Today, we're reviewing Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. I read this when it first came out in June, but wanted to think about it before I reviewed it!
Hardcover, 435 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Henry Holt and Co.
So when June 4th rolled around and the UPS delivery truck showed up with my book, I grabbed my package and began devouring the book.
Please note: I'm keeping this review deliberately vague, so I don't inadvertently spoil things for readers who haven't gotten to the book yet.
However, events soon conspire to land Alina back in the grip of the Darkling, where she learns that he's developed new and terrifying powers. Though she manages to escape again with the help of an infamous privateer, she's now determined to return to Ravka to rally up the remaining forces to make a final stand against the Darkling.
However, along the way, Alina quickly learns that in order to guarantee the safety of her country's future, she may have to give up her own.
Things that worked:
Since the last time we've met up with Alina, she's grown in leaps and bounds. p As Siege and Storm opens, we catch up with Alina hiding out on the coast with Mal, trying to evade notice and capture by Darkling, the Grishas and the corporalnik.
Alina is far more nervous and cautious than she was in Shadow and Bone but she's also more willing to adapt to the situation at hand. She's willing to work, despite her failing health. And when a chain of events ends up putting her face-to-face with the Darkling early on, she doesn't try to run from the situation. She meets it head on, despite great personal risk to herself.
I was particularly intrigued by two things:
1) Alina's hunger at seeking out something that might make the difference in the fight with the Darkling. Bardugo does an especially good job at showing the idea that absolute power can corrupt absolutely, and how it's impacting Alina's rationality.
2) Alina's decision to take on leadership of the 2nd Army. Barudgo was definitely chartering her growth, especially her willingness to embrace responsibilities and deal with people that she didn't necessarily want to work with - all for the greater good.
Prior to reading Siege and Storm, knew Bardugo was a gifted writer. There were sentences and paragraphs in Shadow and Bone which absolutely blew me away with their beauty.
But she's actually upped the game even further in this book. The sentences and descriptions that she uses as Alina desperately flees the Darkling, and eventually travels back to Os Alta, are so spectacular, I frequently found myself rereading certain sections, so I could just relish in her word choices.
Ultimately, I believe that Bardugo's writing is key to why readers can feel so immersed in the world she's created. There's just something about the way she writes which sucks you in, and doesn't let you go - all in the bet way possible.
Bardugo's a master plotter, and it shows from the very first page of Siege and Storm. She's constantly dropping obstacles, including revelations and incorporating plot twists, which serves to keep the book moving at a brisk pace.
One of my favorite plotting decisions is the surprise encounter in the very first chapter of Siege and Storm. The fact that Bardugo went there, and so early on, made me definitely reevaluate what she would and wouldn't do in the course of the book, and for the rest of the trilogy.
Additionally, I like that Bardugo's especially good at incorporating small details in earlier sections of the book, which will impact the stakes experienced by characters later on.
E.g. Alina and Sturmhond make a discovery in the Fold about halfway through the book, which really increases the urgency and desperation of their plans later on. I loved how Bardugo has clearly thought out the structure of her story, if that makes any sense.
There really isn't much that I can say about his character without giving away some massive spoilers, but I thought Sturmhond was fabulous. He's like the Ravka equivalent of Johnny Depp's character from Pirates of the Caribbean, and I had an incredibly fun time reading his scenes.
Bardugo's incorporated a fine degree of razor-sharp intelligence and humor into his personality, and I'm interested in seeing where she'll develop his character next. And on that note...
* The love triangle (of sorts).
Even though I tend to dislike love triangles in books - they've been way too overdone since Twilight, I actually liked the prospect of Sturmhond coming between Alina and Mal.
Yes, Sturmhond is obviously using Alina to achieve his own means. But in many ways, the relationship is actually very true to real life - Alina and Mal are moving in very different spheres, and there's no way of telling if they can actually survive that transition.
Sturmhond is an intriguing new possibility for the new Alina, and I can't wait to see which choice she'll make.
Things that didn't work:
I was a little put off by Mal's constant insecurities in the latter half of the book re: Alina and their relationship. I definitely understand what Bardugo was trying to accomplish with this plot line - it can't be easy being the boyfriend of the one girl who's destined to save the world, when you don't even have your own job or identity anymore. You're bound to feel insecure at some points.
However, there were still points where I wanted someone to hit him upside the head at one point, and say, "DUDE. Your girlfriend has powers unlike anything that has ever been seen, and she's being stalked by a weird dude who wears all-black and is immortal. Cut her some slack if she needs to work okay?"
* Unclear motivations by the Darkling
Let me preface this by saying: I loved all of the chapters with Alina and the Grisha preparing for battle. I felt that they really emphasized just how much of a leader Alina could be. Up until this point, she's always been more reliant on her powers to impress and intimidate, rather than on her natural leadership abilities. By managing to take charge of the remaining Grisha, Bardugo shows just how much Alina has grown.
With that being said, I did wish that Bardugo would have thought to include more detail on what the Darkling likely had planned. There was a lot of guesswork and speculation, but never anything truly concrete. It made me slightly question the intellect of the characters - after all, with Grishas at their disposal, why didn't Sturmhond and Alina think to send out a reconnaissance team?
The uncertainty of the situation actually strongly me of the never-ending camping scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - lots of anticipation, but no real payout until the very, very end. Of course, this is just my opinion, and YMMV.
Aside from some minor nitpicks with plotting and characterization, I would highly recommend this book for all readers. This is a perfect book for summer.
About the author:
Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children's/Macmillan) is now a New York Times Best Seller.
She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and downright giddy if you liked Shadow & Bone on Facebook.