Friday, 12 August 2016

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov is the Sun Summoner, able to wield tremendous powers of light. She wants to use this power to burn away the Shadow Fold and reunited the sundered land of Ravka, but is opposed by the Darkling, leader of the Grisha, a former ally turned mortal foe. Fleeing across the ocean to the continent of Novyi Zem, Alina hopes to find sanctuary. But the reach of the Darkling is a long one...

Siege and Storm is the middle volume of the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and follows up on the ending of Shadow and Bone. The novel is divided into several distinct sections, the first set in Novyi Zem. I was looking forward to seeing Alina and Mal in a new environment where Grisha are rare and the rules of the land are different, but this lasts a bare handful of pages before we're scooting back across the sea to Ravka. One of the main appeals of this trilogy is that the author doesn't hang around and blitzes from plot beat to plot bear with impressive skill and speed, but this felt a little too abrupt.

After this point is a series of sea battles and some impressive use of Grisha powers to create new weapons and technology (such as Grisha wind summoners fuelling sky-skimming warships), as well as Alina gaining the power of a second amplifier to increase her magical powers. This also increases the risk of her being corrupted by her power the way the Darkling was by his, and the book manages to extract more tension than you'd expect from the notion that Alina might give in to her power and either turn evil or lost control of it. This is helped by the fact that the Darkling becomes more than a villain in this second volume, he also becomes a symbol of Alina's thirst for more knowledge and the power to do good.

It's a strong idea, but is undermined by the fact that Alina never really does anything too heinous with her enlarged powers and you never really buy that she's going to be slaughtering lots of innocent people.

The latter half of the book, in which Alina has to mobilise a Grisha army against the Darkling, is good fun as Alina recruits and retains Grisha warriors, has relationship angst with Mal and is drawn against her will into the political maneuvering for control of Ravka between two feuding brothers. It's all fun but played a little too safe. It's not until near the end of the book that we get some major moments of dramatic power and some action scenes. These scenes are certainly impressive, but they are set up in a rather contrived manner where one character doesn't tell the rest what's going on, because if he did the bad guy's plan would simply never work.

Siege and Storm (***½) is an entertaining and enjoyable read. Unfortunately the atmosphere of the book feels like it's taken a knock from the predecessor. The first novel, if only intermittently, channeled its Russian inspiration into the environmental descriptions and cultural details of the book. In this second volume it feels like it's been reduced to simple linguistic variations. In addition, the book feels like it's too fast-paced when it should slow down a bit (at the start) and then too slow-paced when it should pick up (in the latter part). The result is a book that's breezy and fun, but maybe a little bit more lightweight than it should be. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

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