Oh my saints, Vasily is an annoying person, even before he destroys the country. But you all knew that.
Welcome back to the Grisha Trilogy Reread for part two of Siege and Storm. It’s time to sit through long political meetings, make alliances (for good or ill) and have the best laid plans of man and Grisha laid to waste by jealous idiots. This is a long one folks. Things are getting real in Os Alta.
Chapters 13 – 15: Summary
Alina, Mal, Tolya, and Tamar walk down to the Little Palace, where they find a group of Grisha waiting for them, including Sergei, the Corporalki who had been Alina’s guard for a time when she was there the first time; Marie and Nadia; Zoya, Alina’s squaller nemesis; and David, the Fabrikator who fashioned the collar for the Darkling. When she explains that she has the King’s blessing to lead the Second Army, some of the Etherealki are ready to follow her, including Zoya, to Alina’s immense surprise. But Sergei and many others oppose the idea, lashing out with accusations that she is in the pocket (or the bed) of Nikolai Lantsov, or of the Darkling, that she is unqualified or not even one of them, since she wasn’t even raised at the Little Palace. As tempers rise over Alina’s declared sainthood, it becomes clear that everyone is ready to fight each other. Alina lashes out with the Cut, only just realizing that she is intending to kill Sergei and redirecting her aim to the ceiling, opening a large fissure in the golden dome of the hall.
Alina tells them simply that, no matter their suspicions, their choice is either to follow her or to leave, and exits the hall before anyone can argue further.
She is certain that the whole thing went disastrously, but Mal and Tolya and Tamar seem pleased and impressed by her handling of the situation. She explores the Darkling’s quarters, and as she muses about how he had spent his time there, she hears the Darkling say her name, and turns to see him standing and watching her. Alina fights down her alarm, assuring herself that the Darkling isn’t really there, but when he reaches out to her she can feel his fingers touch her cheek. She panics and calls the light, dispelling the image of him, but when Tolya, Tamar, and Mal come running, she tells them that she was just trying to brighten up the room, and although Mal knows she is hiding something, she keeps the truth of her strange visions to herself.
The next morning Alina has to deal with Grisha quarreling with her orders, and with Nikolai baiting Mal and speaking dismissively to him. When Alina calls Nikolai out for it, he responds that it’s necessary that Mal be able to adapt, and that “the stakes are too high for half measures.” Alina points out that Nikolai sounds just like the Darkling when he says things like that, and asks if Nikolai is so sure that he wouldn’t resort to the same measures of torture or execution, if doing so would ensure his path to the throne and the safety of Ravka. Nikolai responds honestly, admitting that he doesn’t know for sure, but that he hopes that he still knows right from wrong.
After her meeting with Nikolai, Alina goes down to see Baghra in her hut, hoping that she might have some information on the third amplifier. She is worried about what the Darkling might have done to his mother, once he learned that Baghra was the one responsible for telling Alina the truth and helping her flee the Little Palace, but she is unprepared to find the old woman so drained and weakened, or for the fact that her eyes are gone, replaced by black pits of writhing shadow. She lets Baghra touch the collar, then drags her fingers down to the sea whip’s scales at her wrist, and Baghra reacts with rage, accusing Alina of taking the Darkling farther than ever from his humanity, and, despite Alina’s pleas, refuses to tell her anything that might help in the search for the firebird. Angrily, Alina points out that she could take away what little comforts Baghra has left, and the woman counters that Alina is taking to power well, and that her hunger for it will only grow. Alina leaves, furious with Baghra and with herself, horrified that she would threaten a helpless blind woman. She finds a place to sit alone and look over the illustration of Saint Ilya again, shaken by Baghra’s lack of hope, and she remembers the words from her dream “The ox feels the yolk, but does the bird feel the weight of its wing?” But she can’t remember if Baghra ever said those words to her in real life or not.
Alina’s war council has its first meeting, she, Mal, and two representatives from each Grisha Order discuss the Apparat and how much of a threat he poses, whether or not he actually believes Alina is a saint. Then Alina explains to everyone what the Darkling’s new power is and how it works, how it appears to cost him, unlike normal Grisha power. David, who has been silent at the meeting until this point, points out that this is because the creation of the nichevo’ya is merzost, or magic, rather than normal Grisha power, which is considered science by the Grisha. When Zoya asks if any other Grisha had had the power to make something from themselves, as the Darkling seems to be doing, Alina catches something in David’s expression that makes her wonder if he knows more than he is saying.
Alina sees Mal off on a hunt with some of the soldiers and men of court, and two exchange a little flirtatious banter, but they are both conscious of being watched, and Alina recognizes that Mal is happy to be getting away. She meets with Botkin to arrange fight training for the Fabrikators and then goes to to a meeting with the King’s advisors, where she watches Nikolai use his charm and extensive military knowledge to gain the advisors’ admiration. Afterwards, Nikolai takes her down to the lake and explains that he wants to construct a new flying ship so that he can get his parents to safety if the worst should happen. He asks for Alina to give him two Squallers to train, and she, thinking of Genya, points out that they are not gifts, but says that she will ask for volunteers if he will make room for Baghra on the ship.
I’m so happy to see the Grisha again! Despite the fact that many of them oppose Alina’s position as head of the Second Army, she really is good for them. The breaking up of the rigid separation of the Orders is so important, and I find the Grisha resistance to the dismantling of their strict structures and old traditions highly entertaining. When Sergei and Zoya are sputtering about how things have always been done a certain way but don’t actually have any reasons to support why? Priceless. Alina’s initial choices regarding reordering Grisha life draw a distinct parallel between her and Nikolai, as well. They are both outsiders in their own way, and they both have new and more egalitarian views that they struggle to bring to the table; Alina creates a more equal arrangement between the Corporalkia, Materialki, and Fabrikators while Nikolai stands up for the common soldiers and the people of Ravka. And while Alina may be suspicious of Nikolai’s deceptive nature and fears her own transformation into something more and more like the Darkling, I think that she must be at least a little aware of this difference; hard to imagine the Darkling putting Fabrikators on his council or caring about the deaths of otkazat’sya soldiers. He is all about rank, about how he and Alina are apart from and above everyone else. His very quest is justified by the belief of his own superiority. And throughout her journey, even at her most power hungry, her most angry, her most willing to split Sergei open to end an argument, Alina never loses this part of herself.
The scene in Baghra’s hut is heartbreaking. Oddly enough, Baghra’s anger at losing the Darkling to his monstrous nature reminds me of Mal’s relationship to Alina. He fears what she is turning into, and that the person she becomes will have nothing to share with him, just as Baghra had feared that the Darkling would lose his humanity. And Baghra’s despair foreshadows Mal’s struggles in later chapters.
As far as Alina goes, I think that it is easy to forget in the whirlwind of politics and plans and hunting for the amplifiers that Alina hasn’t had much affection in her life. She can’t remember her parents, and other than Mal, she has only had a few figures that she could grow attached to who never really loved her the way a family would. She retains some affection for Ana Kuya as the woman who looked after her growing up, but that is really it. So it’s not surprising that, despite the strife of their relationship, Alina loves Baghra in a way. She goes to her for help because she is the most likely person to know about the firebird, but also because Bagrha helped her once before, and Alina does hope that Baghra cares a little bit for her. Her anger at Baghra’s refusal to help is partly because Alina has to acknowledge that Baghra only cared about her son, not her, and not Ravka either.
Baghra may be right about the amplifiers, but I think her grief at what happened to the Darkling blinds her to Alina’s motivations. She, like many others, looks at Alina and sees ambition and a hunger for power. But she doesn’t acknowledge the place Alina is caught in, or the choices she is being forced to make.
And finally, there is the line “Is the world so very fine that you think it is worth saving?” Less extreme versions of this sentiment are spoken by other Grisha, and it is a reminder that they are often persecuted or regarded with suspicion and fear by other of Ravkans. Alina has just had a moment of empathy for the Darkling in Chapter 12, when she was irked at having to grovel before a foolish king, and now the reader finds themselves having a moment of empathy for Baghra, wondering what other suffering lies in her past, remembering how the continuing toll of war is brought up again and again in this trilogy, and how it drives people.
Chapters 16 – 18: Summary
When Alina is finally able to corner David, she finds him in his workshop attempting to design and build giant mirrors to amplify the power of the Cut against the nichevo’ya. Alina asks him about Morozova, and David admits that the Fabrikators know more about him than anyone else, because he was the greatest of their Order, a hero to them. He tells Alina that Morozova didn’t discover the amplifiers, but created them, using the same kind of power that the Darkling is using. He tells her that Morozova’s journals were destroyed after the creation of the Shadow Fold, because it was clear that such forces were too dangerous to play with. He also admits that he never expected the Darkling to destroy Novokribirsk and Alina wonders if his apparent remorse is real or feigned.
Alina turns to the library next, searching for clues in any books that mention either Ilya Morozova the Fabrikator or Saint Ilya the martyr. She has little luck, but does discover that Tolya can read ancient religious texts, and he suggests that she look in the chapel for more information.
When Mal returns from the hunt he goes with Alina to look in the chapel. The pair find a water-damaged panel depicting Saint Ilya, but nothing useful. Alina sees the Darkling again, but still keeps it from Mal. After the encounter Alina is waylaid by Prince Vasily who makes an awkward proposal of marriage to her, pointing out that his brother is second in line for the throne and that only Vasily can make her a Queen. Alina demurs, assuring Vasily that she has no such ambition.
As time passes, Alina settles into a routine at the Little Palace. She attends the meetings of the King’s advisors with Nikolai, and eventually with Vasily as well, as the older prince is galvanized to compete with his brother, despite his lack of aptitude or interest in the proceedings. Nikolai gets involved with David’s project, managing to fit in with the Grisha almost as well as he does with everyone else, and Botkin enjoys training the Fabrikators and spending time with Tolya and Tamar, who are his countrymen. Things are mostly going well, but Alina is conscious that she can never fully connect with the other Grisha, and at the same time she can feel a rift growing between her and Mal. He can feel it too, and suggests that they sneak off together to a party, disguised as the entertainment. Alina reluctantly agrees, and she and Mal and Tamar all travel out to the canal district and have a great time impersonating fortune tellers and sneaking drinks until a fight breaks out among the noble guests. They retreat, and in the chaos Alina finds herself separated from the others and cornered by the Apparat, who appears seemingly out of nowhere. He tells Alina that he has an army ready to follow her and that she should come with him to become the ruler of the new age of Ravka, and when she rejects his offer, he suggests that he may be able to help her find the firebird, and that he has many of the Darkling’s possessions. Mal and Tamar find them then and Tamar chases the Apparat off but is unable to catch him.
Alina explains what happened and that the Apparat is raising an army, complaining that she doesn’t want the burden “of an army of helpless otkazat’sya,” and Mal bristles in response. The two snip about the difference between the Apparat and Nikolai, and back at the Little Palace they struggle to talk to each other, starting to quarrel moments after admitting how much they miss each other. Mal tells Alina how much he hates life at the Little Palace, how he can see Alina changing and slipping away from him. He points out that while she may be trying to save Ravka, he is fighting for her, following her, and begs her to come back to him. Just as he leans in to kiss her, the Darkling appears.
Mal feels Alina react to seeing the Darkling, and takes her flinch to mean that she doesn’t want him anymore. He thinks it’s because of Nikolai, and leaves in a fury, promising not to pursue Alina anymore, and although she wants to call him back and explain, she can’t.
Watching Mal and Alina fall apart is almost as torturous for the reader as it is for the two of them. I know a lot of fans of the books find Mal to be whiny or pathetic, but Mal really has given up everything to follow Alina, and you can see how much he behaves like a caged animal whenever he is cooped up at the palace. Alina has always observed that Mal can adapt to fit in anywhere, but when he pleads with her that he has no purpose anymore, that he can’t be useful, it is a reminder of a time when Alina was the one who felt useless and unable to fit in.
Mal’s continuing jealousy of Nikolai rankles, and I wonder if he doesn’t see in Alina and Nikolai’s relationship and echo of what Mal thought she might have had with the Darkling. The make good partners, as I observed before, and all of Mal’s jealous tendencies do seem to be directly tied to how relevant he feels. But I still found found it hilarious when Nikolai pointed out how insecure Mal and Alina are “for two people with a love eternal” back in Chapter 14.
One of the downsides to reading YA as an adult is that it’s easy to forget how different it is being in a relationship as a teenager. When I find myself yelling at Alina to just tell Mal about her visions already, or at Mal for not understanding the pressure that Alina is under, I have to remember how little experience they have and how much they are desperate to belong somewhere. From the narration we know how much Alina has never felt she belongs anywhere, but I actually think the same is true of Mal, despite his ability to make friends and be popular. Mal tells her that the men who he goes hunting with are amused by him, which is different than liking him, and I wonder how much his easy-going nature may have fooled Alina into thinking he was happier with other parts of his life than he really was. If that’s true, it makes his breakdown at Os Alta a lot more sympathetic.
There are little hints about Tolya and Tamar in these chapters, especially the way Tolya almost seems to wait for Alina’s blessing when he kneels beside her in the library, and and the way Tamar appears and disappears without explanation during the brawl at the party. I think the question of whether the Apparat truly believes in Alina’s sainthood or if it is just a political tool is an interesting one and hard to answer. Thematically it would be the latter; Alina’s identity as the Sun Summoner is the key to every grab for power, including her own reluctant one, but there is a fanatical edge to the Apparat’s behavior that is hard to doubt. In the same way that I trust Zoya’s story about her aunt and neice dying in Novokribirsk and David’s remorse over helping the Darkling, I think some of the religious fervor in the Apparat is genuine. But that doesn’t stop him from being willing to use Alina to get what he wants.
Chapters 19 – 21: Summary
Alina asks David if it is possible to remove the collar, and he admits to her that there is no way to take it off without causing a catastrophe that would “make the Fold look like a paper cut.” Alina realizes she will always be bound to the Darkling, even if she could fully heal from the bite of the nichevo’ya. Whatever she is becoming she cannot turn away from, and she tries to comfort David’s guilt by pointing out that someone else would have fashioned the collar if he hadn’t, and David responds by asking about Genya. Alina tells him what she knows, and they both share a moment of regret for their past mistakes.
Nikolai and Vasily have an argument at one of the council meetings when Vasily suggests lowering the draft age. Nikolai accuses his brother of not understanding what is required to ensure the safety of Ravka and defeat the Darkling. In the aftermath, Alina realizes that Nikolai genuinely cares about the people of Ravka, and she tells him that he will be a good king.
Time passes, but despite all their hard work and planning, despite the Grisha learning to work and live together and disregards the segregation of their Orders, Alina knows that nothing they are doing will be enough to stop the Darkling. She continues to see him everywhere, so much so that Nikolai notices her fatigue from lack of sleep. Then David finishes his dishes, and when they test them out on the roof of the Little Palace, the incredible beams of light they generate are more than Alina could have imagined or hoped for. Grisha and non-Grisha alike rejoice and celebrate late into the night, although Mal declines to join Alina. Disappointed, she goes down to the lake with Nikolai, they take a ride in the new airship, and then sit on the pier and dangle their feet in the lake. Nikolai admits to Alina that the gossip about the fact that he may not actually be the King’s son bothers him. He tells her that he never really felt that he belonged at court, a feeling that Alina understands. Nikolai nearly kisses her, but then decides not to. Not until she is thinking of him instead of trying to forget Mal.
Alina reacts to that assessment with embarrassment and anger, and quickly leaves him, furious with herself for thinking that she could find intimacy of comfort with Nikolai. Pained and reminded again of how much she misses Mal, she starts thinking about what she could say to fix their problems, and goes looking for him. Tamar takes her to find Mal at a sort of underground fight club in the stables. Alina watches in horror as Mal fights a squaller, getting badly injured but still managing to defeat the Grisha fighter despite his seeming disadvantage. Tamar admits that Mal does this often, and prevents Alina from interfering. Alina is torn by conflicting impulses, but when Zoya kisses Mal, Alina runs away, unable to handle her emotions. Mal follows her and they argue, about their relationship and Alina’s distance, about how desperately Mal wants to leave this all behind and be common again together. Alina suggests in desperation that they will run away, but Mal knows that she won’t. He presses her, asking what he is to her, and as he curls his fingers around her wrist, the bare one without an amplifier, the both feel a shock run through them. They break apart, confused, but Alina’s anger returns when she points out that she has no choice, no ability to go back to the girl she was, no matter how much Mal wants her back. And when Mal asks if she would give up the power if she could, Alina replies “Never.”
Mal takes her back to the Little Palace, where Alina admits that she sees the Darkling before Mal leaves her alone. Desperate and lonely and regretting so much, Alina falls asleep in tears and when she wakes Mal is there with her, kissing her and touching her. But when she tries to see his face she is horrified to see it morph into that of the Darkling. Alina screams and he vanishes, but no one comes to investigate, so Alina decides to sneak out of the Little Palace. She dresses in disguise and uses the Darkling’s secret exit.
In her nondescript coat and scarf, Alina is able to walk all the way to the city walls, observing the leftover revelry from the night before, and even out into the city beyond, where she finds the encampment of refugees and pilgrims. She watches them great the dawn with prayer, chanting her name and the various titles the Apparat has given her, including “Daugher of Two Mills,” a reference to an old ruin near the settlements where she was born. Listening to them brings back fragments of memories of her life before the orphanage at Keramzin, but when she tries to get out of the crowd her scarf is knocked askew and her collar is recognized. The pilgrims swarm around her, chanting her name and grasping at her clothes and hair, and Alina realizes that she is going to literally be torn apart by zealots. She decides that she will let them do it, that she wants to die, that this can be her martyrdom. And then suddenly Tolya and Tamar appear and fight off the crowd, dragging Alina back into the city.
But despite everything, her guilt and her fear, Alina has a thought begin to form, and when they reach the Little Palace she makes them take her to the library before returning to her room, where they meet Mal in the common room. Tolya and Tamar go off on him for deserting his post, and Tolya nearly crushes Mal before Alina makes him stop.
Alina assembles Mal, Tolya, Tamar, and Nikolai and shows them a map of the area where she was born. The ruins, she explains, are called the two mills, but they are old and could have been anything. She suggests that they are the arch from the illustration of Saint Ilya.
After some discussion, it is agreed that Mal must be the one to go investigate the ruins, since only he can track the firebird. His eagerness to get away from Alina is obvious to everyone, and Nikolai even tries to comfort her, pointing out that Mal never belonged in Os Alta. As much as Alina wants to argue that Mal belongs with her, she has to admit that Nikolai is right.
Alina’s loneliness is a palpable thing in these chapters. She is seeing the Darkling more and more, even as Mal avoids her, takes to drinking, and general acts erratically whenever he isn’t on duty. When her temper flares at the meeting with Vasily, it is interesting to see Nikolai respond and lose his temper as well. Alina sees that Nikolai’s passion come from a deep place of caring about Ravka, and it is clear that she feels the same, despite the many times she has been accused her of deserting her people when they need her. When I look at Mal’s behavior in contrast, I do get frustrated all over again that he can’t see how much Alina needs him. And Alina knows she needs him, but she’s so bad at letting herself act on that need or even allow him to see it.
I’m also struck by the fact that this is the section where David finally brings up Genya, and we see him only fully realizing his affection for her now that she is gone, just as Mal only fully understood his feelings for Alina after she left to go train at the Little Palace.
The fight scene between Mal and Eskil the squaller is brutal in its detail, and Bardugo’s writing shines again here. Alina regretting her careless words about the Apparat’s “helpless otkazat’sya” is a beautiful callback, and her desire to protect him is a perfect illustration of the complexities of their relationship. On the one hand, Alina still thinks of Mal as being the talented one, the good looking one, the person who makes friends and is valued wherever he goes, but on the other hand, she really has started to believe in the separation of those with Grisha power and those without. I don’t think she realizes just how much she has accepted the mantle of protector, whether it be for the Grisha who serve under her, or for Mal, or as the savior of Ravka. She was so busy feeling like an imposter that I think it happened without her really noticing.
And then there’s the big fight. If I were in their position, I think I’d want to put that argument on hold to figure out what all the tingly wrist touching was about, but I suppose it’s not surprising that they are so overwhelmed at this point that they can’t be distracted from their fallout.
Bardugo said of Shadow and Bone that one of the biggest themes of that book was what people are willing to sacrifice to belong, and now, finally, we’ve seen a return of that theme. Alina cannot quite feel like she belongs at the Little Palace, but the power is a sense of belonging stronger than almost anything. When she says she would never give up that power, she is speaking of something that is an intrinsic part of herself, and her sense of belonging to and within that power has only been enhanced by the amplifiers. It is a power that she gave up as a child to belong with Mal, but now that she has it, that choice is not so easy a second time, and I can’t really blame her for it, although I can see the dark path that such a choice may lead to.
When Alina asks Mal what he remembers from before Keremzin and she shows everyone her theory about the arch, it is easy to think of this as all being just about her. The Darkling believes that the amplifiers are meant to be for her, so it’s not surprising that the last one might be found near her home. But Mal’s connection to that land is forgotten by everyone, including me the first time I read the book. On the second read-through, however, I noticed it immediately, especially since this comes so soon after she had that reaction to him holding her wrist.
Chapters 22 – 23: Summary
Alina, with Mal as her guard, attends a birthday dinner for Nikolai at the Grand Palace. She’s miserable thinking about how Mal will be leaving and that the rift between them is irreparable, and the wound in her shoulder from the nichevo’ya bite is troubling her. After a while, Vasily stands and offers a toast to his brother. He then proceeds to explain that he has recently returned not from buying horses, as everyone believed, but actually from negotiating with Fjerda. He announces proudly that he has successfully allied himself with Ravka’s former enemies in the fight against the Darkling, and everyone at the table rejoices at the success.
But Nikolai is not pleased, and as he questions Vasily about the terms of the agreement, it comes to light that the Fejerdans had asked for certain logging routes to be opened up to them, routes that Nikolai knows will allow the Darkling to bypass the only fort in the area that can guard against forces crossing the border into Ravka. He tells Vasily that his foolishness has given Ravka to the Darkling, and that he could be attacking at any moment, pointing out that all of the King’s advisors and most of his generals are present at the celebration, in addition to most of the the Lansov line. Even as Vasily is arguing that Nikolai is just making things up because he’s jealous of Vasily’s success, the city alarm bells start to ring. Barely a moment later, the nichevo’ya burst into the room.
Vasily is killed, along with many others at the table. Alina and Mal manage to escape with Nikolai and the King and Queen, and they retreat out onto the grounds. Nikolai is determined to get his parents to safety aboard the flying ship, and Alina makes him promise to rescue Baghra too, before she and Mal hurry down to the Little Palace. Once there they find the Grisha under heavy attack from the nichevo’ya, and although they are able to join David, Sergei, Marie, and some of the other Grisha on the roof to use the remaining mirrored dish against the Grisha, ultimately they are overwhelmed and driven back to take refuge, barricading themselves inside the hall, then deciding to make a run for it to try to get out into the town and escape. But the numbers of the nichevo’ya are too great.
As they are about to fail in this attempt, Tolya and Tamar burst out of the cover of the trees with an army of soldiers, tattooed with Alina’s symbol on their faces. They are able to drive the nichevo’ya back long enough for Tolya and Tamar to lead everyone back to the chapel, where they reveal a hidden passageway behind the ruined painting of Saint Ilya. Alina realizes that this must be how the Apparat escaped before, and that Tolya and Tamar have been working with him all along. But before everyone can escape, the Darkling appears.
The Darkling commands that Alina stand down, promising to let the others go free if she will come to him, before teasing Mal that she wants to be with him. But when Alina hesitates, he brings forward the cloaked figure of a woman who has been tortured with bites from the nichevo’ya, and Alina is horrified to recognize destroyed visage of Genya. David steps forward and gently takes Genya away from the Darkling to stand with him but Alina decides that she cannot let her friends fall to the Darkling to be treated the way Genya was, and agrees to go with him.
Over the other’s protests, Alina orders Tolya and Tamar to prevent Mal from stopping her from surrendering to the Darkling. She promises Mal that she has always loved him and that their story will never end, and then goes to the Darkling and kisses him.
Alina tells the Darkling that her power is his, and she can feel his joy at her words right before he realizes that she is reaching across the connection between them and using his power against him, forcing him to create more nichevo’ya. Alina knows that the effort will kill both of them, and that then Mal, and the country, will be free.
Mal comes and pulls her away just as she is ordering the nichevo’ya to destroy the chapel, and although she expects to be buried and killed under the collapse, Alina wakes to find that she and Mal were both badly injured, but that ultimately the Corporalki were able to use their power to save Alina’s life. She recovers very slowly as they are taken to see the Apparat. Alina questions Tolya and Tamar as to their loyalty, whether they serve her or the Apparat, and they insist that they are loyal to her.
Alina finds herself physically changed, her body impossibly weak, her skin sunken, and her hair turned frail and white. At the end of the chapter, she tells Mal the horrible truth that she has been hiding. That she cannot summon her power anymore.
We really packed a lot in at the end there, didn’t we? I forgot how much Vasily’s idiocy affected me the first time I read Siege and Storm. Even on the second time round it hit me hard. We spend so many chapters watching Alina and Nikolai planning and scheming, Mal falling apart, Baghra’s despair, David’s guilt, and the we finally see our little rag-tag team discover a real plan and real hope, and the whole mood of the narration changes. Even through Alina and Mal’s personal strife, there is a hopeful note about the future, moments she shares with Nikolai or even David.
And then the reveal with Vasily’s stupid smug attitude and Nikolai’s slowly growing horror, and suddenly every bit of that hope is smashed by the fact that Nikolai underestimated how far his brother was willing to go to have the crown. The slaughter of the King’s court and Alina’s Grisha is brutal and narrated with such finality, and it’s all topped off with the death of Marie and Sergei’s emotional collapse.
And then that is all topped off by what the Darkling did to Genya.
You guys know how much I love Genya, and I think her torture and that of Baghra is made even more horrible by what we are left to guess at. And Genya losing her beauty to disfiguration is not the same as say, it might be for someone like Zoya, because we know that Genya has always pretended at vanity in order to use her beauty as a shield, the only real power she had when she was a servant, beholden to the King and Queen, when she did not have the stature that should belong to a Grisha. I cannot imagine how vulnerable she would feel, having to face Alina and the others that way, but the tenderness David shows to her provides a bit of a hopeful note, and suggests that Genya might not have to sacrifice much more in order to finally belong.
Alina sees it too, I think, and as she says goodbye to Mal she is wishing the same thing for him.
I really love how the narration doesn’t give away Alina’s plan to us until she actually starts attacking the Darkling. It lends it a sort of brutality that matches the suddenness of the appearance of the nichevo’ya in Chapter 22. The fact that Alina is so relieved to learn that Darkling was coming to her on purpose, rather than that she was just hallucinating somehow, shows how much she has accepted the unbreakable bond between them but has also rejected the idea of being like him or caring for him. Her true fear about those visions were that she wanted him, and although the Darkling suggests that he came because she called, it’s clear that Alina doesn’t think of it that way.
Her near death is actually very similar to her experience with the pilgrims; she is giving up part of herself and choosing to die, and it is chilling to read. Once again, the Darkling has underestimated the sacrifices that Alina is willing to make for the people she loves, and this time, he has also underestimated her ability to wield power.
In After, we see Alina dream of Nikolai on his flying ship, hopeful that he somehow survived, and of the firebird consuming her in flame. They take shelter in the White Cathedral, a sanctuary at the heart of the underground tunnels, as the girl tries to find her light again, and she and the boy both wait, knowing that this place the Apparat keeps calling home is a prison for them, and a tomb. The girl thinks of all the men who had tried to make her a queen, but she knows that she is destined for something else, to be a reckoning for those who have died and those who still live.
You know, there’s one big important thing that keeps knocking about in my head that I never got around to discussing where it was relevant, so I’m just going to throw it down here at the end. Have you noticed the language used about the amplifiers? Always in the narration the stag’s antlers are a collar, and the sea whip’s scales are a fetter. The Darkling certainly made the stag’s amplifier to be something that binds Alina, but no one assigns the designation of fetter to the scales but her. She could as easily have called it a bracelet; Zoya’s amplifier is a “silver bangle.” Alina never talks about how she feels about the amplifiers directly (except in relation to the ways she is bound to the Darkling) but the narration still finds way to communicate the idea of how she is a prisoner to the amplifiers, to this quest for power, to her identity as the Sun Summoner.
The choice of word must be in reference to the picture of Saint Ilya in chains from Alina’s book; “Around his neck he wore an iron collar that had once been connected to the heavy fetters around his wrists by thick chains.” Alina touches the bonds on the image as she talks about the three amplifiers, but never remarks on it more directly. However, it does tie in nicely with dream Baghra’s words. “The ox feels the yoke, but does the bird feel the weight of its wings?”
Also, the fact that the very last word of the book is “rise” gave me chills.
This concludes our reading of Siege and Storm! What are you guys most excited about for Book Three? For me I think it’s seeing Nikolai come back (and what a story that is) and getting some resolution for what Genya’s been through. I am less excited about reading about the Apparat being creepy and gross.
See you all next week for Part One of Ruin and Rising!
Kelsey Jefferson Barrett is a Brooklyn-based writer and reviewer who wishes he came up with the idea for an air-pirate prince.