I’m six hours into the 48 Hour Reading Challenge and I’ve just finished the first book in my “To Be Read” stack. It was a whopper to begin with, weighing in at 432 pages (I’m almost tempted to put it on my scale in order to find out the actual weight. It’s like a brick. I’d do it, too, if I thought my scale were capable of such a thing. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think we even own a scale. Haha!). Anyway, here it is:
Title: Siege & Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: June 04, 2013
Hardcover: 432 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No, and we’re okay with that. Ravka’s a harsh, harsh place.
“Siege & Storm”, Bardugo’s follow-up to her debut novel, “Shadow & Bone” tries to be about a million things at once. What’s crazy is that it succeeds at being all of them. It smacks of Russian fairytales, Moby Dick, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (especially Season 5, Episode 1: “Buffy Vs. Dracula”), Zoroastrian philosophy (with a surprising undercurrent of something much more complex), pure fantasy (there are mythical quest beasts to pursue: a stag, a dragon, and a phoenix), the traditional vampire vs. werewolf dichotomy, and even The Neverending Story.
Bizarrely, it actually reminds me a lot of “The Elite,” by Kiera Cass — the last book I blogged about before the challenge. As in “The Selection” trilogy, Bardugo’s books contain a love triangle in which a sought-after female must choose between her old flame, the one who knows her and grounds her, who’s known her since childhood and reminds her of who she is, and who’s now a palace guard; and her new love interest, a Prince, who she’d just as soon kick as she would kiss, and who offers her the title of “Queen,” along with the chance to save her broken country. Unlike America Singer, in “The Elite,” however, the protagonist in “Siege & Storm” has choices. She doesn’t have to become Queen in order to save the nation — because she has real, fearsome, tangible power, not just political power. She’s a Grisha, a Sun Summoner; she can fight the burgeoning Darkness and the one who controls it (The Darkling) by harnessing The Light. The hope is that she’ll triumph over Nothingness.
Alina Starkov isn’t confined to traditional gender roles (even powerful ones like Queen) and in one of my favorite moments of the novel, she says as much: “I don’t care if you think I’m a Saint or a fool or the Darkling’s whore. If you want to remain at the Little Palace, you will follow me. And if you don’t like it, you will be gone by tonight or I will have you in chains. I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. I am the only chance you have” (233). She’s neither Eve nor the Madonna. Put simply, she explains, “I’m not a symbol” (155). Bardugo’s broken all the traditional archetypes by allowing her character to reject them & she’s created a whole new role… something dynamic and exciting and multifaceted.
Not only is the writing smart, it’s also poetic… something that’s easy to miss when you’re trying to read at warp speed (and when you’re reading YA in general, since it’s so often plot-driven). I skipped right over this sentence, at first, not even reading it, before I realized that I’d jumped to the next paragraph before completing the one preceding it: “In a single, glorious burst, I released the light. The bright sky fractured, letting the night back in, and all around us, sparks fell like fading fireworks, a dream of shining petals blown loose from a thousand flowers” (104). “Come” to think of it, the description of Alina using her power could also describe the moment of orgasm, implying that women should embrace their sexuality.
The raciness isn’t always so subtle. Barddugo doesn’t play it safe. There’s another risque’ section early on, in which The Darkling taunts Alina’s first love, Mal, by saying, “I’ll be certain you hear it when I make her scream” (57). On the surface, he’s threatening to torture Alina (by slicing off a piece of her skin, then using one of his magical lackeys to re-grow it, only to slice it off anew the next day), but there’s definitely some sadomasochistic innuendo lurking below the surface.
The book is also funny, and, and, and…
I can’t say enough good things.
I’ll leave you with a final tidbit, which is sure to entice you to read “Siege & Storm.” So, at the beginning of the story, Alina & Mal are on the run, and she’s got this elaborate, powerful necklace permanently fused to her which would immediately alert everyone to who she is. As a result, she has to hide it beneath a scarf, which she reflexively clutches at her neck whenever they’re in public. Thinking on his feet, when one of Mal’s coworkers in the town they’re hiding out in asks him about it, he tells him it’s a goiter. When Alina questions Mal as to why this guy’s voice is always oozing with pity when he speaks to her, he owns up. The following, hilarious conversation ensues:
“I had to say something! And it makes you quite a tragic figure. Pretty girl, giant growth. You know.”
I punched him in the arm.
“Ow! Hey, in some countries, goiters are considered very fashionable.”
“Do they like eunuchs, too? Because I can arrange that.”
“My goiter makes me cranky” (13).
The book’s got dragons, it’s got magicians, it’s got pistols, it’s got axes, it’s got romance, and it’s got goiters. What more could you ask for?
Pooka Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Nibbles.