In which P. Pufferfish discusses Romance and the Chosen One trope in Siege and Storm

I never thought I’d say this, but I finally managed to slog through Siege and Storm (thanks, Spring Break!) after two weeks. No offense to Leigh Bardugo or anything, but the Grisha Trilogy just doesn’t have the same oomph that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom do. They’re all pretty dark books, but the casts are very different in how they handle all the darkness and the shit they’re forced to deal with. Quick summary time (spoilers abound!).

The book: Siege and Storm (book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy, by the amazing and talented Leigh Bardugo)

The genre: Fantasy, YA

What it’s about: I’m going to assume anyone who happens to be looking at this has read Shadow and Bone already, sooooo… this book started off slow for me. Alina and Mal are on the run, working the equivalent of a migrant farm labor job to pay for a bed (singular) in a room in a shady boarding house. I forgot that they’re about seventeen years old, so I kept rolling my eyes and wondering how the hell they thought they could just run away from their problems and attempt to live a peaceful life in a foreign country when Ravka’s conflicts are just going to bleed over the border sooner or later. Anyways, since it’s from Alina’s POV, there’s a lot of musing about Mal and his good lucks and his loyalty, and then the Darkling shows up and captures them again, taking them aboard a ship he’s commissioned for the voyage home. He uses Alina and Mal against each other, forcing them to do things ’cause “if not, I’ll destroy her face!” or “I’ll throw him overboard!” Typical threats like that.

I should mention that here, things get a bit more interesting, because they introduce a new character, the notorious Sturmhond, privateer and captain of the ship they’re all on. Sturmhond is all about the money, but that’s okay, ’cause he also seems to have morals and a sense of honor (of sorts). So without any further spoilers, the rest of the book involves hunting legendary creatures, war plans, behind-the-scenes battles for the Ravkan throne, the overturning of traditions and convention, fanaticism, etc. “But wait!” you say, “This totally sounds like your kind of book, P!” It does, and in a way, it still is my kind of book, but there’s the glaring issue of

The romance: There is a lot of romance in this book. It’s not in the background, like it is in Six of Crows. It’s very in-your-face, and unfortunately, it’s kind of interwoven with the plot, as in, if this romance did not exist, I don’t think events would play out the way they do. This is also the reason I took so long getting through the damn thing, ’cause Mal and Alina are so meh as a couple. They don’t have much chemistry. When I was reading Siege and Storm, I kept hoping Mal would get with Zoya and Alina would get with the Darkling, but of course the Darkling turned out to be pure evil and no longer a romantic possibility (*siiiggghhh*). It sucks, ’cause Leigh Bardugo wrote so much chemistry into the Alina-Darkling “relationship” that now everything else pales in comparison. Even her strange not-really-romance with the other male character that plays a prominent role in this book (I wonder who?) doesn’t work– I personally prefer the two of them as friends/a power duo in a professional sense, so I hope she doesn’t go down that path in the third book.

Towards the last twenty or so pages, though, I did start reevaluating my stance on the Alina/Mal romance. I wonder if the reason why I don’t ship them is because I’m so used to the Chosen One character (in this case, Alina, obv) being destined for a greater romance than just her childhood best friend. You all recognize the familiar fantasy tropes, right? Usually, it involves a male Chosen One who more often than not does show interest in one of the village girls (a laundress or something– pretty, kind, would make a good wife) and then has to leave his old life behind to go on his quest/fulfill his destiny/save the world, and along the way, he meets somebody else, somebody more “worthy” (a duchess! A princess! A sorceress!), and everyone knows he’ll end up with that person in the end because halfway through the book, he’s no longer the poor, insignificant village boy he was at the beginning. Mal is by no means an ordinary person himself (he’s extraordinarily gifted and would probably have risen pretty high in the ranks if Alina and her destiny hadn’t gotten in the way), but he’s no Grisha lord or prince. And both Alina and Mal realize this. It comes up a lot in their arguments. They spend the first half of this trilogy fighting against the roles they’re expected to play in a traditional Chosen One fantasy story arc. It would really be something if they managed it. Huh. Perhaps I can get behind this pairing after all. More on that in the review for book 3.

Overall, would I recommend this? Uh, considering that it’s the second book in a trilogy (which was off to a great start!) and ends in a cliffhanger, yes, I think you have to read it, if only to know what happens to everyone. Also, one word: NIKOLAI. Read it for him, if anything.

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