After finishing Shadow and Bone last year and being completely and unexpectedly blown away by the sheer awesomeness found within its pages, I was beyond excited to get my hands on its sequel. I pretty much stalked the goodreads page for it, jumping for joy when I first read the summary and saw the gorgeous cover art. It did not disappoint, and I decided to give it five stars upon finishing (though really, I was just itching to rate it that high before I even started). It's extremely difficult most of the time write decent reviews for books you love so much it hurts, but I'll give it my best shot.
Just like before, I adore Bardugo's writing. There is simply something magical about it that draws you in and makes you feel all cozy. I love the rich detail she gives her world; there's so much thought and detail put into this story. You know how sometimes in books an author will sometimes spend a little too much time describing every last little thing, down to what color the nightstand is? Well, despite there being loads of explaining going on in Siege and Storm, it never feels like the writing is lingering in all the wrong places. I will admit that I did sometimes still struggle with the complex words - pronouncing them and remembering each of their meanings - but at the same time I like how unique they are. The pacing of the story is excellent - same as the writing. I'm beginning to sense a pattern here. Not a boring moment to be found in S&S. Even the additions of the prologue and epilogue being written in third person are oddly cool.
Of course I love those wonderful things that always matter in a novel (writing, pacing, world-building), but what really shines through to me is the characters. Alina is definitely an interesting protagonist. At times, I didn't know how I felt about her. In Shadow and Bone, I loved watching her grow from being the quiet, somewhat mopey little girl into a strong woman. But in this sequel, she's forced into doing this even more. I felt very conflicted over her internal struggles. She wants to remain a good person, but she's fearful that by gaining more and more power (and she does just that), she may become a bit hungry for it. If felt like she always did the best she could, given the difficult circumstances. Overall, I still love her character and can't wait to see how she changes in Ruin and Rising.
Another thing I had mixed feelings about was her romance with Mal. Despite how good I thought they were together in the first book, now I'm not so sure. It's not that I've grown to dislike them as a couple or anything, but many issues grow between them, and I'm not certain about how they'll be able to work through them all. I was disappointed by the cold distance kept between them for most of the story, and I was frustrated with Alina for not seeing earlier how miserable Mal was, and also frustrated with Mal for not being more understanding. I kind of just wanted to punch both of them in the face at times. Sturmhond is a great addition to this series. I'd seen a lot of raving about him in early reviews, so of course I was very excited to meet him. He's witty and funny and kind of mysterious. He's easily the comedic relief of the book. He says he's not truly interesting in Alina, but I do think he's lying. And . . . maybe it wouldn't be so horrible if a match between S/A happened. Just saying.
This review would not be complete if I did not mention the Darkling. He was easily my favorite character in S&B, and I was devastated when we learned how evil he truly was after having served as Alina's love interest for maybe 80% of the book. Going into this, I was really hoping he would somehow change, but sadly, it didn't happen. He truly is the villain of this series, and that makes me very sad. However, he plays the role well and I look forward to seeing how everything works out for him - he'll probably have to die, there's no other way I can think of. I hope he's around more often in book three, because he's absent a lot of the time here, though he does still have a . . . presence. I don't think he truly has any feelings for Alina at all.
This was an excellent continuation to one of my favorite stories of 2012, and I have absolute faith in Leigh Bardugo; the conclusion of the Grisha trilogy will be epic.