Reading Leigh Bardugo’s writing is like sinking your teeth in to the most decadent macaron. Your palette is submerged in tantalizingly complex flavors and textures, your imagination is lit when your taste buds are left tingling. How is the shell at once crispy and feather light? What witchcraft is it that makes this palm-sized sweet, taste like the scent of roses, but not like I swallowed floral soap? She is a wizard of craft, world building and character development, so it was with little surprise, but much glee, when I devoured Siege and Storm and loved it just as much as Shadow and Bone.
Starting off in a new land, Novyi Zem, across the sea from Ravka, Bardugo keeps the pace elevated and hearts racing. We’re reunited with Mal and Alina who are trying to forge a life for themselves in this distant frontier, but there’s a feeling that this tenuous happiness can’t last long. Not with the Darkling’s whereabouts remaining a mystery… The threads that were carefully laid in the epic first novel of this trilogy are kept taut with suspense in this sequel. We’re introduced to new characters, ranging from a dashing pirate (the delightful and debonair Sturmhond) to twin golden eyed fighters, and even encounter several that we grew attached to in Ravka. We get to spend a good amount of time on the Ocean, which invigorated the already vibrant world, Bardugo had laid out for us in Shadow and Bone. The lore that so entranced me in her novellas and first novel is only enriched here. Ravka is truly a realm I love stealing moments in, that always leaves me hungry for more.
There is plenty of Alina and Mal here to satisfy those fans, and even some Darkling moments to keep things uncertain, yet interesting. What was most provocative was to find Alina’s growth as a character so real and troubled. She finds herself liking the taste of power she gets when she is able to unleash her full sun summoning ability, but Alina’s uncomfortable with how much she likes it and what this means for her humanity. Similarly, she’s drawn to Mal, but is conflicted with how different they’ve become; is there enough to tie them to each other beyond their shared past? Alina wants to do the right thing, but has difficulty navigating the path that she needs to take. Bardugo’s writing is voluptuous with sensory images and tangible descriptions, as it flows effortlessly across the page. It is as if she herself possesses a secret amplifier like her heroine to cast such lovely, bewitching words.
The latest in one of the most influential series I’ve encountered in years, Siege and Storm not only led me to want to dwell in her pages devouring each morsel of plot, it inspired me to imagine the kinds of stories I want to read, and even write myself one day. I foresee many re-readings until the final book comes out… Encore!