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City of Blades (The Divine Cities) Paperback – January 26, 2016
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From School Library Journal
The Battle of Bulikov is five years over (City of Stairs), and Gen. Turyin Mulaghesh has retired on the island nation of Javrat. A messenger arrives from Shara Kamayd, former junior diplomat, actual spy, and now prime minister of Saypur. Turyin and Shara fought the Battle of Bulikov together, and it changed them and their world. Since then, Shara has been responsible for a complete transformation of Saypuri dominance over the Continent. Now she needs Turyin's experience with renegade gods and miraculous artifacts, because something is not quite right in the remote country of Voortyashtan. A new metal has been discovered with incredible properties, and the continued existence of miraculous materials means that perhaps the vanquished God of Voortyashtan is still alive. Turyin knows exactly how dangerous that is, and soon finds herself in the inhospitable land of Voortyashtan, reliving some of her worst battle experiences and trying to cope with gods, miracles, the perfidy of the greedy, and the heroism of loyal citizens. This complex tale of conquest and war, politics and magic, and battle fatigue and heroism will draw new and old readers. The regret Turyin and others have about their past deeds, while striving to do better will resonate with readers who enjoy fantasy lands as nuanced and complex as the real world. VERDICT A great option for lovers of intrigue, politics, and ancient meddlesome gods walking through the world.—Gretchen Crowley, Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA
“Astonishingly good… a deep, powerful novel that’s worth reading and rereading.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Building beautifully upon the richly detailed world introduced in the first book of the series, Bennett serves a stew of fantasy and adventure with a healthy dose of humor and a ladle full of violence.”--Library Journal (starred)
“Richly detailed and expertly plotted. A grand entertainment.”—Kirkus
“Like the very best speculative fiction, City of Blades immerses readers in a made-up world, only to force us to take a harder look at the real one.”--Booklist
Praise for City of Stairs:
"Readers seeking a truly refreshing fantasy milieu should travel to Bulikov, and welcome its conquest.”--New York Times Book Review
"A delightful urban fantasy that travels through a city full of Escher-like staircases and alternate realities." --Washington Post
"[An] incredible journey through a wondrously weird and surprising world... Awesome." --Tor.com
“Bennett has built a great world, original and unique, with a scent and a texture, a sense of deep, bloody history, and a naturally blended magic living in the stones." --NPR.org
Finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards
Top customer reviews
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I read City of Stairs, and I enjoyed it enough to be happy when I saw a sequel. But not enough to make the effort of writing a review. (I don't review books I don't like. Seems like a waste of energy.) But this book is beyond City of Stairs.
My favorite kind of book is an adventure that is action-packed, interesting and unpredictable. Usually, this means I need more world-building than your basic norse or gael based mythology on a recognizable world. Add a teen age male hero and there had better be something that makes the book interesting, or I want my money back.
Bennett began his exploration of faith in humanity vs. faith in a greater being in City Stairs, and it was interesting. He took the metaphor of lost faith and make it literal. His heroes were based in a more eastern tradition. The world that he created made it easy to sympathize with the dying faithful and the rising godless, scientific class.of the Saypuris. You sympathized with the faithful martyrdom of the people whose gods were literally killed. You sympathized with the desire of the Saypuris to find those last shreds of magic, while at the same time rooting for them to eradicate the last vestiges of zealotry from the continent.
But City of Blades takes that exploration of faith and empathy to a whole new level. It is timely. Told from the perspective of an old soldier, the comparison between the experiences of the Saypuri soldiers in a hostile country, unable to tell enemy from civilian, is painfully similar to the experiences of real world men and women who set out to serve, and find themselves in situations where ethics, morality and survival blur. City of Blades explores these ideas without judging.
Also, for those who pay attention to these things - the main character is a woman, whose sexuality is not at issue. THANK YOU BENNETT! Her strength is not derived from gender-typical fantasy book victimhood. She is not raped or abused or otherwise forced out of conventional femininity by male aggression or abuse. There is no subplot of romance in order to achieve a required female happy ending with the appropriate hero. She is simply a soldier, trying to do what is right. And she is freaking awesome.
I don't mean to imply that this book is not a fun read. It is. it's riveting and entertaining and even funny in places. The good guys are genuinely good. The bad guys are worth defeating. But it's also a whole lot more. It continues the exploration of what it means to have faith in something, whether it's in some kind of superior being, or humanity, or some combination thereof. More of this, please!
Please note: There may be some minor spoilers for book one (City of Stairs) in this review. I'll try to keep them to a minimum.
There is a lot of character overlap with book one, but the protagonist is different. This time, our main POV character is General Turyin Mulaghesh (this is a woman, if you're not familiar with book one). She spent much of book one pining for retirement on a faraway island, but when we meet her at the beginning of this book, we see retirement was not really agreeing with her. (We learn that this is a theme in her life.) There is also an issue with her length of service as it relates to her pension. So Shara (the heroine of book one, who is now Prime Minister) gets Mulaghesh to come back for a few more months. (This is a common practice, apparently.)
Shara sends Mulaghesh to Voortyashtan, which was formerly the city associated with Voortya, the goddess of death. A lot is going on. A new substance has been discovered and there is a mining operation to recover more of it. A government employee who was investigating this new substance has gone missing. The harbor is being worked on by a Dreyling (think Nordic types if you want to compare to our world) company under the direction of Signe, one of the daughters of Sigurd (Shara's assistant from book one) and something secretive is going on there.
I just like Mulaghesh better than Shara as a POV character, for some reason. She doesn't know everything, she isn't a young idealist, etc. (She does exhibit some idealism, and that becomes important later in the book.) Other characters have appropriate depth for the amount of page time they get. Sigurd we already know, but he is in a new role here and he is not entirely comfortable with it. Signe actually gets quite a lot of depth. Anyway, I really liked the characters here.
Once again, the book starts out as a mystery, or at least partly so. It evolves into several mysteries -- who committed a series of grisly murders, who stole a bunch of explosives, is there anything Divine or otherwise suspicious about the substance being mined, who left evidence of performing what must have been a miracle in the mine (in this instance, "miracle" refers to a ritual associated with one of the Divinities designed to have a specific effect)? You do get the answers to these questions and more by the end of the book, and I think the answers are set up nicely and with sound bases in the earlier parts of the story (no deus ex machina, in other words).
There are those who will argue that the plot is very similar to book one. They're not exactly wrong, but I found that it was a little bit different, and there is enough *else* going on that you don't always have time to think about that.
Some of the themes are the same from book one. With the Divinities gone, Saypuri technology is expanding and taking over, even on the Continent, and magic or the Divine is receding. People have to deal with that, including cleverly using technology to overcome unexpected Divine problems. There is also a fair amount of racism. Natives are called "Shtanis" and there actually pretty much none of them in the story, only Saypuris and Dreylings. The characters we do follow view the "Shtanis" with suspicion or outright hostility and suspect them of all manner of horrible things. In a sense, it's payback -- the Continentals enslaved Saypuri folks not too many generations ago, and prejudice runs deep. (In the first book, our token Continental character was a member of the elite upper classes.)
There is quite a lot of action, including a battle that seems fitting for the end of most books coming about 2/3 through this one. I thought the pacing was great, building naturally from a slower investigation (complete with roadblocks) to a frantic race to stop an apocalypse.
Tone-wise, this is fairly bleak and dark. I am OK with that but I understand that it will not be for everyone. It seems a natural progression for the story the author wants to tell, though, and I think it is probably politically realistic.
In the end, I thought characterization was much improved from book one. I like the small details that relate to the transition from a society of magic (essentially) to one of technology. I liked the relationship between Sigurd and his daughter. I liked the interrelatedness of all the mysteries and plotlines. I kept wanting to pick this up and read when I should have been doing other things. So, despite the similarities in plots of book 1 and book 2, overall I enjoyed this quite a lot.