As I noted in my review, I enjoyed the first book in this series enough to keep going. So I listened to this second book, Siege and Storm, in the car as well and enjoyed it as much or more than the second.
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 still found the romantic parts a little over-the-top but the dynamic of Alina’s attraction to power and her struggle to understand her identity in light of her Grisha powers and it effect on her is well done. The interplay between Alina and Mal and Nicolai is also interesting. Nice plot twist at the end to set up the tension for the third book.
But I think I like this second book better because it was more political and less focused on romance and Alina growing up. Nicolai is an interesting character. Mysterious and yet funny and even earnest at times. Is he a scheming pirate trying to seize power or a patriot trying to use his talents to save his country? Can he be trusted or is he just out for himself? Alina is trying to decided even as she ties her fate to his in important ways.
Her relationship with Mal is interesting as well. What do you do when your life pulls you away from the people you love most; when the nature of events, and of who you have become, seem to make a relationship impossible.
While the Darkling plays less of a front-and-center role in this book, he is always just off stage whispering. And this plot device effectively creates tension and furthers Alina’s doubts and turmoil. And I have to say, the plot twist at the end caught me by surprise and sets up a furious finish for the third book in this trilogy.
A few things still grate a little. One is the way Alina seems like such a contemporary character. A number of critics pointed this out in the first book regarding her language and idiom which seems very much modern. It stuck out less in this book, as Bardugo’s writing as a whole seems smoother and more polished, but it still stands out on occasion.
The second, and perhaps related, is the angst and indecision of Alina. This deep into the series she still seems incredibly conflicted and unsure of herself. She seems incapable of just making a decision and moving forward decisively. Granted she faces tough choices and nearly constantly changing circumstances, but she also seems somewhat shallow. Not in an emotional sense but in a character sense. It is never quite clear who she is and why she does what she does. Outside of the smart aleck remarks and her growing understanding of her Grisha powers she comes off rather underdeveloped for a central character.
But I don’t think this is the sort of book you think to deeply about. Instead you just enjoy the ride (the characters, the setting and world building, the romance and intrigue, etc.). And to break out a really bad pun, I did enjoy the ride. Literally, in my car.
All and all, a pretty entertaining fantasy series for teens. I can’t imagine there are a lot of folks who enjoy epic fantasy with a female protagonist and haven’t read this series but if for some reason that describes you, go ahead and get started so you are ready for the final book come June.