*** 3.5 stars ***
(Review also posted on Fantasy-Faction.com
The second novel in a new YA trilogy by debut author Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm picks up soon after where Shadow and Bone leave off. In a world where the Darkling is determined to rule the world with his Grisha army , Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev (Mal) are on the run and working on gaining true freedom from the Darkling and the forces that have been pulling them apart since Alina’s reveal as the Sun Summoner.
First off, let’s look at that cover. Ominous grey clouds with rays of light attempting to shoot out from behind; rolling waves surrounding a palace in a classic Russian design; and then, there is the ice dragon
Say no more; you have me at “ice dragon.”
In all seriousness, that cover summarizes most of the arc in this book. The Darkling, represented by the grey expanse of clouds, is an insidious presence that overpowers with the cloak of darkness. Being a living amplifier, he controls the Grisha, individuals born with a unique control over different matter. Corporalki can either kill you where you stand or bring you back from the edge of death. Etherealki can manipulate air, water, or fire, and Materialki work with physical matter and poisons. With a horrifying new ability even his followers fear, the Darkling’s grip is tightening and seems to infiltrate every barrier. Already linked to Alina through her stag amplifier, he forces her and Mal to seek a second amplifier, an unheard of thing in the Grisha world.
Enter the ice dragon.
An elusive and mythical creature, the Sea Whip is the magical being from which Alina’s second amplifier must be created. Their pursuit of the ice dragon is led by Mal’s unique ability to track anything and everything. On a ship captained by a privateer willing to sell his services to the highest bidder, they ultimately find and capture their prize, and Alina’s power grows while her relationship with Mal thins even further.
I have to say that I am rather disappointed in the brief encounter with the ice dragon. For being so prominently displayed on the book’s cover and its significance in the plot, the event was over way too soon. So much anticipation was built up to its appearance that I was left feeling like I was missing something when it was done.
However, the author does a very good job keeping you guessing at what could possibly happen next. Almost every twist in the plot surprised me (which is rather hard to do). Unfortunately, in between each shocking event, there was unnecessarily long “down time” where not much was happening. It almost seemed like we were given time to recover from the last surprise, and hence, things had to slow down. I didn’t need the long breaks; I bounce back pretty quickly, thank you.
During these breaks, there were detailed descriptions of the scenery, the food, and the various characters and their waxing and waning relationships. There was too much telling and not enough showing. There was a bright spot in all the character-telling: Sturmhond. His is a very bright spot and is the saving grace to all the lulls in the story.
The take-charge, overconfident, self-built privateer that is Sturmhond is my favorite character by far. He provides the comic relief in an otherwise depressing state of affairs. His motives have all yet to be revealed, but even with the enigma, he is refreshingly bold and frank in his interactions with others. I’m glad there is more of him to come as the layers of his character are being slowly peeled away (read: secret identity).
The relationship between Alina and Mal fit your typical angst-ridden YA love story. Childhood best friends growing into love with one another while fighting to stay together in the midst of all the changes in their circumstance as well as in their evolving characters. Mal is a worthy hero to cheer for, though. He remains loyal with his eyes always on the goal while Alina vacillates under the growing influence of the Darkling.
This trilogy is still worth reading for the adept worldbuilding and the surprises in the plot. I would read it for the character of Sturmhond alone. As he so eloquently puts it, “I have so many good qualities. It can be hard to choose.”