City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett. ★★★1/2
The Divine Cities series has been one of the most well written fantasy series I’ve ever read. Yet I have mixed emotions about this final book in the trilogy. You can read either the City of Stairs or City of Blades independently, but I think you need to have read both of them before going into City of Miracles.
City of Miracles opens with the assassination of Shara Komayd, hero of the battle of Bulikov and former prime minister. Sigrud has spent the last thirteen years waiting for Shara to summon him out of exile and give him a purpose again. When he hears of her death, he decides his purpose must be to avenge her. But he soon finds that Shara wasn’t taking it easy in her retirement – she was deeply involved in a battle of shadowy forces, and Sigrud has charged head first into a situation where he has no idea what is going on.
I wasn’t thrilled when I read the blurb for City of Miracles. For one, I really liked Shara and didn’t want her to be dead. For another, it looked like City of Miracles was using a gendered story trope I hated. A woman is fridged so that a man is given a vengeance plot, usually with the implication that he was the one wronged. I hate this story so much. Thankfully, that isn’t exactly what City of Miracles is doing.
“Are you her self-anointed avenging angel? How very masculine of you.”
City of Miracles subverts this story type in a number of ways. I won’t get into the largest of them because of spoilers, but I can talk about a few of the smaller subversions. First of all in the standard story line, the dead woman is always a wife, girlfriend, lover or sometimes mother, sister, or daughter. Possibly because these are the only significant roles women are allowed to have in men’s life – such stories rarely acknowledge that men and women can be significant to each other in other ways, especially as friends. But the relationship between Sigrud and Shara was always platonic, and it was not seen as less important because of that.
Secondly, Shara is more important to City of Miracles than just a death to kick start the plot. The story is defined by her actions. She was always the mastermind, the one with the plan. And City of Miracles is fueled by the plans she put in place.
Also, Shara is not the only significant female character in City of Miracles. Aside from Sigrud himself, the main villain, and the assassin, all other significant characters are women. All of Sigrud’s main allies are female! In particular, Taty, Shara’s daughter, plays a pivotal role. Mulaghesh also makes a brief reappearance, which is great because she’s one of my favorites.
“You want her here even more than I do, maybe,” says Taty. “To tell you what to do again. To figure it all out. That’s why you waited on her for thirteen years, isn’t it? So she could tell you want to do next, how to make things go back to normal. To help you get home.”
As always with this series, the world building was great. Bennett embeds his settings with such vitality that they practically leap off of the page. I loved seeing how this world has changed in the twenty years since the first book. This series does not fall into the trap of having its fantasy world remain stagnant.
City of Miracles will also please those who like some action in their fantasy fiction. The story’s practically cinematic, with a fast pace and some great action scenes. In particular, I adored that scene with the tram car. If you read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
This series in general has just been so well written. Bennett has such beautiful, immersive prose. There are a few quirks that annoy me – for instance, he uses some of the same, pretty uncommon words with noticeable frequency. Specifically, I kept noticing “queer” to mean “strange” showing up again and again. I remember this from City of Blades as well.
At this point you’re probably wondering why I only gave this book three and a half stars. I was wary due to the initial premise, but this book would easily have been awarded four stars if it wasn’t for a certain story choice that really upset me. When I read City of Stairs, I was bothered by the the treatment of the only gay character. While there were numerous troubling things about his portrayal, it was definitely a queer tragedy. In City of Blades, Bennett avoided including queer characters altogether. I was assuming the same would be true for City of Miracles. I was wrong. One of the prominent female characters is given a girlfriend. And they don’t both make it out alive.
I was in the climax of the book, near the end, but I had to step away from it for a while. I’m not sure how exactly to describe my emotions, but a large part of it is anger. Writing this, I’m angry all over again and trying to resist the urge to use a whole lot of profanities in my review. I am just so effing done with Bury Your Gays. I am so pissed that this series can’t conceive of happy endings for queer people. And now I’ve been burned twice by this book series. If Bennett ever chooses to write more in this world, I honestly don’t know if I’ll choose to read it. I have loved this series, but it clearly doesn’t give a fig about people like me.
So yeah. Mixed emotions may be an understatement. Read at your own risk.
I recieved an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.