BooksOfTheMoon

City of Miracles (The Divine Cities, #3)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

Shara Komayd is dead (not a spoiler, it’s the first sentence on the blurb on the back). Her old friend and ally Sigrid finds out and sets out to find her murderer and avenge her. Amongst his grief, he finds himself in the middle of a hidden war and learns me than he wanted to about his own past.

This book is about cycles. Cycles of violence and revenge and, eventually, forgiveness. The Divinities of the Continent were the source of so much pain to Saypur; Saypur in turn imposed its will on the Continent, returning the favour. The book questions these sorts of cycles and what is required to break them.

Sigrid was probably my favourite character from City of Stairs. He was huge, inscrutable, competent, and just destroyed things that got in his way. But I wasn’t sure about making this book about him. But it was good to get inside his head and find what’s been driving him through the series. The way he held on to his anger and pain until it became a millstone around his neck. His fear of being unable to change, and the anger at losing the last person in his life that he truly cared for.

It’s exciting, with lots set-pieces, as the hidden enemy slowly starts to reveal himself, leaving Sigrud as the last thing in his way, now that Shara is gone. The pace is good, as well, and there’s a neat twist right at the end which made me smile (and, for once, I worked out the main ‘twist’ before it happened, which is something I’m normally awful at).

It left me with a feeling of melancholy, but this feels like a good way to end the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857053596
Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Year of publication: 2018

City of Blades (The Divine Cities, #2)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

General Turyin Mulaghesh resigned her commission in anger to live out her days, looking for a peace she may never find. But her country still has need of her, so by fair means and foul, Prime Minister Shara Komyad (hero of the previous book, City of Stairs) enlists her to a secret mission to the city of Voortyastan, former home of the divinity of war and death.

This is a book in which war and soldiers loom large. There is obviously Voortya herself, the goddess of war, and General Mulaghesh, hero of the Battle of Bulikov, and with dark rumours to her name. But there’s also General Biswal and the different ideas of what being a soldier means to these old friends. It’s no secret that I’m an old leftie, who often looks on in horror at the acts of the military, carried out in my name. Mulaghesh sees being a soldier in a different light: she sees it as a chance to serve, to do what is required and nothing more, while Biswal sees it as a grand endeavour, worthy of praise and lauding. The tension between these two world views is what drives the book.

There’s as much cool history and mythology as in the previous book, this time focused on Voortya, and I especially loved the idea of the strength of the contract between the gods and their people. Its’ a clever idea. Sigrud from the first books shows up again, this time as a leader of his people. He hasn’t let it make him soft, though, and he’s there for Mulaghesh to rely on when she needs him.

Mulaghesh herself is an interesting character, much more fleshed out than she was in City of Stairs. She’s haunted by her past and has spent most of her career trying to make up for what she did during the war against the Continent; and meditating on the meaning of war and what soldiering is about; and trying to protect those under her command.

It’s not nearly as chin-stroking and head-nodding as I’ve been making out, though. It’s also a fast-paced adventure with some great action sequences. Very much a worthy sequel, with some real depth of character.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848669598
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2017

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities, #1)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 5 stars

The Holy Lands of the Continent were protected by their Divinities; invincible, world-conquering, until one man rises up in the land of Saypur and kills the gods, ending the rule of the Continentals. Generations later, the consequences of this are still being played out, and when there’s a murder in Bulikov, the former city of the Divinities, it sets off a chain of events that threaten the fragile equilibrium.

I loved this book. It’s complex, with no black and white tale of oppressed and oppressors. The history of the Continent’s long and bloody rule of Saypur is remembered as fiercely as the current Continentals see their own poverty and desolation. There’s a spiral of hatred that feeds on itself, something that feels very real and is deftly portrayed by Bennett.

I got to thoroughly like Shara, our protagonist (not to mention Sigrud, her, er, secretary, who doesn’t say much, but his actions speak volumes). Shara is quiet, small, very intelligent, with a passion for history. Something that comes in useful in a city that is practically nothing but history.

The worldbuilding is neatly done as well, with a drip-feed of information early on filling us in on the fact that the Continentals aren’t allowed to talk about their dead gods and aren’t allowed to know much about their own history. There’s a chapter later on that fills in a lot of history about the gods and how they were killed, which on the one hand feels like an infodump, but it’s filling in information for the other characters too, rather than an “As you know, Bob…” sort of thing, so I’ll let the author away with it.

The Divinities loom large in this book, despite being (mostly) absent from it. The god of Order, Kolkan is particularly interesting, with his many edicts and hatred of any kind of pleasure. I’m not sure if it’s intended as a criticism of the sterner sects of real-world religions, but that’s certainly my reading of it.

A nice idea in the book is that now that the Divinities are dead, real world physics can assert itself. The world is moving out of a period where everyone (on the Continent, at least) lived through the miraculous intervention of the gods, and now they’re developing motor cars, the telegraph and photography. It’s not quite steampunk, but is definitely a society that’s moving towards industrialisation.

A very interesting, complex book with a lot of ideas. And one that can be pretty much read standalone as well (although I certainly intend to look out the sequels). Definitely recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848667983
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2015

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