Review of SIEGE AND STORM by LEIGH BARDUGO
(second in the GRISHA trilogy, review based on an advance reading copy)
I adored the first book in this trilogy, SHADOW AND BONE, so SEIGE AND STORM had a lot to live up to. I admit that the prologue threw me. Alina and Mal are referred to as “the girl” and “the boy” (and then again in the epilogue). I didn’t understand the goal behind writing in a way that distances the reader from characters towards whom they already feel very close. However, once I reached Chapter 1, the story hooked me near immediately. For starters, I had certain predictions about where this book might go and felt immensely pleased when something I expected to happen near the end happened in the first chapter. Needless to say, SIEGE AND STORM is extremely fast paced.
Bardugo also introduces plenty of new characters, another factor that helps book two avoid the dreaded middle book syndrome. Sadly for Alina, though, she doesn’t make many clear friends right away. Rather she meets dozens of people who could be either friends or enemies and she better guess right - no pressure.
As in SHADOW AND BONE, I found relating to Alina easy and natural. She’s caught between a rock and a hard place. She might be one of the most powerful people in this fictional world and yet she feels trapped by her own gift. Everyone wants something from her and she doubts she’s capable of the miracles strangers expect. There’s a part of her that wants to flee to a quiet, cozy hermit lifestyle except she knows that without her particular magic her country will doubtless fall into the hands of the Darkling. She feels forced by her power into taking more responsibility than she wants and grows increasingly lonely as she absorbs the Darkling’s warning that there are no other people in the world like the two of them, no other people who could possibly understand them.
The only aspect that dragged the book down for me is all the romance drama. I was thrilled when Bardugo united Alina and Mal near the end of book one, because I hoped that meant they would stay together through the rest of the series and, even if they have their fights or disagreements, the plot would focus far more on politics rather than will-they, won’t-they. Most of SIEGE AND STORM involves driving a wedge between Alina and Mal (so we can play more will-they, won’t-they fix their relationship). What particularly frustrated me about this development is that for two people who claim to be so madly in love with each other, they don’t make any effort to save the relationship. Their problems are such that could be avoided or resolved if they simply communicated, but instead neither one bothers to fight for the other. Also, this may very well be me reading too much into it, but I caught a whiff of subtext that Alina - as the woman - is waiting for Mal - as the man - to fix the relationship. I kept mentally urging her to take action rather than wait around for him to do so.
The way the romance plays out may be my main complaint about SIEGE AND STORM, but it’s significant enough that it does distract throughout the whole book. Still I loved the introduction of so many new characters, especially since they’re hardly labeled “good guy,” “bad guy,” “good guy,” “bad guy,” etc. They’re each people with their own priorities and goals and Alina has to sort through the tangled mess of feelings, signals, hints, suspicions, and so forth to make her own decisions about whom to trust.