Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
For a fantastic review of the first book in the trilogy, here.
One of the reasons I love reading fantasy novels is because of the magic—I get to experience a new world that isn’t limited to the familiar laws of Earth. Each world has it’s own set of rules, and my naturally-creative mind is caught up in imagination each time.
Shadow and Bone, the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, was compelling because of Bardugo’s creativity in the kind of world she built. Summoners, called the Grisha, can manipulate various substances, including blood, metal, wind, and water. It’s exciting for the reader to discover the intricacies of the world while the main character, Alina, simultaneously discovers her power to summon light.
By the time we reach Siege and Storm, however, we are fully acquainted with the Grisha’s world. Alina already has power, and the novelty of the first book has worn away. Instead of branching out and creating more secrets for the reader to discover, Bardugo simply goes up—Alina gains even more power.
This was disappointing. Bardugo repeats plot points from the previous book, and Alina spends much of her time trying to deal with the political and social implications of her power. It made this installment of the series less attractive than the first book.
While much of the book felt like a political and relationship maze, there is an encouraging development in Alina’s character. She begins to stand up for herself, taking charge of her life and making decisions on her own instead of hiding behind insecurities and allowing other characters to manipulate her. This makes her a stronger female heroine.
The rest of Alina’s character, however, failed to please. As readers, we want to root for the good guys and against the villains. In the first book, Alina is clearly good. But now she’s struggling with inner darkness. While this is realistic—all of us struggle with darkness—I didn’t like the conclusion of her struggle. She gives up—on herself, on her relationship with Mal, and on hope of saving Ravka. The fact that she gives into darkness and despair is disappointing. It’s a failure of her character, and I’m not sure how Bardugo will rectify it in the final installment.
The two men Alina deals with are also difficult. On the one extreme, the Darkling wants Alina to embrace their powers and the darkness they could reap together. But he’s not good, and is a bad match for Alina. On the other hand, Mal has no power, and while he’s a good guy, he’s far below Alina’s league. I would like to see a guy who could fit Alina, instead of watching her struggle against the bad sides of both men.
There was one new supporting character who redeemed much of the book—Sturmhond. While Alina and Mal are stuck dealing with depressing issues in their lives and relationship, Sturmhond is a multidimensional character who injects some much-needed life into the story. Bardugo did an excellent job with this humorous, sarcastic prince-turned-pirate.
In Shadow and Bone, Bardugo skims the topic of social and class issues, but doesn’t explore them much. The classes are aristocratic—each kind of Grisha is its own exclusive club, vying for the Darkling’s favor. This second novel dives in deeper when Alina takes charge and forces the Grisha to interact with each other and work as a team. I appreciated Bardugo’s willingness to explore social prejudices, reminiscent of America’s prolonged struggles against racial segregation.
Overall, Siege and Storm sat in the middle of the road—it didn’t disappoint me too much, but it also didn’t exceed my expectations. The world of the Grisha wasn’t as captivating the second time around, even though Bardugo entered into some interesting class and prejudice discussions. I liked the developing strength of Alina’s character, but wasn’t pleased with her despair. I’ll be interested to see how the series will conclude.