Review: City of Miracles (The Divine Cities #3) – Robert Jackson Bennett

31522139My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Date read: October 7th, 2017

Published by Broadway Books, May 2017.

Verdict: wow. wow. wow.

Find it on Goodreads.

Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do — and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And — perhaps most daunting of all — finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

This was absolutely bloody fantastic. Robert Jackson Bennet managed to somehow add even more layers to an already layered series, enough so that I contemplated re-reading the first two books just to able to appreciate them even more. It is an impressively wonderful trilogy and a world I am very sad to have to leave.

This third and last book of this marvelous trilogy follows Sigrud; after the events of the previous book he has lived off the grid when the news of Shara’s death reach him and he decides to do what he considers he does best: revenge. While he was more at the sidelines in the earlier books, he now takes centre stage and the book’s structure represents this.

I adored this: I found Sigrud’s journey fascinating and him as a character wonderfully well-rounded and flawed, which is especially brilliant because he could have so easily become a walking trope. I am not usually a fan of the brooding, suffering, angry protagonist but him I adored. His development over these three books is believable and heartbreaking. Every single one of his actions, even the brutal ones, is infused with neverending sadness. He often acts without thinking and as a reader we follow: it is only in the aftermath of slaughter that Sigrud (and in extension the reader) pauses to consider that these were people, people with families of their own. There are no easy answers here and this is a big strength of this book and of Sigrud as the main focus. But even in all this sadness and horror, there is a sense of hope, of maybe finding a way to survive just for another day and another chance at making amends.

This is a very clever series, one that trusts its readers to think along and I love that in books. I had some things figured out in advance this time and could appreciate how brilliant the pieces were out in place. Still, even knowing what was to come in parts, this packed such an emotional punch when the big finale came along.

Very very worthy final book of a brilliant series.

First sentence:
“The young man is first disdainful, then grudgingly polite as Rahul Khadse approaches and asks him for a cigarette.”

Review: City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2) – Robert Jackson Bennett

28436115My Rating: 4/5 stars

Date read: 06 August 2017

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, January 2016

Verdict: Go and read it!

Find it on Goodreads.

The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own.

I am in love with the world and the mythology Robert Jackson Bennet created. I am very much in awe with its intricacy and originality. I was getting a bit disillusioned with the genre but this fantasy trilogy is making me a very happy fan. If you haven’t already: go and read it!

Set several years after the events of the first book, the world has not changed as much as Shara wanted it to. When a Ministry operative disappears in Voortyashtan (the city created by the nowdead Goddess of War), Shara manipulates Turyin Mulaghesh to go and try to find her. Mulaghes is still struggling with the awful things she has done in life and feels like she has to atone.

I adored this theme of atonement and of doing better and of trying to leave the world a better place. This book is decidedly darker than the first; Turyin is a lot more hardened and she has done some truly terrible things in the past wars. I loved spending more time with her and this book manages to make her even more badass than the first while also rendering her more human and fragile. She is a brilliantly done character – which is important to me because I always struggle when series shift to a new view point.

What makes this book stand out even more is the absolutely stunning way Robert Jackson Bennett has with words – he creates wonderful sentences and turns of phrases that lift this already brilliant book even higher. His descriptions of the otherworldy settings are a beauty to behold and I cannot wait to see what he conjures up in the next book.

First sentence: “Somewhere around mile three on the trek up the hill Pitry Suturashni decides he would not describe the Javrati sun as ‘warm and relaxing’, as the travel advertisments say.”

Review: City of Stairs (The Divine Cities #1) – Robert Jackson Bennett

25452717Rating: 5/5 Stars

Date Read: 16 July 2017

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, 2015

Verdict: Absolutely bloody brilliant.

Find it on Goodreads.

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.