Siege and Storm, the second in The Grisha series, continues the voyage into the fantasy world of Bardugo’s fictional land of mythology and magic. Very often we find the second novel in a trilogy to be a filler, a kind of ‘ho-hum’ read that must be travailed before the third and final installment. This isn’t one of them. Henry Holt & Co. | Hardcover | June of 2013 | 432 pp
In the first book, Alina had discovered that she has magical abilities she never knew about, making her one of the elite Grisha. After saving her battalion on the Fold (a dangerous area where demons roam) with her new found ability of sun summoning, she was taken to the palace to train as a proper Grisha. But she was separated from Mal, her best friend and romantic interest whom she was raised with in the orphanage. When she discovered that the Darkling, leader of all Grisha, had plans to grow the Fold rather than destroy it, she fled the palace and Mal abandoned his post to help her escape.
Siege and Storm begins with Alina and Mal on the run. They are far from Ravka’s capital and across the True Sea – but the Darkling finds them anyway. What the Darkling wants is Alina’s power. While he can control the darkness, she can control the light, and both are the only two of their kind. He believes that if they combine powers, he can control the Fold, expand it, and rule over humans through the power of fear.
While many of the Grisha wear ‘amplifiers’, small charms that increase their abilities, a legend exists about the combination of three special amplifiers made from three different creatures thought to be of legend and lore. If they can be found, they will give the wearer unlimited power. But to wear an amplifier and use it, that Grisha has to be the one to kill the creature in question.
Let me stop right here with the obvious Harry Potter thought: Deathly Hallows?
Although the Darkling already has an amplifier, he has found a workaround to get this unlimited power by slaying the beasts himself and putting the amplifiers on Alina who he feels deeply connected to. Through Alina, he will be able to wield her power. In the first book, one beast is found and a necklace made from its antlers was cuffed around her neck. But Alina discovered that her newly amplified power was enough to push the Darkling away.
Now Alina is on a quest for the next two pieces of the puzzle. Alina’s power has strengthened, and not only can she protect people with her power of light, she can also kill them. But the Darkling’s power has also increased in a deadly way, and she needs to complete the puzzle to defeat him. Helped by Mal, defected Grisha, the royal throne of Ravka, the two princes who seek her hand, a pirate in disguise, and a whole legion of fanatical sun summoner-worshipers, Alina seeks to wage war on the Darkling and inwardly fight her growing lust for power.
This book was precariously close to falling prey to the dreaded ‘second book sandpit’ for me. It starts out with immediate excitement. I was worried it would be about Alina and Mal being on the run for the duration, but Bardugo puts a stop to that right away. Boom – the Darkling is there. A few new critical characters enter the stage and an epic battle royal is waged upon the open seas while hunting a great sea serpent.
But then … then we have a long period of introspection and personal haunts. While Alina prepares the remaining Grisha along with the army of Ravka for a fight against the Darkling, the story mainly focuses on her relationships with the two princes who woo her and her delicate relationship with Mal, the love of her life. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I experienced some frustration with the protagonist’s inability to speak up on certain occasions, causing even more problems.
Following the lull, the story explodes once more, and it caught me completely off guard. Think: ‘Red Wedding’ from George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, without the gore. Unexpected, violent, and shocking – it’ll make you feel the need for that third book.
Bardugo doesn’t just focus on the main characters and their plights; she also shines light on the mindset of the people in the land of Ravka and how current events have influenced the population. The deification of Alina by the commoners is perfectly believable. The idea of martyred saints in The Grisha series is added to the story through history lessons and from the textbooks that are provided to Alina while she studies to be a proper Grisha. Alina hates the idea because to be considered a saint means you must die for a cause, so when a new religion springs up hailing Alina as their savior, she hates it even more. The addition of these fanatical worshipers doesn’t seem too far off base – because that’s exactly what would happen if demons were real and a woman showed up who could miraculously drive them away.
Off to read book three!