankta Alina will certainly play a crucial role in the next novel.
The choices Alina faces and the allies she must make predictably put a strain on her relationship with Mal. Having resolved the romantic tension between “the boy and the girl,” in book one, Bardugo starts book two by giving us a glimpse of just how much Alina and Mal care about each other. They banter and tease, often comforting each other with humor as their situation gets more and more dire. But Sturmhond’s attempts to charm Alina, her responsibilities as the Sun Summoner, and the persistent connection she feels to the Darkling start to take their toll on Mal’s ability to relate to Alina and to fit himself into the world she has chosen. On her side, there isn’t much doubt that she would chose Mal over any other human in existence, but the lure of power may tear her away from him anyway.
Alina has grown a lot in her powers and her understanding of people since the beginning of Shadow and Bone, but her self awareness and level of confidence have remained largely the same. Although many of her actions could appear to be strong, decisive choices, her inner narrative belied that strength a little too heavily, and at times I did find myself frustrated with her. Having compared her to Luke Skywalker in my earlier review, I could extend that analogy by saying that I wanted to see her have grown as much as Luke had by the second film, to be more competent, self-aware, and determined. It still felt to me as though she was reacting to everyone else’s actions, rather than choosing her own. While I could certainly see the seeds of something much more dynamic being sown in preparation for the third novel, I felt that, had the progression been more evident in Siege and Storm, it would have held my interest more.
On the flip side, there was one aspect of Bardugo’s world building that I noticed in the first book and failed to comment on that I appreciated even more in the second; the role of women in Ravkan society. They serve in both armies (non-magical people in the First Army and the Grisha in the Second) and Grisha appear to view their own men and women as equals, although this is clearly not true outside of the magical world. Although there are more men than women among the main characters, Tolya fits every desire for a strong female character, and Bardugo gives us Genya back from the first novel for some very interesting explorations about viewing people as property and the relationship between beauty and strength.
I really enjoyed reading Siege and Storm, and loved both the new characters and reappearances from many old favorites from Shadow and Bone. While the use of magic took a bit of a back seat to politics and alliance-building, we do get to see some new uses of Grisha power, especially from the Corporalki (Healers and Heartrenders) and Squallers (wind makers). I also couldn’t help but notice that Mal’s incredible tracking ability was on display again in this book, and that it seemed a lot less practical than magical. Perhaps Bardugo is setting us up for a reveal about Mal’s abilities as well? After all, Alina hid hers long enough. Between that and the questions of magic versus technology that were raised in this book, I am very eager to see where Bardugo takes these explorations.
Siege and Storm is out now, so stop reading this and go read that!
Kelsey Jefferson Barrett is a writer and reader based in Brooklyn, and if they were a Grisha, they’d want to be a Fabrikator, because they have all the best toys. Or they make them.