Date Read: 16 July 2017
Published by Jo Fletcher Books, 2015
Verdict: Absolutely bloody brilliant.
Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the quiet woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters — dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem — and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.
I absolutely, 100% loved this. So much.
I was starting to think that maybe I didn’t love fantasy quite as much as I thought any more, but this year is turning out great. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong directions. Both Robert Jackson Bennet and N K Jemisin have written brilliant books that keep me glued to the page while at the same time challenging me to re-think some on my assumptions on what fantasy can do as a genre.
Set in a world formerly ruled by Divinities and their whims, Bulikov is far from its former glory as the centre of the world and the seat of the Gods – most of it was destroyed together with its Gods. It is now ruled by the very people it used to enslave. When a famous professor researching the Divinities is killed, Shara Komayd, granddaughter of the man who won the war, arrives to solve the case, unknowing that she pretty much stepped into a hornets nest.
I adored the mythology Bennet sets up here: what happens to all the things created by gods if they die? Especially when they ignored all natural laws to create those things? I found his world very well thought out and mesmerizing in its implications.
Nearly as great as the world building are the characters. I loved Shara – in all her prickliness and her vulnerability. I like that she is most defined by her brains and how she uses her intellect to survive. I also adored Sigrud, her insanely huge and strong bodyguard of sorts. He could have been very stereotypical but somehow Bennet managed to create a wonderful character here that I hope I will get to spend more time with*.
I found myself going down rabbit holes trying to figure everything out and there was a point where I was all smug and sure about myself. In fact, I kept thinking how stupid Shara was to not realize things sooner – I did not have everything figured out. In quite some instances I was embarrasingly wrong. I love that! I like books that keep me thinking and surprise me.
So yes, I adored this. I cannot wait to read the rest of the series. I am so excited about all those great fantasy books I keep “finding” – although to be fair, this book has been on my TBR since I joined Goodreads, so maybe I only have myself to blame for not reading it sooner.
First sentence: “‘I believe the question, then’, said Vasily Yaroslav, ‘is one of intent.'”
* As of writing this I have not even read the blurbs on the sequels.