This is a post about the second book in the Grisha trilogy. If you haven’t read the first book, Shadow and Bone (or my review of it) yet, check that out first. I won’t spoil anything from the second book here, but as usual I’m going to talk (write) like you already know what happened in the first volume.
About the book: There is no escaping the Darkling’s clutches once he has someone in his sights, and now his sights have been set on Alina Starkov. It’s not her shining personality he wants her for, though–the Darkling plans to make her powerful so that he can use her for his own gains, and he plans to do it by making her the first Grisha in history with a set of amplifiers rather than just one. If Alina wants to defeat him and thwart his dastardly plans to rule all of Ravka, she’ll have to beat him at his own game, and the only way she’ll be powerful enough to do it is by finding the amplifiers first herself–with Mal’s help for the tracking, of course. Along the way she meets an enigmatic pirate/privateer who may or may not be on Alina’s side of the conflict. Even if he might be helpful, Alina is having trust issues. She seems to be hallucinating the Darkling everywhere she goes, which makes it hard even to trust her own mind. Can she accumulate enough power to face the Darkling? Even with the power, does she stand a chance?
This second book is more political and more foreboding that the first. The future is no longer quite so mysterious–everyone knows what the Darkling has in store, the only question is when he will strike, and which direction he will come from. The future of Ravka is at stake, and everyone has different ideas of what to do about it.
Have you ever noticed that a lot of fantasy books are actually an argument for equality hiding behind a magical world and colorful people and dangerous situations? No matter how different the characters are from people in our real lives, no matter how bizarre the rules of the fictional world, many fantasy books feature someone who has used their power for evil and someone who’s been oppressed and someone who wants to rise up and put things to rights by evening the balance. (The Darkling is using his power for personal gain. The people of Ravka are oppressed and even those with means have few choices. Alina wants the three classes of Grisha–and their further subdivisions–to find equal footing and work together. She wants Grisha and non-Grisha people to be appreciated for their unique talents and treated fairly. She wants the royal family to share their wealth with the poor commoners whose only crime has been birth into poverty.) Themes like this are exactly why I love fiction; if you look past the aspects that will probably (though who knows for sure?) never be a part of the real world (like the Grisha powers), there are so many messages that translate directly to our real lives (fair distribution of wealth and equality for all, no matter their talents).
“The world is changing… We change with it, or there will be nothing left to remember us but the dust.”
Worst aspect: first, this book seemed to have a few repeats. As in the first book, it takes Alina several tries to learn the same lessons. The end of this second book looks a lot like the end of the first book did. She knows she needs to be the one to kill the second amplifier creature, and yet she hesitates again. She underestimates the Darkling’s power and the way that their powers are connected, again. Mal is used against her to make her agree to the Darkling’s plans, again.
Secondly, there’s not a lot actually going on in this book. There’s some action at the start and a lot of action at the end, but that’s all pretty condensed, and everything in the middle is just preparing and waiting. There are conversations and politics, little points of intrigue, but it feels like a filler, like watching the set change between acts. It’s a few hundred pages of Alina deciding she wants to save the world and doubting that she has the ability to do so, again. She’s my least favorite part of this series. I was hoping for some character development in this book, but if anything, I think she only becomes more selfish here.
“Is the world so very fine that you think it worth saving?”
Best aspect: the characters. Although I don’t like Alina much, I am highly interested in everyone else. Mal is a bit predictable, but I think he has a lot of internal struggle that’s apparent through his speech and actions and I almost wish he was the one narrating the story since he’s so close to it but yet less personally invested. He’s invested in Alina, not in finding power and changing Ravka and all those other details that make the main players biased. Then there’s the Darkling, who is especially intriguing; I loved that we saw a good side of him in the first book, because it keeps me guessing the rest of the time about whether that was truly all an act or if he’s a much more complex character than he’d like to show. I’m pretty sure he’s in love with Alina, and I’m hoping that’ll blow up at some point in the third book (I have no idea, so no spoilers please!). I can’t quite root for him, because he really does have evil plans, but at the same time I kind of want him to win at something just because he’s such a great villain. And then there’s Nikolai, a new character introduced in Siege and Storm, who’s probably not evil but definitely a trickster and absolutely keeps things interesting.
“I like to have powerful enemies. Makes me feel important.”
My copy of Siege and Storm also has a bonus short story called “The Tailor” (about Genya) that I read in conjunction with this book. It gives an interesting look at Genya’s past and a few perspectives closer to the Darkling’s side of things. I think it would make more sense to read this one after the first book because it takes place in that time frame and Genya has very little to do with the plot in the second book. It definitely doesn’t feel like a necessary piece to the Grisha puzzle, but it’s an insightful, quick read that doesn’t feel quite as pointless as some of the other short stories I’ve read in conjunction with a series. It’s worth the time if you’re interested in extras, but you won’t be missing anything crucial if you skip it.
My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. Sequels are rarely as good as the first and/or third books of a series, in my opinion, and this one just had so much waiting for something to happen that for most of the book I felt like I was just marking time until the good parts arrived. That said, it ended on an intriguing note and I will definitely be reading the third and final book in this trilogy next month, not only because I’m hooked on it but because I can’t wait to finally start reading the Six of Crows duology which takes place in this same world.
Coming up Next: Today I’m finishing reading Emily Fridlund’s A History of Wolves. This is a small beauty about a girl growing up in northern Minnesota and doing her best to fit in–with the wrong people. A la The Girls, this is a tale about how impressionable young girls can be and how easily things spin out of control. Perhaps there is reason to be more suspicious of new teachers and strangers moving in next door, even in a place where everyone is friendly and trusting. Stay tuned to find out more.
The Literary Elephant