My wish for half-star ratings becomes ever more pronounced with my review of Siege and Storm, because where I gave its series predecessor, Shadow and Bone, 4 stars, it was probably more like 3.5 (I liked it a lot, but there were issues.) Here, I also give Siege and Storm 4 stars, but I’d just as soon bump it up to 4.5 (One minor irritation, but otherwise amazing!) As this is a review for a second book in a series, spoilers for the first book may follow.
After a very broad introduction to the world of the Grisha in the beginning of the series — with rough character sketches who didn’t quite transcend the tropes they were born of — the second novel dives in further, gets a little darker, and demonstrates how light and dark are inseparable counterparts. It strips some of the “shine” off Sun Summoner Alina, introducing her to more power, letting it corrupt some of her previously unquestionable morals, and, refreshingly, basking in that complexity of good and evil instead of going for the quick-and-dirty redemption. The end of the first book posed the question of whose means to an end is “good,” and whose is “evil,” when both sides actually want the same thing, and in Siege and Storm, that question comes into play when a seemingly simple rubric like “this way results in the loss of fewer innocent lives” is violated by both sides.
As a character, Alina experiences undeniable growth here. She’s still hopelessly in love with her childhood best friend, Mal, and their exasperating interactions account for the “minor annoyance” I referenced above. Still, having been young, emotional, and in denial, I totally get how Alina’s torch for Mal, combined with the fact of his being her only tether to her pre-war-and-Grisha life, is a powerful feeling that can’t just vanish to serve a plot of making her more badass, no matter how much I would like it to. But that’s not to say that she doesn’t earn more badass points over the course of the book, either. She articulates what’s on her mind as much as she’s able to make sense of it herself, and she accepts a leadership role even without having complete confidence in herself because she knows it’s what she must do. Her growing pains are tangible, but her power and conviction are awe-inspiring among those who follow her. She’s not an infallible leader or special snowflake, and her charisma pales in comparison to ally (and possible love interest, which I am on board with) Prince Nikolai; for all of that, she’s a fast learner in how to motivate people, and her intimate knowledge of her enemy gives her the upper hand in military intelligence.
At this point in the series, I don’t know where and how the story can end. The rapidly-paced plot is pummeling along, but still developing complexity rather than sacrificing it for cheap twists. I’m very much looking forward to the conclusion.