Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Review 2014 #10 - Leigh Bardugo's Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm (The Grisha Book 2) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: June 4th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Alina and Mal barely escaped the Darkling in the fold of nothingness that divides Ravka. Alina wrested back control of her power from the Darkling, but not before a deadly price was paid. Hiding out half way around the world Alina is haunted by what happened and the choices she has made. Sickening, she longs to use her powers and the ill gotten amplifier, but it is too risky. She has turned her back on Ravka, hoping for a new life with Mal and that the rumors of the Darkling's continued existence are a lie. But they can not hide forever. The Darkling finds them across the true sea. He has plans for Alina and disturbing new powers of his own.

Instead of taking his captives back to Ravka, the Darkling takes them far north on the hunt for another creature out of fairy tale and myth. A second forbidden amplifier for Alina's powers. Though little does the Darkling know that there are other people who also have plans for Alina. Plans that she can't ignore. Alina can no longer turn her back on her country's suffering as the Grisha are ostracized and the country is divided. She agrees to return and lead the second army in the place of the Darkling with the sole purpose of his downfall. Yet are her new powers and believed divinity a match for the Darkling? Or does she need more power in order to succeed? Does she in fact desire more power?

In the battle of good versus evil there always comes a time when the wiser action is to run. To regroup and come back hopefully stronger then before. While necessary, this can sometimes lead to boring storytelling. The suffering, the privations, the hardships, the hope of news that perhaps the luck of the enemy is running out. These stories are never my favorite. The driving force is fear and it can therefore lead to too many tropes. After the epic showdown in the fold between Alina and the Darkling, I was sure that this book would follow this tried and tested path and be the bridge book till the final showdown. I was happily surprised.

By having the Darkling force them out of hiding almost immediately, the story opened up new vistas. Alina and Mal could go on the offensive while preparing a strong defense. Yet what I most loved was that the forces of light regrouped in Os Alta. I really wasn't ready to part with this courtly life. It was a Russian Fairy Tale Palace that housed Hogwarts. I was despondent that I wouldn't get to walk the corridors of the Little Palace once more, thankfully I was saved from mopery. I not only got an a-typical middle book, but one that delivered all I could hope for and a little more (*cough* pirates *cough*).

For all her avoidance of tropes, Bardugo isn't immune to them. Seriously, I want to know why when girls are the protagonists of books that they always have two boys vying for their attention? I mean seriously. It's not like this is a new trope, it's been around as long as storytelling has been, and you know what, it kind of gets on my nerves. Yes, there's an element of wish fulfilment here. Who doesn't want an escape, to sink into a book and become one with the heroine and be loved and lusted after from one and all? But there's this other, darker side to me that's saying, but is that realistic? Maybe we've been fed these fairy tales too long and need to break free.

Can't a girl just have one guy? One person to be true to? Or none at all? Especially since this is YA, aren't we just giving young girls unrealistic expectations of not just finding mister right, but having a mister wrong there too wanting you? Or maybe the bitter little cat lady is showing through my carefully constructed veneer and I should just embrace that Alina gets Nathan Fillion and Blake Ritson fighting over her. Oh, I've cast Nathan Fillion as Mal and Blake Ritson as the Darkling in my version of Siege and Storm, just FYI. I know you all want Blake Ritson as a bizarre apparition showing up in your bed chamber no matter how you fall on this trope...

Far from the tropes of men and women, Bardugo has tapped into the vein of Russian folktales and brought out what modernization and progress mean to our shared past. In Siege and Storm the words of the Darkling that the time of the Grisha is coming to a close is not only explored by expanded on. There is this interesting dynamic of past versus future, with the old ways dying off. The future doesn't belong to Tsar's and magic and fairy tales, but to iron and steel and guns. Yes, we see glimpses that perhaps, just maybe, there could be a world where they could coexist, feeding each other, but that seems like the true fairy tale.

Yet what strikes me most is that while Ravka might possibly be saved by these modern military advancements, their only true hope lies with Alina. Alina isn't a creature of the modern world, she is of the old world. She is of the time when maps still bared legends that said beyond here there be monsters. She thinks in fairy stories of the too too clever fox. The third amplifier she seeks is that of the fire bird, a creature of myth that isn't just in one or two stories, but in every story of Ravka. A fairy tale holds the key to the future, and that is a world that I want to live in. A world where stories are real.


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