“Siege and Storm” is Leigh Bardugo’s second book in the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy. Living up to its expectations, Bardugo’s second installment is equally fast-paced and enthralling. Unlike most book series, which tend to lose their fervor and tenacity over the course of the series, the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy only gets better. The introduction of new elements, intriguing character arcs, and the gripping narrative make it an enticing read, keeping the readers hooked until the very last page.
Is The Darkling Dead?
The narrative takes off right from where it ended in “Shadow and Bone.” It has been two weeks since Alina performed the Cut in the Shadow Fold and, in the process, destroyed the skiff along with its inhabitants and the Darkling. After barely escaping from the grasp of the Darkling, Alina and Mal take refuge in a boarding house in the town of Cofton in Novyi Zem. While nobody was sure of the Darkling’s whereabouts, rumors were running wild in Novyi Zem. Some rumors were that the Darkling was re-fortifying and gathering forces to take control over Ravka, and others were about the Sun Summoner and the formation of cults hailing her as a saint.
One such evening, while returning to their boarding house, Alina and Mal have their first encounter with the Darkling. The constant state of hiding and repressing her powers had made Alina weak and feeble. Unprepared and outnumbered, Alina succumbs to the Darkling’s threats. However, the Darkling’s survival is not the only shocking revelation. It is soon known that the battle in the Fold has given the Darkling something more than a scar on his face. The Darkling can now create creatures from the shadows—creatures with wings, arms, and legs—and he names them ‘nichevo ya’ or ‘nothings.’ The shock for Alina doesn’t end here; soon, she realizes that even the ‘Cut’ cannot destroy the ‘nichevo ya’ completely.
Once again, Alina and Mal are taken captive by the Darkling. Ivan the Heartrender is appointed by the Darkling to keep Alina unconscious by slowing down her heart rate. When she gains consciousness, she realizes they are on a ship—a whaler, to be precise. New characters enter the narrative, and the readers are introduced to the captain of the ship, Sturmhond, and his crew. Sturmhond is a ‘privateer’ who values money the most, and he has been paid by the Darkling to arrange the ‘whaler.’ After almost a week of keeping Alina chained and unconscious, the Darkling finally discloses his plans. He is out on the sea to look for the ‘ice dragon’ or ‘sea whip,’ Rusalye—a second amplifier after the Mozoravo stag. However, this time the Darkling had a plan for Mal too. He gives Mal an ultimatum of seven days to use his tracker skills and spot the ‘sea whip,’ or else it would be Alina’s face paying the price for it.
After a few days of uncertainty, Mal finally tracks down the ‘sea whip.’ Just when history seems to be repeating itself (as it had happened while hunting the Morozova stag), there is a turn of events: another ship appears out of nowhere and attacks the Darkling’s Army, outnumbering them. It is Sturmhond who interrupts the Darkling’s plans and outwits him. Sturmhond has a number of Grishas working for him, and with their help, he somehow manages to barely escape the dark powers of the Darkling. He not only takes Alina and Mal with him, but also takes the ‘sea whip’. The confused and clueless Alina questions the privateer about his motives and intentions and comes to know that Strumhond has been paid more by a Ravkan client to deliver the Sun Summoner. Therefore, it is West Ravka that they are headed towards.
Who Is The ‘Privateer’?
When held captive in the Darkling’s whaler, Alina comes across the ‘Book of Saints’, a book that was given to her by the Apparat in Os Alta, something she had discarded, considering it to be a children’s picture book. However, this time she carries it with her while escaping the Darkling and soon comes to know about the existence of a third amplifier—the Firebird. To defeat the Darkling’s new and evil powers, Alina knew she needed more than one amplifier; she needed all three of them. Much against Mal’s disapproval, and with the help of a Fabrikator on board, Alina takes seven scales from the ‘sea whip’ and fetters them around her wrist.
The narrative here shifts focus from Alina to Strumhond, who turns out to be one of the most fascinating and interesting characters in Bardugo’s ‘Grishaverse.’ Trust is a luxury Alina cannot afford to indulge in, and this is something she has learned the hard way. Therefore, during her time traveling on the privateer’s ship, Alina tries to gather information about Strumhond. However, even the privateer’s closest allies, Tamar and Tolya, whom Alina grows to like, do not let out much about the mysterious and alluring stranger. From his evasive nature to his secretive clientele and even his appearance, everything about Sturmhond seems to be somewhat unsettling for Alina.
More surprises lie in store for the Sun Summoner and Mal when they arrive at West Ravka. Sturmhond reveals that they are to cross the Shadow Fold, and to add to it, they will be traveling on a ship that can fly, the ‘Hummingbird.’ The series of shocks seem never-ending for Alina as she realizes that Sturmhond also plans to hunt down the Volcras in the Fold. While Sturmhond displays his set of acquired explosives and high-functioning guns, Alina has a vision where she momentarily sees the Darkling, who is about to slash her face. Taken aback by the Darkling’s sudden appearance, Alina loses focus, and her Sun Summoner powers cease to function for a moment. This momentary lapse, however, puts the ship and the entire crew in danger.
With a streak of luck, the crew safely reaches land, even though the ship sinks. They are soon discovered by Ravkan soldiers, and Alina receives the ultimate shock when Strumhond identifies himself as the second prince of Ravka, Nikolai Lansov. It was Tolya who had been altering the Prince’s appearance in order to not risk recognition by the Darkling. Alina realizes the unknown Ravkan client is none other than Strumhond himself and ends up kicking him.
Nikolai goes on to explain his actions to Alina and Mal, as well as the elaborate plan he has for Ravka. When the Darkling had conducted a coup against the throne and strategically poisoned the King, the second prince was out to sea and came to know about the incident weeks later. This guilt, together with the responsibility he feels towards Ravka and his ambition to gain the throne, makes Nikolai propose an alliance with Alina. He suggests that Alina head the Second Army (Grishas) while he heads the First Army. Joining their forces together would not only help them defeat the Darkling but also benefit Nikolai by allowing him to claim his position as King of Ravka. Nikolai also proposes that Alina become his queen to further strengthen their association. While Alina furiously refuses to marry Nikolai, she decides to return to Os Alta and lead the Second Army.
What follows next is their long journey to the capital and the King’s palace. During her travels, Alina gets a closer look at the Ravkan reality. Rumors about the Sun Summoner are going around like wildfire; people have been hailing her as a saint and gathering in flocks to seek her blessings. During one such night of their travels, Alina meets Feydor and several other Grishas. Feydor is a Corporalki whom Alina had met during her first journey to Os Alta with the Darkling. He assures Alina that they have been fleeing and have now come to join the Sun Summoner. Although skeptical, Alina knows that she needs a strong Second Army and finally decides to take in Feydor and his fellow Grishas.
On reaching Os Alta, Alina’s meeting with the King and the Queen is not exactly a happy one. The royals enjoy a reunion where Nikolai discloses his identity as the privateer Strumhond. He also proposes Alina’s case and asks that she be appointed as the head of the Second Army. Although the King is openly dubious about the Sun Summoner’s intentions, he allows her to head the Grisha army. Mal also faces equal dislike and bitterness from the King for deserting the First Army. However, the King shows Mal some mercy and lets him stay with the Sun Summoner, but at the price of a ‘dishonorable discharge’.
Can The Sun Summoner Become The People’s Sankt’ya?
After receiving the King’s permission, Alina meets the Grishas in the Little Palace and recognizes some familiar faces among them. However, the idea of the Sun Summoner taking on the new role of leader of the Second Army does not sit well with all Grishas. The Corporalki Sergei, who had once been Alina’s guard, is one of the first to stand against her. While some Grishas belonging to the Etherealki order agree to join her (including Zoya, much to Alina’s surprise), Sergei openly stands against the Sun Summoner. He even goes to the point of accusing Alina of having had romantic alliances with the Darkling and now with Prince Nikolai. As the argument heats up, Alina feels her power surge inside her. She lets go of her Sun Summoner powers only to realize that she had been unconsciously meaning to kill Sergei. Along with creating a giant hole in the dome of the hall, her act also instills a sense of reverence and fear among the Grishas.
As Alina enters the Darkling’s quarters, which are now hers, she has a vision of the Darkling once again. She feels the Darkling watching her and taking her name in the dark. Alina panics, and unaware, she uses her summoning powers, spreading a beam of light across her room. This brings her royal guards—Tamar, Talya, and Mal—running worried to her quarters. Alina dismisses them by saying it was the excess darkness in her room that made her call on the light. Although Mal understands that Alina is not being completely honest with him, he does not question her when she chooses to remain silent about the truth of her visions. The next morning, Alina meets with the war council, and they discuss their strategy to defeat the Darkling and the Apparat’s growing cult. She also decides that there should be two representatives from each order of the Grishas.
Amidst her political and Grisha duties, the thought of Baghra keeps bothering her, and she finally goes to meet her. Alina was well aware of the atrocities that the Darkling was capable of; however, the sight of a blinded, weakened, and fragile Baghra completely shook her. Baghra touches Alina’s collars, her first amplifier, but when she realizes that she has also taken on a second amplifier, Baghra becomes furious. Despite Alina’s repeated pleading to know about the third amplifier, the Firebird, Baghra shuts her up. Angry and desperate, Alina threatens to take away the remaining comforts from the old woman’s life. It is then that Alina realizes the darkness that comes with power; she feels remorseful and ashamed about her actions.
Later, Nikolai asks Mal to join the soldiers on a royal hunt, which would also help him mend his strained relationship with the First Army. To this, Mal reluctantly agrees. While Mal goes off to hunt, Nikolai lets Alina in on his plan of building a new ‘Hummingbird’ (the flying ship). This was to be the Prince’s escape plan if the worst came to pass. Nikolai tells her that he wants to keep his parents safe from the Darkling and, hence, would need two Squallers to help him build the ship. Alina says she can only ask the Grishas to volunteer, and in return, she also makes Nikolai promise to take Baghra along with him.
Alina becomes obsessed with the lore and myth of Morozova. She has a burning desire to find the third amplifier and somehow feels that is the only way to stand against the Darkling. The fabricator, David, has placed the first amplifier on Alina, and she feels he knows more about Morozova. After being able to talk to David alone, Alina gets to know that Morozova is one of the greatest fabricators ever. Also, the amplifiers were not discovered by Morozova but created by him instead, using the same dark powers as the Darkling—’merzost’, the dark and abominable magic.
Amidst the pressure of building the Second Army, the murky royal politics, and the responsibility of being a Sun Summoner, Alina could feel the growing distance between herself and Mal. To somehow lessen the rift between the two of them, Mal and Alina decide to go to a ‘fortune-telling party’. Although they manage to unravel and enjoy themselves for the time being, their retreat does not end happily. When a chaotic outburst takes place amongst the guests at the party, the Apparat suddenly appears and manages to get hold of Alina alone. He offers Alina the chance to join his cult, and in return, he will provide her with valuable information on the third amplifier, the Firebird. Alina refuses him, and they are soon discovered by her guards. The Apparat, however, manages to escape before Tamar gets to him.
Back at the Little Palace, things only get worse between Alina and Mal. Their constant disagreements regarding the Apparat, Nikolai, the amplifiers, or the course of action only increase the distance between them. Mal points out how Alina’s power is affecting her, and how she is slowly losing her true self and moving away from him. Just when Mal tries to bring his Alina back and goes on to kiss her, Alina gets another of her visions. She sees the Darkling and moves back. Mal misreads the situation and thinks Nikolai is the reason behind Alina’s reaction. Although Alina wants to clear up the misunderstanding and tell Mal everything, she fails to do so, and Mal leaves.
The Final Act
Alina’s hallucination of the Darkling only keeps increasing, and she is visibly fatigued and tired. She asks David if it is possible to get the amplifier out of her collar, only to realize that it would bring down a catastrophe much worse than the Shadow Fold. Despite the Grishas and the Army working together and getting ready for combat, deep down, Alina knew it was nothing in comparison to the Darkling’s powers. However, a glimmer of hope could be seen when Alina finally tested the dishes that David had made for her. The immense light that comes out of it makes Alina hopeful. The entire palace joins in to celebrate the achievement, except Mal. Disheartened and sad, Alina joins Nikolai to take a stroll near the lake. They share a heartfelt conversation, and the Prince almost kisses Alina, only to move back in the end. He tells Alina he does not want to be someone just to merely distract her from Mal.
Mal, on the other hand, completely immerses himself in a ‘fight club,’ where he fights against Grishas. Alina learns about this and also witnesses Zoya kiss Mal. The two of them end up fighting again. Mal questions their relationship and expresses his desire to leave the world of the Grishas behind and lead a normal life together again. Alina shares the same desire, but deep down, Mal knows she will not be able to go back to her old life. When Mal holds Alina’s bare wrist, something happens, and a change comes over Alina. She angrily retorts that she can never let go of her powers. At the Little Palace, Alina cries herself to sleep, regretting everything that has been going on between her and Mal. She wakes up with a kiss from Mal, only to realize it is the Darkling and one of her hallucinations. Horrified, disgusted, and lonely, Alina escapes from the palace. Taking up a disguise, she takes a walk down the city and hears the people chant her name. Among the various names the Apparat has given to the Sun Summoner, ‘Daughter of the Two Mills’ is something that catches Alina’s attention. Alina locates her place of birth using maps from the library. She shows Mal, Tamar, Talya, and Nikolai the two mills that resemble the arch from Saint Ilya. It is decided that Mal will go to the ruins and look for the Firebird.
The final section of the book begins with the birthday celebration of Prince Nikolai. While raising a toast to his younger brother, Prince Vasily mentions his latest alliance with the former Ravkan enemy, Fjerda. On further questioning by Nikolai, it is revealed that Vasily has agreed to grant entry to the Fjerdans through some logging routes. It becomes apparent to Nikolai how the foolishness of his brother is going to let the Darkling attack Ravka any moment now. While the brothers are busy throwing accusations at each other, the ‘nichevoyas’, or the Darkling’s shadow army, enter.
Chaos unfolds in the palace. Vasily is killed, and Nikolai tries to get the King, Queen, and Baghra to safety. Alina tries to use the mirrored dishes to fight against the Darkling, but they are highly underprepared and outnumbered by the Darkling’s ‘nichevo ya’. Just when things seem to be at their worst, Tamar and Tolya appear with an army that has Alina’s symbol tattooed. Alina then realizes that the twins must have been in contact with the Apparat all along. However, just when Alina and the group try to escape using the secret route behind Saint Ilya’s painting, the Darkling stops them.
The Darkling asks Alina to join him in return for her loved ones’ lives. To prove his point, the Darkling brings forth the tortured body of a woman, who turns out to be Genya. Alina agrees and goes on to profess her love for Mal and tell him their story will live forever. She then kisses the Darkling and tells him that her powers belong to him now. Initially overjoyed, the Darkling soon realizes that Alina is using their combined power to create more of the shadow army. This, in turn, is feeding on both of them and is going to kill them eventually. Alina makes peace with her sacrifice, which will ultimately free Ravka and save her lover Mal.
The connection ends with Mal pulling Alina away from the Darkling. When Alina awakes, she finds herself revived by the Corporalki. Although alive, Alina is weak and fragile, and her hair has turned white. The book ends with Alina disclosing a secret to Mal: “The light won’t come, Mal. My power is gone.”