Book Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Reading format: Paperback
Content warnings: death, violence, gore
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After Alina discovered the Darkling’s plan in Shadow and Bone, she and Mal decide to flee Ravka. But the Darkling has eyes everywhere. It isn’t long before they realize how difficult it is to thwart his search. Along the way Alina and Mal unexpectedly forge an alliance with an infamous privateer. Alina uses this new alliance to help her attain leadership of the Second Army. However, the new role of leader is heavy.
Alina dutifully works to achieve unity and respect from the Grisha army and plan the Darkling’s demise and destruction of the Fold. But try as she might to ignore it, she can’t deny the growing temptation of power and forbidden magic introduced to her by the Darkling. She can’t refute the similarities between herself and the Darkling, for they are the only ones of their kind. As Alina wrestles with the Darkling’s allure, she risks losing Mal who is grappling between wanting the friend he knew at Keramsov and accepting Alina as she is now. If Alina wants to save Ravka, she must decide between her desire for power or the love for her friends and country.
Siege and Storm is a page-turning, swashbuckling, and satisfying sequel to Shadow and Bone. I always comment on writing style and Bardugo’s writing is equal to that of the first installment. It’s engaging and descriptive without losing readers to superfluous details. There’s also comparatively more world-building in this book. Because this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t go into too much detail. That said, readers get to explore some new sites west and north of Ravka, and with new characters to boot!
The introduction of new characters is an absolute positive to this storyline in terms of dialogue and unexpected plot events. I always appreciate some witty banter, and the character privileged to wield these words is a delight to read about. (I promise you’ll know who I’m talking about once you read this book.) We also spend more time with some existing Grisha characters, like Zoya, David, and Baghra, as their roles grow.
Another thing I enjoyed about Siege and Storm is the vulnerability we see in Alina and Mal as things keep changing in and around them. We see their closeness and loyalty to each other as the book starts, trying to keep each other safe. But as Alina takes on new responsibilities as leader of the Grisha army, she must focus more of her attention on planning for war. This inevitably results in more of Alina’s time spent immersed in Grisha culture, which is something Mal can never fully understand. As Alina struggles to resist her desire for power, she feels like she can’t reveal this part of herself to Mal, so they begin to drift apart.
This is where my spoiler-free review stops. For some spoiler-y thoughts on Mal and Alina, continue reading.
After I read a book I usually look through some reviews to gauge general reactions. And it seemed to me that Mal’s treatment of Alina is a big point of discussion. As Alina becomes more engrossed in Grisha culture and struggles with the call of power, Mal observes all of this and tries to reason with her, to leave it all behind. He feels he’s losing the girl he knew all his life and that she’s turning into someone he doesn’t recognize.
Meanwhile, Alina doesn’t feel like she should have to tone down her power or give it up because it’s hers. It’s something she was born with. It’s something she wants. So as Alina is distracted with leading the Grisha, planning the battle, and unexpected visions of the Darkling, she withdraws from Mal because she feels that he’ll judge her even more. Mal, still loyal, can’t and won’t leave Alina. But he also has a hard time accepting the changes in her, and so embarks in physical self-destructive behavior.
Now, I agree that Alina shouldn’t have to tone down her power to appease someone. I also understand why Mal acted the way he did. I don’t necessarily agree with it nor was I impressed by it. But I think it would be a little too heroic if Bardugo wrote Mal as being fully accepting of and happy for Alina. He’s human and in my experience it’s only human to have a hard time with change. Plus throw in some jealousy from the competition (e.g., Nikolai and the Darkling), and it makes for some “Mal”content. See what I did there? I’m not writing this to excuse Mal, just to throw out some unqualified psychoanalysis of his and Alina’s feelings.