Brilliant second instalment in this glorious YA fantasy trilogythe first book, I wouldn't recommend reading on, as I can't be sure to avoid spoilers for it here.
(Did they go yet? Can I get on with it? Good.)
Siege and Storm jumps straight in with Alina and Mal on the run, helping us to recall all the reasons they should be together. But having reminded us of their connection, their love, the wicked Ms Bardugo throws all manner of stuff at them to complicate things. At different points in the novel I was frustrated with each of them - both being realistic characters (yes, despite the high fantasy world with tons of magic), they both acted badly (or at least ill-advisedly) at different points. It's a clear indicator that characterisation is a strength of the series that many of us as readers have shifted allegiances at different points and felt that characters 'should have' behaved differently, whilst also understanding why they did act as they did. When readers talk about characters as though they were real, you've cracked it as a writer.
As well as testing Mal and Alina and making it impossible for their relationship to progress naturally (to the point that we begin to question, at times, whether they can have a relationship beyond friendship), Leigh Bardugo has introduced some brilliant new characters to this instalment. Sturmhond the privateer (don't say pirate!) and his crew are a particular high point of this book. Sturmhond is unpredictable, unreliable and harbouring a secret (which I absolutely did not even begin to guess at) - but Alina and Mal may have no choice but to depend on him. I haven't yet mentioned the Darkling, but don't worry, he is not missing from the novel. Still dark, still alluring and still troubling Alina with his ability to say the most unsettling thing possible, he also has a new and dangerous power.
Siege and Storm continues in the truly epic vein of Shadow and Bone, ramping up the tension and the obstacles in Alina's way. As well as having to deal with her personal feelings, her uncertainties about what is right and her growing power, her life is now complicated by the fact that she has been elevated to the status of a saint in popular belief.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend this series. It's beautifully written to the point that you can luxuriate in the language; the plotting is first rate and the characterisation is powerful and skilled. Be warned, though - it's a long wait until next summer for book 3 and the ending of this novel may just leave you desperate. Leigh Bardugo is a superb writer, but she has no qualms about making her characters or her readers suffer!
From Goodreads' book description:Darkness never dies.
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.