Before I get started, City of Blades is the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy. I am a terrible judge of whether you will need the earlier book to understand this one, and I apologize for that. I don’t think I need to spoil anything about the first to talk about the second, but everyone has their own tolerance level.
Non-spoilery, but necessary background about the world of the Divine Cities. One hundred years ago, the gods were real. The Continent was divided up into individual nations, each with its own god who warped reality in his/her individual ways. The Continent used the Saypuri people, who had no god of their own to bless them, as slaves. The Saypuri turned the world upside down when they learned how to kill the gods and struck back at their oppressors. Nations of the Continent collapsed, and now find themselves under the boot of the Saypuri regime. Saypuris have outlawed all worship and mention of the dead gods, and have tightly restricted access to all religious texts that have not been destroyed.
General Turyin Mulaghesh is “enjoying” her retirement from the military on a tropical island when she receives unwelcome news from her old friend, prime minister Shara Komayd: Mulaghesh is three months shy of being eligible to receive her full pension. If she wants the pension, she’s going to have to agree to put in a few more months of duty, and wouldn’t you know it? Shara has a job for her old friend: investigating the disappearance of a spy operating in the desolate outpost of Voortyashtan, the former seat of Voortya, the goddess of warfare and death. The goddess whose emblem is a sword with a severed hand for a hilt.
When Mulaghesh arrives in Voortyashtan, she is forced to confront the horror of a past she’s tried hard to leave behind. She’s also faced with miracles long thought to have been invalidated upon the death of the god, and attempts to uncover what that may mean for her people.
As a sequel, City of Blades works beautifully, standing on its own rather than leaning too heavily on the first or third volumes in the series. Mulaghesh takes the stage as the main character, but both Shara and Sigrud put in an appearance. Bennett wisely moves the action to another location rather than staying on the ground in Bulikov, the setting of City of Stairs. Mulaghesh is less interested in the matters of faith which consumed Shara. She struggles with the place of war and warriors in a civilization.
I cannot recommend this series enough. Bennett writes characters and stories that suck me in and stay with me over time. The worlds feel real, the characters frustrate and delight. Honestly, I would put the Divine Cities books on par with NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth books.
This is my official half-Cannonball! (Counting reviews currently scheduled to post at a later date.)