Okay, so I was (am) way too excited when I (just) did my pre-release post to talk rationally about Siege and Storm but I spazzed out for a while and now I will take a breath and try to write a real post.
The ARC for this book appeared at my work just when I'd given up hope that we would get one. I was having a bad day and I saw it and I screamed. Literally screamed. I scared everyone in the room.
I regret nothing.
Initially I started it telling myself that I got to read it as a prize for getting other things done. I've been slacking on some things and decided that I would get to read a chapter after I finished doing some things. This worked for a short time. Then I got angry and I started sulking. Then I said screw it, and I sat down and read the whole thing.
So many spoilers ahead!
It's so good. So, so good. I know a lot of book series that suffer in the second one. This is definitely not one of those. Leigh Bardugo keeps up the fascinating darkness that she establishes in Shadow and Bone. This book only builds on the story that was set up in Shadow. The characters grew naturally and the plot was engrossing.
There is something so organic about how the civilians of Ravka ended up dividing. The Sun Cult, the Grisha who defect to follow the Darkling, the ones who stay. It all makes so much sense. It all falls perfectly.
I also love, love, love the idea of Sankta Ilya and the amplifiers. That there are three and what the power of the second does to Alina. Plus, I bought Hebel Design's beautiful Morozova's collar and I can't wait to see if she does the fetter too. I'll buy it. But I never really considered that there would be more amplifiers and I really enjoy the fact that I got to be surprised by this book.
Alina is completely brilliant in this book. She is so broken up and you can sort of feel how tainted she is by the power of the fetter. Throughout the entire book she is constantly reacting in this terrible dark way and then being disgusted by herself. I wrote before that I was startled to realize she didn't have as much character as some others but she's really fleshed out in this book. In all of the best ways. She's sarcastic and confused and broken and so torn and damaged. She has no idea what she's becoming and how much of it might be madness and how much of it is power or the Darkling. I loved her so much in this book.
Mal. Mal's growth is so fascinating in this book because he's expanded around Alina expanding in this weird way. He grows in response to her growth. He responds to her in such a volatile way. They somehow grow together and apart simultaneously. It's like they grow apart because Alina is the center of Mal's world and his purpose but he doesn't realize how grounded he keeps her. She needs him and he is so afraid that he'll become expendable to her that he tries to make himself so. I really liked that no matter how much he wanted to be free of the palace he could never quite bring himself to want to be free of her. It's a sort of cage, which makes me a little sad for him but something about it is so wonderful. I am still waiting to find out what kind of power he has because the hints continue to appear.
Nikolai made me laugh but I, like Mal, liked him better as Sturmhond. I know they're the same people but Princely Nikolai irks me. Alina raises a good point in that Nikolai is too charming. And Nikolai really does seem different once he gets back to the palace. What I do think is interesting is that his internal fight parallels Alina's. They both think that they have pure motives for what they're doing but they're never really sure. I just liked him better when we weren't sure who he was working for.
I just don't see the appeal of the Darkling. And I'm a bit bitter that he beat out Mal in the Crush Tournament.
As odd as this sounds I was really impressed by the devastation in this book. So many authors are afraid to end a book on a note like this. It was oddly refreshing to read a book where the protagonist didn't win the battle. Alina's army is ripped apart. They're slaughtered and destroyed. The people who escape are battered and damaged and lucky to have made it as far as they did. Alina is broken at the end but determined.
I have so much love for the final show down between Alina and the Darkling. So much love. I loved how she tapped into his power. I loved that I legitimately thought it was going to end with her leaving with him, as a sacrifice. I am glad it didn't but I love that I didn't know what was going to happen. I'm so glad it didn't end with Alina and Mal being separated. There's something about Alina's despair at still being alive in the end that is heart breaking because we know that she has so much fight in her. She goes from wanting to stay alive for herself, to staying alive for Mal, to staying alive for her country, to wanting to die for her country, to just wanting to die. It's a terrible but so well done transition.
Also, Tamar and Tolya are just so badass. I mean, really. They're awesome.
Obviously, overall, I give Siege and Storm a rating of: Beyond Epic.
I cannot wait until the third. I love how unpredictable this series is and how carefully involved in its own mythology it is. I'm continually impressed by everything that Leigh Bardugo can do. If you haven't picked this series up, you really should do it now. It's breath-taking.