Sunday, February 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

A solid 4.0 stars.

I was somewhat ambivalent about the first book in The Divine Cities trilogy, City of Stairs, and as I stated in my review I almost quit reading the book (more than once), primarily due what I thought was the slow progress of plot developments. In my opinion, the most attractive aspect of the City of Stairs (and it is also an important feature of its sequel, City of Blades) is the intricate world-building and the atmospheric setting of the books.

In City of Blades the action starts almost immediately (really from the very first chapter). I never felt tempted to not finish the book, but it did take me longer to read than most books. I think it is slow going because the language Bennet uses is complex (and evocative).

The material of the books is about a fictional land where Gods (or Divinities, in the parlance of the book) have been vanquished from certain areas on the Continent and a colonialist government called Saypur has been able to take over the land which was once held in sway by these Divinities. Saypur is secular, and although the Gods once were very real now they are gone, and Continentals and Saypuris are both coming to terms with the new reality. Saypur mainly does this by trying to censor any mention of Divine phenomena.

The first book (City of Stairs) was about an incident in the ancient city of Bulikov where some suspicious behavior that appeared to be the act of some otherworldly power is investigated by our heroes Shara and Sigrud.

In the second book (City of Blades), Shara sends her erstwhile rival, General Turyin Mulaghesh (who was the Saypuri military commander responsible for Bulikov and who by the conclusion of the Bulikov affair ends up becoming Shara's ally despite beginning that book as her obvious antagonist) to another of the Divine cities, Voortyashtan. There Mulaghesh has to solve the mystery of what happened to a previous Saypuri envoy who was investigating suspicious phenomena and by local accounts seems to have gone crazy before she disappeared. Mulaghesh also becomes privy to a technological breakthrough that her former Saypuri commander (General Lalith Biswal) is hoping will have military applications but which appears to be too good to be true. Mulaghesh has a complicated relationship with Biswal because together they were complicit to a slaughter of civilians which led to a notorious Saypuri military victory.

City of Blades I think is simply a better book than City of Stairs (although I will confess I bought physical copies of both of them, something I don't always do). Bennett weaves in familiar themes from the first book (colonialism, religion/spirtualism, fanaticism, bureaucracy, cultural relativism, historical revisionism) while introducing new characters (Signe, Sigrud's daughter and Biswal, Mulaghesh's commander are standouts) and returning to ones we have seen before (Mulaghesh herself and, of course, Sigrid). Shara, the main character in the first book, has merely a cameo, in this one, but it is significant.

I am definitely looking to reading the concluding work in the trilogy, City of Miracles, next year!

Title: City of Blades (The Divine Cities, #2)
Robert Jackson Bennett.
Paperback: 496 pages.
 Broadway Books.
Date Published: January 26, 2016.
Date Read: November 2, 2016.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


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