Two weeks we'd been in Cofton, and I was still getting lost. The town lay inland, west of the Novyi Zem coast, miles from the harbor where we'd landed. Soon we would go farther, deep into the wilds of the Zemeni frontier. Maybe then we'd begin to feel safe.
"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."
*Spoilers for Shadow and Bone*
Siege and Storm was an excellent sequel to Shadow and Bone, a book I didn't love the first time around, but which upon rereading, improved a lot. The book starts off when Alina and Mal are in exile, but the Darkling shows up very quickly, with a terrible new power. There's not all that much development; the action starts right away (within the first chapter, in fact). The book might even be better than Shadow and Bone; there are a lot of great new characters introduced, and the book is a lot more action-packed, gripping and suspenseful. The writing also drew me in immediately, which didn't happen with Shadow and Bone. it took a bit longer to get into, even though it started off pretty early with action.
Another reason, I think, why I enjoyed Siege and Storm much more is that the sequel didn't have a love triangle like the small one in the first book. At least, until it progressed. Of course, there had to be some sort of triangle (or quadrangle) however small, to preserve its YA. For some reason, though, it didn't bother me quite as much. At least here, Alina knows that the Darkling is evil and wants to expand the Shadow Fold, even though some of what he says does ring true to her, about never really fitting in, about her power, about being hunted. And most importantly, Alina's growing knowledge of her and Mal's differences. Even though Alina (rightly) hates the Darkling, it cannot be denied that they do have a lot in common; both of them know what it is like to be alienated and to have great power, marking them out from other people. The way they choose to use their powers of light and dark, however, differs vastly. The Darkling is bent on expanding the Fold and his power; Alina on leaving Ravka forever. However, it becomes increasingly clear that that course of action is impossible.
I think there were great descriptions of how many of the Grisha, who aren't bad people, just go along with the Darkling's plans rather than standing up to him. Take Genya, for example, who was a really good friend to Alina while she was in the palace. She's not a bad person, but she lied to Alina (whose letters to Mal were never sent). She stays by the Darkling because he rescued her from the Queen, and in part because she's too scared to do anything else.
I really liked the character of Stormhound, the roguish privateer who by turns helps and harms Alina and Mal. He was an interesting mix of contradictions; he'll sell anyone out for a large price, he likes making dangerous and powerful enemies, but he's also very much a patriot towards Ravka, his home country. And as it turns out, he's not who he seems to be.
In Siege and Storm, more of Ravkan (Russian) culture is explained and expanded upon. There are three animals: the stag whose antlers Alina claimed in the first book, the white sea serpent, and the firebird. I'm really interested by the firebird, a mythical creature that plays heavily in the tales of both the fictional world of Ravka, and the real world of Russia (see Stravinsky's Firebird, an amazing piece). This part of the plot, however, wasn't too original: the main character is different from all the others of her kind, and can be more powerful than everyone, breaking the basic rules of the world. Etc, etc. Still, I have to say that it's a plot device that works really well.
There are lots of deep, dark, secrets revealed in Siege and Storm, and I have a feeling that there are more that have not yet come to light, such as where Alina really was from before she went to the orphanage. Still, a lot is revealed in this amazing second book, and sometimes those revealings create still more complications.
I loved Siege and Storm, and am definitely looking forward to the third book and final book whenever it comes out (probably summer 2014). The question is, how will I wait that long?