Welcome back to another week of Grisha infighting, political intrigue, and fancy mythical creatures brought to life (and then immediately killed). It’s The Grisha Trilogy Reread! This time we’re covering the first half of Book Two: Siege and Storm.
I think my favorite thing about Siege and Storm is how we get more main characters in the story. In addition to Alina, Mal, and the Darkling, we get to see much more from Alina’s Grisha friends and acquaintances, we get a brand new mysterious frenemy who is also a pirate who is also a prince!
Prologue–Chapter 4: Summary
The Before section of Siege and Storm opens with the boy and the girl fleeing across the sea in a ship. The sailors like the boy, but they find the girl, who is quiet and solemn when awake and then screams in her sleep, deeply unsettling. She dreams of destroyed skiffs and death and a “pale prince” who put her in a collar and bound her to him, and although the boy reassures her when she wakes that it was just a dream, he doesn’t understand that the girl wants the dreams, because they are now only place where it is safe to use her power. When the ship docks on foreign land, the girl prays that the new land will be safe. That it will be home.
In Chapter One, we find Alina and Mal living and working in the city of Cofton in Novyi Zem. They are trying to earn enough money to travel deeper into the country, where they can have more privacy and safety. Mal, as always, manages to make friends and succeed wherever he goes, but Alina is once again struggling. Without the freedom to use her power, she has reverted to her old sickly state, becoming so frail that she can barely manage to hold down a job. Still, despite their suffering and Alina’s constant fear that she will find Grisha or the Darkling lurking around every corner, they are optimistic about their future, and the romantic bond has clearly grown between them, as they banter together and keep each other safe, despite the fact that other women have eyes for Mal and their landlord at the boardinghouse doesn’t like them.
Returning to the boarding house one night, Alina feels a sense of unease that she can’t quite place. She puts the pieces together only a moment before she and Mal enter their room to find the Darkling, Ivan (his second in command) and other Grisha waiting for them.
Ivan is able to subdue Mal and so Alina hesitates to fight, and in the resulting conversation she learns that the Darkling was able to track them via the gold hairpieces Alina had worn on her last trip into the Fold, which they had been using to pay for passage and lodging. When the Darkling tells Alina that he has come to thank her for the gift that she gave him, she is puzzled, but when she and Mal attempt to escape, the Darkling releases some kind of strange shadow creatures that look something like volcra but also not. Alina is able to destroy them using the Cut, but the Darkling manifests more, and eventually she is overwhelmed, falling unconscious when one bites her.
Alina is aware of being asleep for some time, occasionally waking groggily before being put back under. And while she sleeps she dreams. She dreams a memory of something she saw as a girl, a woman carrying a block of salt up a hill, her husband content not to need a mule to carry such weight because he has a wife to labor instead. When she dreams again, Baghra is with her watching the scene, and the third time, Alina dreams she is the girl carrying the salt, and when the burden is too heavy to bear she lets it go and flies away, wings unfurling.
Alina wakes to find that she is on some kind of whaling ship, having been kept asleep by Ivan’s Corporalki powers and cared for by Genya. They take her to the Darkling, who is as annoyed as ever for her concern for Mal and explains that the creatures he calls the nichevo’ya are just the beginning, and that the wound Alina sustained will never fully heal. As Ivan takes Alina back to her cabin, his rough treatment of her inspires two sailors on the ship’s crew to intervene, a giant man named Tolya and his sister, Tamar. When Ivan uses his Heartrenders power on Tolya, the ship’s captain also gets involved, pulling a gun on Ivan and instructing that he has rules that must be obeyed on his ship. His name is Sturmhond, a privateer working for the Ravkan government, and although he and his crew seem to want to prevent Alina from coming to direct harm, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to hear her story or provide her with help.
Below deck again, Alina talks with Genya, admitting that she missed her friend but also pushing to make Genya understand what is at stake. She tells Genya that the Darkling is the same Darkling who made the Fold, the Black Heretic, and learns that the letters she wrote to Mal were never sent. Genya points out that the Darkling freed her from her servitude under the King and Queen, and that she has nowhere else to go, but despite Alina’s understanding for that plight, she is overwhelmed by the realization that her friendship with Genya was never real.
The Darkling soon shares with Alina that his plans are not to take her back to Ravka, but rather to take the whaling ship and track a supposedly mythical beast called the sea whip, also known as Rusalye, the ice dragon. Although Mal and Alina don’t really believe that the dragon could be real, when the Darkling threatens to torture Alina, Mal relents and agrees to track it, and Surmhond manages to sway the Darkling into giving Mal a week in which to do so, before he resorts to hurting Alina.
The Darkling tells Alina that the sea whip is another of Morozova’s amplifiers, and that he intends to give it to her. He believes that Alina was meant to have the amplifiers, just as he “was meant to rule” and Alina discovers that he got the idea from a children’s books called The Lives of Saints. The Darkling continues to push the idea that Alina is meant for greatness, meant to be at his side, and that she knows that she is too different from Mal for their relationship to actually be anything.
When Mal eventually finds the sea whip, the distraction over the hunting and harpooning of the beast provides the opportunity for Sturmhond’s sailors to revolt against the Grisha. Ivan and Tolya fight, revealing that Tolya also has Heartrender abilities, before Mal shoots Ivan and kills him. Genya pulls a gun on Alina, but ultimately cannot go through with it and allows them to escape. Others of Sturmhond’s crew turn out to be Squallars who use their power to fill the sails of a fast sloop that appears out of nowhere to rescue them; they are able to flee the nichevo’ya that the Darkling sends after them, putting themselves out of range as Alina helps fend them off.
Well, there certainly is a lot going on in these first few chapters! I think Bardugo does an excellent job of dropping us right back down in the thick of it, and she pretty seamlessly weaves in the little backstory reminders of what happened at the end of Shadow and Bone without needing any long exposition. I think it’s interesting to contrast Alina’s little moments of post traumatic panic at seeing a flash of red in the crowd with her correct reading of the things that are off at the boardinghouse. She has learned a lot since her powers were first discovered, and I think it shows in these little details and in her assessments of the people around her, even though she (somewhat frustratingly) spends most of the first half of Siege and Storm being pretty much helpless and manipulated. There is an increased sharpness to the way she narrates that’s subtle but I think poignant, too.
As for the Darkling, Bardugo certainly didn’t make us wait long for that beloved villain, did she? He’s as sultry-sinister as ever, but he’s so much more direct now. Most of the time he answers Alina’s questions, and although he is still derisive of her affection for Mal, it feels like he respects her more now, in a way he hadn’t when he recaptured her the first time. He was sincere when he thanked her for his “gift” and I think he respects her action for being ruthless and demonstrating a strong use of her power. He’s already been obsessed with the similarities between the two of them, and now, as she has to make hard choices and sometimes use her power to hurt or kill, he’s seeing them draw closer together. I think the Darkling really didn’t like the idea of having to keep Alina in thrall, and now he has found that he has a new opportunity to have everything he wants, his rule and her in the amplifiers by his side.
Did anyone else get chills when she told him that the Fold couldn’t be controlled and must be destroyed, and he replied that he’d had the same thought about her?
The use of Ivan’s power to slow Alina’s heart is totally eerie. In the first book there are points when we see how much other characters are creeped out by Corporalki power—as when Genya explains that the anatomy rooms where Corporalki students practice have no windows, for instance—but this is the time that it really got to me. Maybe because the Cut would look much more horrific than stopping someone’s heart in their chest. Meanwhile Genya’s protests and dislike of the treatment of Alina are at war with her decision to follow the Darkling; I think it’s fair for Alina to feel that Genya was never her friend, but I also think that she is wrong. I think that Alina was Genya’s only friend just as Genya more or less was for Alina. When faced with Genya and her red kefta for the first time, Alina had understood the situation faced by Genya and forgiven her for it, but now I think she has lost so much that she feels too alienated to remember it. It seems she cannot have both Genya and Mal, and that rings of the Darkling’s words too. He harps on the difference between Mal and Alina for a reason, but he also is saying that he and Alina are different from everyone, and her inability to reconnect with Genya is sort of symbolic of that, I think.
Chapters 5-8: Summary
Alina and Mal are reeling from everything that has happened, but they have little time to think as the injured sea whip has been brought on board. When Sturmhond gives Alina a knife with which to kill it, she hesitates, feeling the same guilt and pain over taking the life of Rusalye that she did over the stag. But this time she has no choice. Mal helps her take one of the harpoons in the sea whip’s side and kill it. The sailors harvest a link of specially colored scales for Alina to have as the second amplifier.
Sturmhond proves a difficult person to get any information out of, but Alina and Mal reluctantly decide that they have to trust him. The privateer, who Alina privately calls “the too clever fox” seems to know a great deal about them, however, and he returns The Lives of Saints to Alina, who is surprised to realize that the book is actually her copy of the stories, given to her by the Apparat while she lived at the Little Palace and left behind in a drawer in her room when she fled from the Darkling. But she is even more surprised when she finds the illustration of Saint Ilya and realizes that he is actually Ilya Morozova, responsible for both the stag and sea whip amplifiers—and that there is actually a third amplifier, the great firebird.
Alina confides in Mal, and ultimately decides that she wants to have the second amplifier made for her and to go after the third amplifier in order to become strong enough to defeat the Darkling, and although Mal is skeptical, he agrees. One of Sturmhond’s fabrikators (he seems to have every kind of Grisha in his service) fashions the scales into a bracelet for Alina. The resulting increase in power nearly overwhelms her when she uses it for the first time, but Mal brings her back to herself, and confesses that he is frightened by how different she seems. But Alina reassures him.
Having explained to Alina and Mal that he revolted against the Darkling because he has another client paying him to bring the pair back to Ravka, Sturmhond makes them a deal: if they agree to meet his client and hear what the mysterious person had to say, in exchange Sturmhond will help them escape to anywhere in the world if they don’t like what they find. Traveling on the ship gives Alina time to learn more about Tolya and Tamar, who she comes to really like, but she can’t get much information from them about the mysterious Sturmhond. In addition to finding him a slippery customer, always flippant and evasive, and being incredibly suspicious of his true motives, there is something about his appearance that unsettles Alina. His face seems off to her, the color of his eyes and the odd shape of his nose that appears to have been broken and badly set. She doesn’t quite know what it is, but the impression is impossible to shake.
When they reach West Ravka, Mal and Alina are taken on a very oddly shaped boat which turns to out to be a flying vessel, powered by squallers. When Sturmhond admits that he is not taking them to somewhere along the coast but instead intends to cross the Fold, Alina has no choice but to use her power to assist them. Sturmhond alarms her further by declaring that they are going to hunt the Volcra. Using repeating rifles mounted on the deck of the vessel, they slaughter a mass of volcra caught in Alina’s light. While the crew is overjoyed at finally being able to strike back against the monsters, Alina is horrified by the brutality—and by how human the volcra’s screams sound in her ears. She nearly persuades Sturmhond to move on after the first wave, but when Mal senses another group of volcra nearby they discover a nest of infants, hidden in the very skiff Alina destroyed when she broke out of the Darkling’s control. Sturmhond uses an explosive device to destroy the nest, and as Alina fights against the sick disgust she feels, she suddenly hears the Darkling’s voice, and he appears before her. When he slashes out at her face with a knife she ducks and her light goes out.
Although Alina regains control of the light in only a few moments, there is enough time for one of the squallers to be injured by the volcra, putting the ship’s flight capabilities in danger. They manage to escape the Fold and fly to the lake Sturmhond had intended for their destination, but it becomes more of a crash than a landing, and the ship sinks.
Once on land, the sailors turn on Alina, demanding she account for the accident, and Alina deflects by pointing out that Sturmhond sprang the trip into the Fold on her and insisted on staying even when she begged to leave. Sturmhond admits his culpability, but all of that is forgotten when he takes off the goggles and hat and heavy coat he had been wearing, and Alina sees an entirely different face then the one Sturmhond had been sporting.
Sturmhond admits that he had Tolya alter his appearance in order to ensure that the Darkling wouldn’t recognize him. When the bedraggled group is approached by a unit of Ravkan soldiers, he declares himself as Nikolai Lansov, second son of the King of Ravka, and that he has brought the Sun Summoner home. Alina is so shocked at being so thoroughly tricked and used that she punches him in the face.
The theme of the price of killing is taken up from Shadow and Bone and really enhanced in the sequel. Bardugo takes her time with the description of the suffering of the sea whip and how much Alina struggles with the decision of whether or not to take its life. Alina even asks herself “Is this mercy?” as she considers that the creature is already dying, no matter what choice she makes. Obviously we’re reminded of how she treated the stag, but also I’m reminded of her decision to destroy the sandskiff and leave everyone to the volcra; she did it to save Mal, but she also to prevent the Darkling from turning the Fold against the people of Ravka. One could argue that she saved people by her actions, but Alina feels the weight of those particular deaths keenly, and is aware that the action she chose to take was very similar to a decision the Darkling might have made.
She repeats several times within the narration that things are moving too fast, and I think that is basically the story of Alina’s life; things are either moving too fast for her to feel she is making a considered decision or she doesn’t have enough information to know what she is doing. Everything about Siege and Storm is one big Alina-flying-by-the-seat-of-her-pants, and there is a slightly frantic note to the narration throughout that I think supports the action beautifully.
The death of the sea whip ups the ante for the killing of the amplifiers, foreshadowing what other gruesome sacrifices are to come.
When the Darkling appears to Alina on the Fold, his words to her are all about the fact that she has become a killer, and that it gets easier over time. Not only does this reinforce the horror that she is experiencing, I think it points again to how much more the Darkling is considering her his equal, or something approaching it. He may taunt her over things that she doesn’t want to be, but I think he has a twisted respect for her strength that might also be tinged with a desire to deprive her of what innocence and goodness she still clings to because it is something he himself has lost. Mostly it feels this way because of how he talks about her love for Mal, in that ‘you’ll learn better, just as I did,’ sort of way.
And then, there’s Sturmhond. The too clever fox. Am I the only one who imagines his voice sounding like Brian Bedford’s? Because he is basically ocean Robin Hood. Or maybe he should be like a young Cary Elwes. There are a couple of lines from The Princess Bride that would fit right in with Sturmhond’s snappy comebacks and evasive answers.
Sturmhond’s manipulation of Alina calls back to the Darkling’s manipulation of her in Shadow and Bone. He combines tantalizing little bits of information, such as Alina’s book of the Saints, with a refusal to directly answer almost every question, he hides his true self from most people and yet commands an intense loyalty from those who follow him, he’s charming but also clearly devious. He even makes a deal for Alina to trust him for a certain period of time, just as the Darkling asked her to wait for the stag.
The big difference, of course, is that Alina is suspicious of Sturmhond from the start, which in my opinion just gives Bardugo more to work with as the mystery of the pirate Captain begins to unfold. And of course that she isn’t attracted to him, but rather finds him annoying.
And of course he would turn out to be a secret prince. The narration refers to the Darkling as a dark prince a few times, too, and now we have someone else without a direct legal claim to the throne who is trying to get his hands on it “for the good of Ravka.” As far as the reader can see, Nikolai does seem a better choice than either the Darkling or his brother Vasily, but that doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Chapters 9-12: Summary
After disarming the situation, Nikolai explains everything to Alina and Mal, how he’d always felt restless and bored at court as a younger man, how he’d served in the Ravkan infantry rather than doing a token service as an officer, how he’d been a shipwright and gunsmith’s apprentice before discovering his purpose as a privateer. As Sturmhond, he found himself able to amass resources and mount offenses much better than as an officer in the military. He concealed his identity from all but a few trusted people, such as Tamar and Tolya, for fear of being captured and held to ransom, and was at sea when the Darkling made his coup on the Ravkan throne.
Nikolai clearly feels guilty for not being there when his father was poisoned and the kingdom threatened. He tells Alina that he wants to make an alliance to defeat the Darkling, and that he believes that the Second Army will follow her just as the First Army will follow him. Nikolai hopes that his older brother Vasily can be convinced to abdicate his right to the throne, given the common soldiers’ loyalty to Nikolai and the fact that his brother is too lazy to want to fight a civil war or even to deal with what it takes to rule a country. Nikolai even proposes marriage to seal their alliance. Alina is furious with him, but she agrees to come back with him to the capitol, not as a wife but as the head of the Second Army.
On their journey to Os Alta, Nikolai grooms Alina for leadership while he puts on a show for the people, both rich and poor, and she grapples with the living sainthood that has been bestowed on her by the Apparat. A trail of pilgrims follows them, praying for and blessing their Saint Alina as Nikolai cuddles up to the Sun Summoner, playing the attentive prince, the seasoned diplomat, or the ordinary soldier depending on the need of each situation. He also gives Alina little pieces of advice on how to succeed in the new position she has chosen for herself. She is unhappy about the level of deceit required, but does try to play her part and live up to her side of the bargain.
Meanwhile, Mal has unhappily agreed to follow her to Os Alta, despite his fear that the King will have him put to death for deserting his post to help Alina escape the Darkling, and despite his reservations that the person Alina is becoming will have no room for him at the end of the journey. Alina watches him adapt to his new position as head of her personal guard, but she knows that he will always grieve for the life of a tracker, the life she knows he should have had.
One night, while dining at the home of a nobleman just outside the gates to Os Alta, Alina and Mal are interrupted from stealing some time together in a garden by a group of Grisha who have appeared, demanding to speak to the Sun Summoner. Alina recognizes Fedyor, one of the Grisha Corporalki she met while traveling to Os Alta the first time, right after her powers were discovered. Fedyor and his companions explain that they fled their posts after the Darkling’s coup failed and the soldiers of the First Army turned on them, and that they have now come to follow the Sun Summoner. Alina isn’t positive they can be trusted, but she decides to accept them into her retinue, knowing that if she is going to lead the Second Army, she needs some Grisha.
The next morning Nikolai takes Alina and Mal to see his father, the King, and they are somewhat surprised to be met by Vasily, mounted on a huge horse and backed by an impressive mass of soldiers. Alina becomes nervous, feeling that Nikolai has underestimated his brother’s interest in keeping his birthright, but Nikolai skillfully turns the tables by chatting with some of Vasily’s soldiers who Nikolai knew when he served in the army and distracting his brother with talk of booze and horses. Alina and Mal follow them to the palace, noticing more refugees and pilgrims on their way in, but only encountering desolation and sullen despair once inside. Tamar points out that the King has banned the Apparat and his followers from the city.
Once into the wealthy area of the city, however, everything looks basically the same as Alina remembers, and she is struck by the contrast, wondering if the citizens were really so unconcerned about the trouble in Ravka as they appeared to be.
Alina and Mal follow the princes into the throne room, where Nikolai is reunited with his astonished parents and admits to them that he is Sturmhond the privateer. He also pleads Alina’s case, and although the King isn’t entirely trusting of her, he agrees to follow Nikolai’s recommendation and appoint her as head of the Second Army, with the caveat that he doesn’t view her as a Saint so much as another “ragged refugee” and that he will have her hanged immediately if he so much as suspects her of disloyalty. Alina finds herself struggling to be respectful in the face of the King, and has a moment of empathy wondering if the Darkling suffered the same annoyance and bitterness being treated by such a man.
Mal is also granted clemency, in that he is not executed for his dissertation and is allowed to stay with Alina at the Little Palace, but he does receive a dishonorable discharge. Alina is angry, but Mal tells her that he knew it would turn out that way, even though she can see his disappointment. As the chapter comes to a close, Alina surveys Fedyor and the other Grisha who have followed her to Os Alta and considered that it is time to show what she can do.
This part of the book is pretty slow, comparatively. Lots of slow traveling sections while we gear up for the Saint Alina stuff to take a more center stage and while we see more detail of Nikolai’s political machinations. We also spend some time watching strife begin to stretch between Mal and Alina; it’s subtle, but Mal’s jealousy at Nikolai’s actions is a real sticking point, especially since Alina makes it very clear over and over that she has no romantic interest in the prince and is just as annoyed as Mal is. In some ways, I can’t help seeing their situation now as a parallel to the very beginning of their story, where Mal was popular and had the attention of lots of girls who Alina viewed as out of her league. Now he has seen her be courted by both the Darkling and Nikolai, and although I think he’s being a little childish, I can see how he might be starting to feel that Alina really does belong in their world more than his, or at least that their world is the one Alina is starting to choose. Mal is probably not used to thinking of his future as being so uncertain.
But one of the most fascinating lines of the whole book so far comes from Mal in the last Chapter, when he is facing the judgement for his desertion. He tells the King that he did what he thought was right, and when the King comments that Nikolai thinks that Mal’s reasons were good, Mal replies “I imagine every man thinks his reasons are good. It was still desertion.”
Now, we the reader (and Alina the narrator) are pretty clear on the fact that Mal did the right thing helping Alina and that the Darkling is doing the wrong thing using the Fold and his dark power to seize control over the country. And yet how interesting to hear the Darkling justify his behavior in trying to usurp the King, in enslaving Alina, in murdering whole towns full of innocent people to prove a point, by saying that he is doing what must be done, that he has to, for the good of the country. And Mal, who has acted out of kindness and a desire to protect, still takes responsibility for recognizing what he did.
As we see Alina struggle with more hard choices, this contrast in viewpoints is going to be very important.
So, what do you all think of Siege and Storm so far? Things are picking up, even though there’s still a lot of traveling bits. Tolya and Tamar have yet to get very interesting for me, but I know that’s coming, and I am excited to see Alina making a few choices for herself.
Join me next week to see what results those choices bring!
Kelsey Jefferson Barret would like to give a shout out to Rasarr, who pointed out that fabrikators probably have the power to make things lighter or heavier. That is confirmed; when Alina gets her new special kefta it has been made lighter by fabrikator craft. Fabrikators are the coolest, guys.