“A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.
Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.
At least, it makes the perfect cover story.
The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world–or destroy it.
The trouble is that this old soldier isn’t sure she’s still got what it takes to be the hero.”
My Thoughts: I do love a good fantasy story. There is something so enjoyable in reading about worlds that do not exist whether they are filled with magic or suspend the laws and theories of science. I could analyze why I love a good fantasy story. I am sure it has something to do with escaping reality, but I will leave that to the psychologists. Instead, let me gush about Robert Jackson Bennett’s latest novel in his Divine Cities series.
A good fantasy balances the expository necessity of world-building with forward progression of the story. This is something Bennett does so, so well. Because City of Blades picks up several years after the action in City of Stairs, and because it follows a different hero in a different city, there is again a significant amount of world-building Bennett must provide in order to bring readers up to speed. He has a gift for building his strange world right into the action, so that readers never feel the story lag due to lengthy descriptions or huge chunks of explanations.
Even better, his world is just so damn fascinating. It is difficult to shake the impression that the story takes place in Asia because his use of names, physical descriptions, and food choices could very well come directly from Russia, India, and one of the Scandinavian countries. This makes following the story easy and yet tricky because one must constantly remember that it is a fictional location about a fictional group of people. Building on this layer of familiarity, he adds a nebulous time period. Much of the technology described throughout the novel is a mash-up of old and new items. They drive cars and sail on cruise ships. They fire rifles and cannons. They use cranes and drills for construction projects. They send private communiques over wire. However, telephones are ancient, and no one uses them anymore. They use horses more often than cars. They may have rifles but they also use cross-bows and swords. There is so much that is familiar and yet tauntingly strange about this weird world of Saypur and the Continent. Does it take place in the past or in the future? Does it really occur on the Asian continent or is that just for familiarity’s sake? You just want to know, but at the same time not knowing enhances the truly fantastic elements of the story.
As for City of Blades, it follows the adventures of the very hilarious, totally crass and thoroughly enjoyable General Turyin Mulaghesh. She is a woman’s woman with her propensity for cursing and her “fuck everyone” attitude. This woman tells it like it is and does not bother to sugarcoat a damn thing. While it may turn off some readers, I love every minute of this extremely non-traditional woman’s story, especially when she reveals some of the demons haunting her and admits to a vulnerability buried deep underneath the gruff exterior.
City of Blades brings back all of the favorite characters from City of Stairs, which is a great thing because they all had a genuine connection with each other. They work well together, and you cannot imagine one of the main three characters without at least one other. This is not a rehashing of the first story though. The two stories are similar but have distinctly different themes. However, Bennett reveals a greater plot hiding underneath the individual stories which left me incredibly anxious for the final book.
This is one book/series where I am completely incapable of expressing just how good it is. Bennett’s world is so complex but the familiar elements make it easy to understand. His characters are fantastic; the shades of grey they all portray when it comes to good versus evil are just spectacular and would make for an amazing character study. On top of all of that, the story is just good. Intense, action-packed, and mysterious, there is also something to keep a reader’s interest. Just do yourself a favor and go read it, okay?