Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

grishaImagine you’ve read the most amazing book and you buy the sequel, only to learn that it simply doesn’t live up to your expectations. Disappointing, right? Unfortunately, this is all too common in the world of YA fiction, called ‘second book syndrome’. Such is not the case for Siege and Storm, the thrilling sequel to Shadow and Bone, which continues to exceed expectations.

Summary

Darkness never dies. Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long…

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her — or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

The Backstory

In Shadow and Bone, Alina runs away from the Little Palace after learning about the Darkling’s true intentions. He is the Black Heretic – the same man who created the Shadow Fold. He doesn’t want to destroy it, but wants to control her powers in his quest for world domination.

When Alina is reunited with Mal, it’s a race against time to find Morozova’s stag, the most powerful amplifier to exist. The Darkling wins, forcing Alina to wear the antlers around her neck. This allows him to control her abilities. However, it appears that Alina (having spared the stag’s life) can access the Darkling’s powers, and reclaim her own. In the end, she leaves the Darkling and his men to the mercy of the Volcra in the Shadow Fold, while escaping to sea with Mal.

The Characters

Alina Starkov has matured a lot since the previous book… but she is not the perfect protagonist that you would expect. As she drifts further from her old self, it becomes clear that being the Sun Summoner comes with a terrible price. With a second amplifier and a whole army of Grisha under her control, Alina struggles with her desire for power, teetering on the edge of madness, and one begins to wonder if she is following in the Darkling’s footsteps, after all.

As Alina grows more confident in her abilities, it puts a strain on her relationship with Mal Oretsev, who changes from the boy-next-door to overbearing boyfriend in this book. For the most part, he is either sulking in the background or threatening to punch anybody who dares to look at her. Honestly? I just wanted to grab him and shout “dude, get a freakin’ grip!”.

If you thought that a love triangle was complicated, try a love square! Nikolai Lantsov is a perfect addition: quick-witted and fearless, his banter with Alina is a refreshing change from the doom and gloom that surrounds her. And yes, he’s also the Prince of Ravka. No wonder Mal feels threatened.

…and who could forget The Darkling? Despite having limited scenes, it’s hard to ignore his presence in Alina’s life. But if you ever thought that he was just misunderstood – a ‘good boy at heart‘, this book will change your mind. The Darkling goes through shocking lengths to prove exactly how ruthless he can be. Where some actions are downright cruel, it’s hard to imagine any redemption for him.

The Relationships

Mal and Alina are supposedly ‘in love’ with each other, but their relationship is more unstable than the Ravkan government. It is only natural that Mal would feel overwhelmed with dating the Sun Summoner, but his treatment of Alina was terrible. He made her feel guilty for being a Grisha, accused her of sleeping with Nikolai and The Darkling, and broke her heart. If Leigh Bardugo was trying to assassinate his character during this book, she definitely succeeded.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Lantsov isn’t your average Prince Charming. While he’s not exactly the most trustworthy person, his friendship with Alina seemed to flourish into something more. There is no denying their potential (much to Mal’s annoyance), and their conversations had me laughing out loud.

Quality, not quantity’ seems to be the golden rule for the Darkling/Alina moments in this book. While The Darkling is hiding elsewhere, Alina is plagued with hallucinations of him. In my favourite scene, she asks why he won’t leave her alone, to which he replies: ‘then I’d be alone, too’. It’s such a simple scene, yet almost depressing.

Quotes

You know the problem with heroes and saints, Nikolai? They always end up dead.

“So many men had tried to make her a queen. Now she understood that she was meant for something more. The Darkling had told her he was destined to rule. He had claimed his throne, and a part of her too. He was welcome to it. For the living and the dead, she would make herself a reckoning. She would rise.”

Rating: 5/5

The final installment, Ruin and Rising, will be released on June 19th 2014. Pre-order here.