Disclaimer: This review is semi-spoiler free; meaning I won’t give away any major events but I will be mentioning facts pertaining to well beyond the first chapter.
Darkness never dies.
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.
I feel as though I should start off by disclaiming that this is the third book I’ve read by Leigh Bardugo so far, Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone being the previous ones. In fact, I wanted to write this review right after finishing Siege and Storm but fatigue got hold of me and as trying to stay focused was becoming harder and harder by the minute I decided to postpone it to the next day. Now here I am, with a clear mind and ready to put all my thoughts and feelings regarding this second installment in the Grisha trilogy into words.
First of all, I loved the way Leigh Bardugo crafts her stories and how she embellishes them with her one-of-a-kind, partly poetic, partly sarcastic writing style. Of course, I could go on and on about these great qualities of hers but I’ll leave it to the part where I actually get to talk about each and every one of these topics individually or else I’m going to repeat myself every sentence or two. Especially after diving into her Grishaverse which was as twisted, dark and magical as ever before but, unfortunately, I felt myself being confronted with mixed feelings throughout the course of this book time and again. Believe me when I say it was just as much of a shock to me as it might be to you right now. And – fear not! – by this I mean in no way that this book was bad whatsoever. Siege and Storm just couldn’t live up to its prequel and spin-off and especially the sensation of devouring said-books was still mingling in the back of my mind which might be the reason for my slight disappointment. Leigh Bardugo has outdone herself with each book but this one just couldn’t set the stakes any higher than her previous works, that’s at least how it was for me. But again, it was by no means bad. It just didn’t particularly strike me as phenomenal either. In fact, there were parts I loved and, on the other hand, disliked about it. So, let me quit my seemingly-endless blabbering here and now before I get off the track. No need, to hum you into oblivion…
“Weakness is a guise. Wear it when they need to know you’re human, but never when you feel it.”
You get where I’m coming from when I say how very well written her stories are? Well, there’s definitely no denying that her writing is a gift from the merciful gods themselves – I might be exaggerating here but you might as well fight me on it if you dare! – And this little quote above is just a little demonstration of her abilities as an alluring author. I love the way she crafts word after word, leaving the reader a slave to her personal rhythm and, ultimately, bending his/her emotions the direction she wants them to go. She has always taken me entirely by surprise so far and continues to do so in this book either. I already mentioned the melodic and poetic tone to her writing style which wrenches a bittersweet feeling from the reader in an instance, sucking him or her right into a gloomy, beautiful world of magic and keeps him/her begging for more when reached the finish line. Especially the way it corresponds with the dark atmosphere of the story won’t stop but catch me unawares every time I read one of her books. In this regard, Leigh Bradugo never seems to falter, much to the reader’s pleasure.
And as always, I can’t help but fall for the intertwined Russian elements. It just makes me want to travel there and explore every hillside, every little river and mountain this ginormous country has to offer. Just thinking about the opportunity of being surrounded by such rough and compelling lands sets my mind at ease with unforgiving speed. But it’s not only the very nature of Russia that allures me to such extent but rather its culture and history that fill my heart with longing. The way Leigh Bardugo wove those traits into the story almost made me forget that I was reading a mere novel and not some book about folklore. I would even go so far as to say that it felt like reading a fairytale because partly her writing style works wonders in this regard, of course, but mainly due to the fact that everything she brought up in her story had a very much whimsical undertone to it, as it can only be found in such tales. And not to forget the language, I bet each time some Russian words were coming up I was trying my best at speaking them out loud. But I won’t discuss my successes and failures with you now, even though I think there might have been slightly more of the latter. Only slightly, though…
I think the following makes for a great transition as I was just about to go over to the actual world presented in the book, or also called the Grishaverse. As you can see a bit of it in the image above the world is divided into multiple kingdoms; Novyi Zem, Kerch, Fjerda, Shu Han and last but not least, Ravka. The main events are focused on places within Ravka, as in the first book, which would make sense since the Grisha’s homeland lies within Ravkan’s borders. With each book Leigh Bardugo unveils a little bit more of her world, but ever so slightly as not to rush us with information which I’m really glad about. She gives us just enough facts to draw on those previous strings and expand them even further but all the while she focuses on the Grisha’s kingdom. As I already mentioned I loved the Russian traits in it so much. For me it was not only the architecture or even the culture that made it come to live but rather the gloomy atmosphere that went alongside all that. Crossing the dangerous, wild sea, facing magical creatures that were only known to be myths, dark, muddy alleyways in a far-off village and beautiful, high looming palaces in Os Alta. All that and more can be found in the Grishaverse. I also want to include the magic system; Grisha, the masters of the Small Science and members of the Second Army, can be seen as witches and sorcerers as they either control the elements, the very anatomy of every being or are able to craft the most unbelievable things. And that’s the reason why most humans are afraid of their powers which is the very reason for the upcoming battle that decides that fate of thousands. But for the first time ever we get to hope that both factions could actually work together as one union and fight against those who want destruction and revenge. Since I started this series I didn’t dare hope for this to come true. All the more reason to celebrate this little twist. I, for my part, loved the complexity of both, the world and the magic system of this series so much for it continues to amaze me with its richness in detail and its great magnitude.
“Were you always this much trouble?”
“I like to think of myself as delightfully complex.”
I also want to remark the diversity this series has to offer the reader. It melts my heart to see more and more authors opening up to this “touchy” subject as I like to call it. It shouldn’t be this way, though. We live in the 21st century and should act like it! And I very much embrace the fact that most people in this community seem to share those interests with me as well. Hereby, I don’t tell you to only read diverse books from now on! God forbid! I don’t even do that myself for I pick up books that strike my interest and not more but if diversity is part of this read then so be it. I’m surely the last one to complain. I only want to open your eyes to the possibility of not only including white and straight people but rather other ethnicities and sexualities as well. Regarding this very case here, laid out in front of us, Bardugo executed the diversity in form of displaying more than only one skin color. She depicted this topic even more so in her Six of Crows duology where she combined both factors in her story line which made this world even more complex.
Going on with the not so brighter side of things, namely the plot. Well, the problem for me was that not all too much happened at all over the course of Siege and Storm. This would’ve proven even more of a problem if not for the writing style and the characters. But, fortunately, it was them who provided the reader safe passage until the end. And, also luckily, it was indeed only the lack of plot and not the added misfortune of being not okay with how things went down at the end. To me the book started out very promising and the ending… don’t even get me started on this final part but, well… everything in between? In fact it did seem to me to be more of a bridge book than anything else. It’s still covered with the reek of the second-book-syndrome, sadly. (For all those who don’t know what that is; It applies to, who would’ve thought, a second book or a sequel in a series that is being outshined by its predecessor and therefore considered a disappointment. – Just to make things clear). As I said the beginning was great; the ruined hope of safety, being back in the Darkling’s clutches and then the search for the second amplifier of Morozova on a privateer’s ship, the upcoming ambush, but then… then everything went downhill. Well, just until the last 70 pages or so because the pace went back straight up by then, leaving the reader breathless. Myself included. This final part still has my mind reeling relentlessly. I can truly count myself lucky of being able to marathon this series for I own all the books. Honestly, that’s all I need in life right now after this blast of a cliffhanger threw me in a bottomless pit. But to throw in some good news on my part; I definitely loved the general direction this story was going. Compared to book 1 this installment embraced a much darker tone and showed it in various thoughts and actions of the characters, which I will get to in a bit. Everything seems so much more unpredictable the deeper the reader stalks forward. Anything could happen and I already try to confront myself with the very idea of being a useless mess after finishing Ruin and Rising, or merely just a shell, unable of continuing on with my life from that moment on.
Even though what I want to talk about next will be significant to explain the above a bit further I wanted to dedicate it its very own paragraph. The middle part… plot-wise there wasn’t much to talk about, but in all things else? A deluge of hormones. There was testosterone every where. It seemed to consume the actual story at some point. I won’t lie, I did enjoy some parts of it, and maybe it’s vital for the following character development but I can only review what I read and it really started to get on my nerves. I wanted action, I wanted intrigue, but what I got instead, was a whiny boy, brawling and spilled tears. Over and over again and there seemed to be no end to it. I enjoy a good romance and as I said I did enjoy some parts of it but the rest was just insufferable. There were actually times were I wanted to smack my head through a brick wall between all those backs and forths. I want to end this on good terms, though, by promising you some scenes will be worth the effort and wait. Believe me, they were so bittersweet. I might just reread them afterwards for the sake of it.
“Don’t wish for bricks when you can build from stone. Use whatever or whoever is in front of you.”
Moving on to the characters; again this category includes a rant but, fortunately, it’s just a minor one. So no need to worry just now! With the atmosphere getting darker, the characters take on a darker shade as well. This very change is being reflected in their every move, each and every one more calculated and ruthless than the last. New allies and enemies are made alike. Friendships fall apart. Sanity becomes a rareness among them all. The only thing that counts henceforth is who has the most power and who is able to gain the upper hand. And yes, this applies to them all, or at least most of them. So let me start with our narrater, Alina Starkov, the Sun Summoner, the Saint, Sol Koroleva, etc. etc. … She has grown on me so much over the course of this book. The burden she has to carry is enormous and she deserves so much more respect for all that she has done and sacrificed in order to protect those she holds dear. But beneath this shell is a broken girl, one who never truly got the chance to live a life full of happiness. It stands to reason that she would change so soon. That she had to change and become the fierce warrior she is now. Actually I like that part of her that stands up to what she thinks is right and I can’t wait to see her rise to unknown heights; of what I’m sure of will happen in the last book. Next off, I present to you Sturmhound, Nikolai Lantsov, Prince of Ravka… *cough* the love my life *cough*. Even in the very beginning I could sense greatness radiating from him. And I wasn’t mistaken. Honestly, I was a bit shocked as he unveiled his true identity but this reshuffled the pack, making for a shocking scene, just what he is so good at. I loved how strong he could be if need be, but deep down he is just a young man trying to take on the world and making himself a name by not showcasing all his titles but by deserving them through hard work and effort. Am I the only one to ship him with Alina? I can’t be the only one who thinks they’d make a great pair of rulers on the Ravkan throne. And I swear if he doesn’t make it to the end, I will come after you, Leigh Bardugo. That’s a promise… Last but not least, Mal. He’s the origin of my anger. For someone who has started out on good terms with me quickly became the reason for my outrage. He only cared for himself. He so desperately wanted to call Alina his own when she had the burden of the safety of the world to carry. As the story went on he became more and more agitated to do something, to feel useful again. He just couldn’t bear the fact that Alina might be strong enough on her own now and doesn’t need constant company to keep her safe anymore. At the end he let her down and hurt her heart multiple times. This is unforgivable, no matter the situation. I really hope for his character to take on a good path again, for he has a vital role in this game. He just needs to leave the orphan behind and move forward. Hopefully he is able to find happiness then.
A world full of fantastical beings, a journey as bloody as never before, vicious schemes and intrigues marking a new era among them all, the war forges on, leaving nothing but madness and greed in its wake. With new players being introduced and old enemies returning the battle has only just begun. Leigh Bardugo crafted a fairytale out of this world to take you on an adventure that will most likely leave a shattered soul behind.