After the events of the first book, Alina Starkov and Mal Ortesev are in Os Kervo, on the run from the nefarious Darkling who betrayed the King of Ravka and caused tremors that have killed thousands of innocent citizens and has grown the Shadow Fold. You know, the Unsea. A cursed sea of volcra the Darkling wants for himself but everyone still believes he will destroy it rather than use it for himself because they have to. Now Alina with the help of one of the Darkling's former commanders, Sturmhond, will have to cross the expanded Fold once more and establish base back at the Little Palace to build an army, beat the Darkling, and establish a relationship with Mal, seeing as everyone sees Alina as the Saint and Mal as a nobody, a non-Grisha. Not only that, but Alina has a feeling there's another stag, something else that could enhance her power, somewhere. It exists according to legend, and the first stag did.
The first book in The Grisha trilogy, Shadow & Bone, was a pleasant surprise and adventure for me, with flip-on-your-face romance that didn't get in the way and a stellar third act of hiking and hiding, and the way it ended made me immediately go out and get this book, from the betrayal that reminded me of the tense one from Red Queen and the sense things were really going to heat up. And it does heat up, but doesn't boil. The book starts out quite well. Even if the slip back into the action felt a little rushed and early like a runny egg and I wished the book could've spent more time establishing life on the run, I was still flipping pages and was pleasantly entertained when Sturmhond came in. It is when Alina accepts an invitation to meet one of Sturmhond's leaders that this book flattens. Oh, trust me, a lot happens in this book but Leigh Bardugo doesn't let it build up beyond the Little Palace, leaving us inside for our minds to rot, and this is a problem when you build up the map, promising more voyages, more adventure, more places to visit, and have a more exciting title. In the end, I thought, What siege? What storm?
The book also feels like a retread of the first Shadow and Bone because it stays in one place too long. A character that interested me in the last book was Baghra, someone annoyingly strict at first and then exuberantly heroic, and was mysterious because we were left hanging imagining what happened to her, but Bardugo's decision of reunion fell flat on me and didn't exactly inspire development or importance. And I'd normally forgive decisions like these enough to warrant a positive rating if something comes up that entertains me, or really builds the world up, and I thought that's what I would get during the beginning, especially after the supposed main siege of the book and Alina gets this new ability, and what happened was I wished the first seventy pages were the official goal of the book at the end instead. It would've made more sense if the second act and first act were switched. The relationship between Alina and Mal was something I cared about in the first book. I still do care about it but in this one, it just bugged me, because it picks back up on conflicts we already talked about, and then brings an excuse for Mal to "say Hi" to someone else that doesn't give any lessons and just makes us hate the two characters without a proper apology. Alina doesn't really build on her powers much either. All she can really do is strut and think about her dreams. There is a decent ending, even if I think the principle behind it unintentionally screws up what the book was building on, and the last sentence was one I didn't see coming, so hopefully it won't doom the ending, because in fantasy books like these, what gives them their chocolate centre is imaginative action scenes using up the capacity of the fantasy.
In conclusion, I think Leigh Bardugo loses her way in this second instalment to the Grisha trilogy and only gets out a few new goals for Ruin and Rising, despite an expansion on the map.