*** If you have not read the first book, Shadow and Bone, this review will contain some spoilers.
The Sun Summoner. Now on the run from The Darkling and his Grisha, Alina finds herself in a foreign land, growing physically weaker and more frustrated from being unable to use her power, lest she and Mal be detected. She feels useless and uncertain of the future, and deeply guilty for the part she played in the grisly incident on The Fold. Since being bound to Morozova’s Collar, something within Alina has shifted irrevocably, and she feels herself drawn toward a destiny that part of her wants nothing to do with, but that another, darker part of her craves.
Forced back to Ravka with Mal, Alina is compelled to right the wrong she was made to be a part of, to defeat the Darkling and destroy The Shadow Fold. To do this means accepting a position of leadership she’s uncomfortable with, and one that she’s acclimating to far too easily for her liking – a position that places her in danger and a position where she could either save Ravka or become it’s undoing. For though she tries her best to suppress it, there’s a growing part of her that’s drawn to power and darkness.
Alina has come a long way from the lonely girl she once was when she was a mediocre and unremarkable cartographer in the King’s Army. Gone is her naivete and her innocence. She’s seen darkness and what it’s capable of. She’s seen the destruction a lust for power can wreak. While I wouldn’t call her jaded, she’s been used and manipulated because of her powers, and as a result she’s not as trusting; she’s more wary, she’s more mature. She’s more capable, fiercer, and stronger. Alina is, however, still lonely – unable to trust or unable to burden those closest to her. Caught up in a web of political maneuverings, ambitions, lies and secrets, she’s learning to mask her fears and weaknesses, playing at diplomacy. Although, diplomacy only goes so far when restraining Alina’s sharp wit and firm opinions. Her common roots give her an interesting perspective on royal life and bureaucracy, and she often loses patience with the pretense and posturing. She’s tired of being viewed as a pawn, the political ace-up-someone’s-sleeve, and she’s ready to start making her own moves.
The Tracker. Mal sacrificed a great deal to save the girl he loves, getting them away from Ravka where they hope to live in peace away from the Darkling. But fate has other plans, and it’s impossible to ignore that Alina is changing before his eyes, becoming less and less the girl he once knew. When they unexpectedly end up back on Ravkan soil, Alina’s direction and purpose seem undeniable, but Mal flounders and struggles to find his place within their new circumstances, leaving him to wonder if Alina’s been set on a course he cannot follow.
The Darkling. The encounter between he and Alina in The Shadow Fold has irrevocably altered him as well. The Darkling’s power is growing as is his hunger for it, and for Alina. Like calls to like, as he’s so fond of reminding Alina, and he will stop at nothing to claim her, her power, and the Ravkan throne.
The Darkling is truly one of the most intriguing villains I’ve read in a long while. There is just something so… irresistible about him even though he’s just so mired in darkness, even though he’s done things that are horrible and unforgivable. I wouldn’t call him a sympathetic villain. “Multi-layered” would probably be a better description, and despite the things he’s done in Shadow and Bone and what occurs in Siege and Storm, a little part of me can’t help but hope that Baghra is right, and that he’s not yet “beyond redemption.”
The Clever Fox. Always two steps ahead with a Plan B and a clever, perfectly-delivered one-liner that’s sure to catch his opponents off-guard, Sturmhond is, put simply: absolutely (frustratingly) delightful. A brigand, a privateer, Sturmhond commands a crew of mercenaries who terrorize True Sea. He’s incredibly complex, perpetually unruffled, perfectly evasive, endearingly infuriating, infinitely charming, chronically untrustworthy and completely incapable of answering a direct question. One can never be quite sure where one stands in his game, or what game he’s playing. However, one thing’s always certain, he is playing at something and he always has some angle. Sturmhond’s a compelling mix of sincerity, honor and compassion coupled with ambition, cunning and ruthlessness, and easily rivals the Darkling as my favorite character in this series.
World. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. In this series, Bardugo has crafted a world that’s vivid, luscious and rich with depth, volume and weight. It’s all in her attention to detail, saturating the story with it; never forcing or overwhelming, but rather effortlessly weaving it in and throughout her story and around her characters. From a pungent, filthy whaling boat heaving across choppy waves to dusty scraps of civilization populated by the weary and worn citizens of Ravka, to the elaborate artistry and opulence of the Little Palace, to various customs, histories, stories, magic, and unique cultural details – it’s all worked together beautifully into the larger, cohesive tapestry of this spellbinding world.
Story. This is art. Truly. Lovely prose, perfect pacing, striking imagery, powerful and clever dialogue, gut-wrenching conflict – it’s everything I love about storytelling in one gorgeously (soon-to-be) dust-jacketed package. Every line, even the ones that took the story and characters in amazing, but difficult, directions is fantastic; every word artfully handpicked to create something amazing. Have you ever had that feeling when reading a book? That “This!” feeling when you know you’ve found a book you’ve fallen head over heels for? When “This!” is the only word that comes to mind to describe your feelings because your ability to form coherent sentences has been blown away along with your mind?
Well then, I simply say “This!”
Personally, I’m a firm believer in going into second books blind. I’ve found distancing myself from rumors and teaser chapters and blurbs make for a more enjoyable reading experience. I’d rather unravel where the story’s going as it unfolds in front of me, than know bits and pieces ahead of time that might morph into unfounded and unmet expectations. So, that said, I didn’t know much about the direction Siege and Storm was headed when I began the book, and I don’t want to take that thrill away from you by revealing too much of the story. So, I’ll just say… I love Siege and Storm more than Shadow and Bone. It’s a second book so you can expect much drama, much conflict, much political intrigue, and moments that will tear your heart to pieces. And in those moments where it feels like your heart is being ripped piece by tiny piece from your chest, be prepared to say, “Please sir, may I have another?” Because seriously, it’s just that good.
Overall. I must revert to my natural state of incoherent fangirl where I’m only capable of saying: “This!”