Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2019
If you haven’t read “Shadow and Bone” yet then, 1. I don’t know why you are reading reviews for “Siege and Storm” and 2. Stop reading this review now because, while I’ll do my best to avoid all the spoilers, inevitably there will be some in here that will pertain to the first book in the trilogy, but not this book in particular. So, if you’ve read the first book, then I welcome you! Come, sit next to me while I tell you my thoughts on this dark YA fantasy. So, book 2 starts pretty much right where the first book left off, with Mal and Alina on the run, trying to find safety in far off shores, away from Ravka, and the Grisha and the Darkling who Alina abandoned to the Fold. But within the first few chapters, the safety Alina thinks she has is shattered, and she’s plunged back to where she was before, struggling to free herself of the Darkling’s physical and mental hold on her, and to save Ravka from the tide of darkness the Darkling will bring with him. But, in order to do that, Alina will need more power, and that makes Mal pout CONSTANTLY. Like, seriously, can we be done with Mal yet?
I’m going to get this out of the way first because, honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about all the good in this book if I don’t start with the “bad” and that’s namely Mal. I disliked Mal in the first book. It really, really bothered me that lonely little Alina loved him so completely, and he didn’t even notice her until her waif like presence was gone from him, until she became powerful, and others coveted her. His affections always felt disingenuous to me, and that continues in the second book. He is honestly the worst! Alina is trying to save her people, and he resents her for it, he resents that someone, anyone with power actually, gives Alina a second glance but has no problem flirting with his hot Grisha ex. His hypocrisy rubs me all kinds of wrong, and I struggle to understand why Alina doesn’t kick him to the curb. Especially when she meets Nikolai, who is all kinds of amazing. It seemed like we got a lot more of the characters you—as in I—didn’t like from the first story and not enough of the fun ones. I needed more of the Shu twins, I always, ALWAYS need more Nikolai, and I didn’t get enough Genya, whose arc in this story was so heartbreaking and tragic. Instead, I get Mal and Zoya. I’m waiting for the day when I am supposed to like Zoya (or Mal), because I know she pops up and plays a big role in later books, but right now, I’d like to hold her pretty head under water until she stops being such an elitist prat. Because, honestly, her only reason for abandoning the Darkling seems to be that he didn't give her a heads up about expanding the Fold so she could warn her family to get out of there. If he had? I'm fairly sure Zoya would have had 0 problem with all the other people who died.
Whew, glad I got that out of my system. Those characters aside, my only other issue with the story was pacing. The first quarter of the book with Alina and the Darkling hunting the second amplifier is wonderfully tense and fast-paced. Full of intrigue and danger and introduces us to delightful new characters and makes you nervous for Alina, while also drawing you right back into the Darkling’s charm, even though he is one seriously dangerous and bad guy. But then they achieve their goals and Alina is whisked away to “safety” and then we get mired in half the book spent with Alina kind of sulking and learning how to function in the royal court while organizing the remaining Grisha into an army that is supposed to withstand the Darkling’s creepy, dark horde. Compared to that first quarter, the next half is really slow, and could be a bit of a slog to get through as Bardugo repeats the same issues over and over, between Mal’s jealousy, Alina’s reservations about Nikolai, and her trying to embrace her power while battling her loneliness. Poor Alina will forever be lonely, I’ve decided.
I did like most of this book more than the first one in the trilogy. I still prefer the Darkling to most of the characters in the book, even though his role is more behind the scenes in this story—until the end, then holy cow! I missed Genya, and when she did return, my heart was shattered for what was done to her, and what she did to Alina. I need more Nikolai, I will never have enough of him and his witty charm, his roguish ways, and how he’s lost himself to the political game, but is trying to carve out who the real Nikolai is. Alina is a bit better in this book, too. Her arc with struggling to not be seen as saintly but her drive to rectify her mistakes and protect her country makes your heart twinge, now if only we could keep her from interacting with Mal, or thinking about him for most of the book, that’d be great. I even like how David redeems himself for his part in shackling Alina in the first book. But for as much as I really liked certain parts and characters in this story, my annoyance at others is still simmering.
I was debating between 3 and 4 stars for this book pretty much the whole time. But ultimately, I think I’ll lean toward that 3.5 rating because of how quickly Alina got the second amplifier and then did very little about getting the final one, taking an otherwise heart pounding, fun paced story to a grinding halt. I just can’t get over Mal, who looks like he should be a great love interest based on his backstory, but the execution means he’s always the center of an undeserved pity party, and it takes up too much page time. And then there’s his interactions with Zoya… I certainly enjoyed the book enough to continue on with the series, mainly because I know I HAVE to in order to get more Nikolai and Genya. I’m invested in the struggle between Alina and the Darkling and need to know how that final conflict gets resolved. But what I don’t need is more slow political intrigues laced with moping, and I definitely need less Mal, please and thank you.