City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. ★★★★1/2
City of Blades is the sequel to the phenomenal City of Stairs. While City of Blades references events from the first book and expands upon its world building, the plot of City of Blades is separate. Theoretically, you could read it without having read the first book.
After centuries of rule by the Continent and it’s gods, the nation of Saypur was able to kill the Divinities and gain freedom. Now, eighty years after Saypur killed Voortya, goddess of death and war, the retired General Turyin Mulaghesh is being sent to the city once under Voortya’s domain, Voortyashtan. She is to look for a Saypuri agent who went missing while investigating a mysterious ore with possibly miraculous properties. She soon begins to wonder what happened to the afterlife created by Voortya and the dead warriors supposedly inhabiting it…
While there are many things about City of Blades that may seem familiar from City of Stairs, it is the thematic differences that really distinguish this book from its predecessor. City of Blades is a book about war, death, and what it means to be a solider. As you might expect from the thematic material, it can be a dark read at times. These ideas echo across not only the plot and setting, but the life of the protagonist, General Turyin Mulaghesh.
“Out of the service and adrift in the civilized world, she couldn’t tolerate what she’d done. She tried to bait the world to kill her, to do the thing she had no courage for. But it wouldn’t. Life went on; it just kept happening.”
When she was sixteen years old, Mulaghesh lied about her age and joined the army to fight against an ongoing rebellion in the Continent. The things she saw and did during the Summer of Black Rivers changed her forever.
“She couldn’t erase the past, but maybe she could keep it from happening again.”
Mulaghesh is bitter and cynical and quite likely suffering from PTSD. She’s over sixty years old and has lost a hand during the Battle of Bulikov five years ago. She is tired of death and war, yet she will do what she has to to protect those who serve under her.
Characterization in City of Blades is phenomenal, particularly when it comes to Mulaghesh. She’s a protagonist I will remember for years to come. Not only is she superbly written, how often do sixty year old female general as a protagonist in a fantasy novel? Actually, City of Blades does a roundabout fantastic job when it comes to including interesting and prominent female characters.
The world Bennett has created is so vivid and imaginative. These two books have had some of the best world building I have ever seen. The city of Voortyashtan with its eerie remnants of the divine was wonderful.
The novel starts out somewhat slow, with Mulaghesh finding different pieces of the puzzle. The action ramps up at the half way mark, but even then the book never really reached the “I can’t put it down” quality for me. There was also a plot twist that I saw coming.
I would highly recommend City of Blades for anyone who’s read and loved City of Stairs or is looking for an inventive and well written fantasy novel.
I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. City of Blades comes out January 26th 2016.