Monday, June 10, 2013

Now THAT'S What I'm Talking About!

We all have a little bit of the dark side residing inside of us, but we know how to control it. Keep it down. But what if we were being controlled by the darkest power that was ever created? Could we still fight the dark side like we do every day? In Leigh Bardugo's Siege and Storm, Book Two of the Grisha Trilogy, Alina Starkov shouldn't be able to fight the Darkling, but love for Mal and for her country keep her resisting the darkness that threatens them all.

Alina is the Sun Summoner, the only Grisha with the power to bring light to the Fold and fight the monstrosities that reside within it. Now that the Darkling fitted her with the Amplifier made of the mythical stag, she can harness a power like none have seen before. But after learning the truth of the Darkling and his creation of the fold that threatens to take over the world, she narrowly escapes with Mal, her childhood friend and one true love, leaving her country and friends behind to suffer the Darkling's wrath. The problem is one cannot escape the Darkling for long, and with the help of a famous pirate, he finds Alina and Mal and drags them into the icy waters in search of the second mythical beast, an icy sea dragon. While legends has always told a Grisha cannot assume two amplifiers without suffering grave consequences, the Darkling believes otherwise, and he isn't above sacrificing Alina to find out.

What the Darkling didn't expect was that the pirate might have different loyalties than just those of a common mercenary. Sturmhond has his own secrets he hasn't shared with the Darkling, and those secrets run deep. He also has plans for the Sun Summoner and how she can help him get his country back. Whether Alina trusts Sturmhond or not, she can't deny he is the better option when caught between him and the Darkling. Together, they embark on a dangerous and determined path that will bring together mortal and Grisha, the First Army and the Second Army, powered and determined, to save the future of Ravka and all the people she holds. The only thing standing in their way is the Darkling and his frightening new power- the ability to create the shadow monsters out of thin air. How can a handful of Grisha and a mass of half-starved, fanatical countrymen fight the most powerful Grisha who ever lived?

OK. Any of you out there need a lesson on how to write a sequel that not only knocks your socks off, but also makes your already brilliant first novel pale in comparison? I would like to introduce you to the amazing Leigh Bardugo. The first novel of this trilogy was brilliant. This sequel is something so much more that it defies my current dumbfounded language. I don't even know how to tell you how incredible it is because I am still reeling after flipping that final page! This was beyond just some great sequel. This is a masterpiece all on its own!

High fantasy is tricky, but Bardugo knows how to build a world like you have never seen before and still connect you to every bit of it. How does she do that?! How can I feel like I know the people of Ravka when it is so wildly different from everything I have ever known? I don't really know, but by golly! It was AMAZING! The whole world she created is so fascinating and so real, you would think those terrifying volcra were right behind you. And there are layers and layers of history and mythology and culture that every page brings you deeper and deeper into. The whole idea behind the stag and the dragon and the firebird could have been another entire series in and of themselves, but they were intertwined beautifully within the world of powerful Grisha and terrifying monsters. But the beauty behind it all was the love for one's people and one's country. Together, Grisha or civilian, they all want to save Ravka from the Fold and the terrors it contains. It was a really beautiful and fascinating examination of the human psyche and what kind of creature we want to be.

But this story is more than just broad, sweeping theories and examinations. The specific characters are so deep and real, you would feel like you had known them all your life. But Alina is the reason I can't stay away from this series. As a teacher of young women, I love to see a young female character who isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes in. When the prince misleads her and traps her in a position she wasn't expecting, what does she do? She punches him right in the nose! This is one girl you can be proud of and it lets you totally understand why the people of her country view her as a saint despite the fact that she is just a poor orphan thrust into a situation she wasn't ready for. Alina doesn't care who is her "superior". She knows what is right and is determined to sacrifice her own life to save the lives of others. And THAT is what I loved the most about this story. Of course snarky, pompous, but humble, Nikolai was just as wonderful. I have been searching YA lit for just this kind of young man- snarky on the outside and a truly good man on the inside- and imagine my pure joy to find him inside this book I already loved! Sure, he was a wise-crackin', infuriating putz sometimes, but that just made you love him all the more when you found out his true love for his country and everyone in it. He was just as determined to save Ravka as Alina, and together they made a fabulous team. 

This is a series for everyone, young adult or not-so-young adult. You like fantasy? Pick this series up! You not really interested in fantasy, but love a great story? Pick this series up! Like to read? Here you go! Don't read much? Look no further! This is the series that will make a reader out of you! Truthfully, this is a series for anyone, and it has the potential to turn non-readers into readers, it is genuinely that powerful. I love this series and the only thing that is going to disappoint me is when Bardugo finally concludes it. 

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