Siege and Storm
by Leigh Bardugo
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. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. 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.
Check out my review of Shadow and Bone!
I have to be honest, the only reason this book got 3 stars was thanks to the saving grace that is Nikolai. I met him briefly in Crooked Kingdom but was properly introduced to him here, and he brought with him some of that same sense of humour that made me fall so hard in love with Six of Crows.
That’s not to say this is a bad book, because it really isn’t. Even though this trilogy isn’t quite my thing I do love Bardugo’s ideas, and every now and then there are glimpses of an amazing book. I love the struggles between the different pillars of power, from the church who believe Alina is a saint to the power struggle between the monarchy and The Darkling, and I love the idea of Alina’s internal struggles.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Alina’s not the same girl as she was before. Her power is a natural part of her, always has been even though she spent so long suppressing it, and so she can’t help but crave more. The real question here is: is Alina really losing herself, or is the person she’s becoming the version of herself she was supposed to be all along?
The problem is I still don’t feel like I know Alina well enough to care about the answer to that question. I feel mean saying it but she’s so boring. I’ve tried so hard to see her from a different way – maybe I’ve gotten too used to ‘kick-ass’ (I hate that phrase) YA heroines and I need to respect that Alina has a different kind of power – but it’s not that. I love quiet heroines as much as I love the Katniss Everdeens of the world, but I know nothing about Alina other than that she loves Mal and she’s drawn to The Darkling. She’s a heroine defined by the men around her and that’s so boring.
I keep reminding myself that Alina’s only 17 and try to compare what happens to her with how I’d react when I was 17, and I can guarantee I’d also make stupid decisions and get things wrong and probably just cry in a corner and hope my parents came to help me, if I’m being completely honest. It is heartbreaking that Alina doesn’t really have anyone to turn to other than Mal, the two of them don’t have parents they can remember, and as she and Mal grow apart she feels completely alone with the burden that’s been thrust on her shoulders at such a young age.
But, again, I don’t know this girl well enough to care. I can empathise with her and I can feel her frustrations – it is unfair of Mal, for example, to expect her to be exactly like the girl she was before, especially when that girl was essentially a girl he could ignore unless it suited him to remember she existed – but when all I know about Alina before this series started is that she spent her entire life waiting for Mal to notice her, and nothing else, then I’m sorry but that’s not a compelling enough heroine. Maybe there’s stuff here I’m just not seeing, and I did really appreciate Bardugo exploring how there are certain things you can’t come back from even if you might want to, but Alina makes no sense to me.
I feel like Bardugo thought of Alina’s role in this story before she thought of Alina, so this unknowable girl is simply walking through the steps of a story that was decided long before she came into the picture. If you create a heroine and her personality does nothing to change the original plot progression you had in mind, have you really created a fleshed out person or have you created an actress for the part you want played out in your story?
Personally, I think I would have loved this series if it had started a little differently. If Alina’s power had been discovered when she was younger and she’d been taken to The Darkling and raised by him, this story would be so much stronger. Imagine this girl being brainwashed with ‘love’ from a man who tells her he wants to use her power for good when really he wants to use it for his own gain, and this girl having to turn against him, even though she loves him, to ultimately do the right thing. My major problem with this series is that I don’t know enough about Alina before The Darkling discovers her to care when she changes.
Also this book had yet more boy drama and far too much of it in a story set in a country that’s literally being ripped apart by shadow monsters. I don’t care who you want to kiss, Alina, I care about the religious, political and military upheaval in your country!
That huge rant aside (and I send my sincere apologies to people who adore this series, I’m not trying to be purposefully mean) there are parts of this book that are done well. Alina’s starting to discover that her whole life from now on is going to be a game of guessing whether people want to get to know her because she’s Alina or because she’s the Sun Summoner, and that’s a horrible conclusion for any 17 year old to have to come to.
The highlight of this novel for me, however, was Nikolai and his crew. He so easily could have been a flighty prince who Alina had to teach the importance of Ravka to, but thankfully Bardugo doesn’t go down that route. Nikolai already cares about his country a great deal, and he knows that, compared to his older brother, he’s what’s best for it when it comes to the succession. He also teaches Alina a lot about how to be a public figure, lessons she sorely needs when rumours are being spread that she’s a saint returned from the dead.
I could have done without the one-sided jealousy between Mal and him, however, and there continues to be rampant girl hate between Alina and Zoya that I have no time for. Zoya isn’t a particularly nice person, but I do like her because we know her loyalty to Alina is genuine considering how little she and Alina care for each other, but for Alina to question why Zoya would choose to side with her instead of The Darkling when, shock horror, this conflict isn’t only affecting Alina is infuriating. Again, I’m trying to remind myself that Alina’s only 17, but sometimes she’s so inward-looking it’s painful.
Ultimately I did enjoy this book more than the first, mainly thanks to Nikolai, and the actual bones of the story is a story I like, but for me the characters fall too flat for me to ever completely enjoy them.