The Gabbing Geek podcast took a suggestion from me once to read Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs for a podcast book club.
Then Watson never finished it. That canker blossom, or, you know, Shakespeare-talk for The Herp.
But Bennett followed up the excellent City of Stairs with the equally interesting City of Blades and just last week released the final book of the trilogy, City of Miracles. Focusing on the one-eyed Dreyling Sigrud, Bennett takes what may be one last trip through the Continent and its lasting legacy of Divinites.
SPOILER FREE REVIEW BELOW.
For the uninitiated, Bennett’s series is set in a fictional world where there are basically three nations/people. There’s the Continent, a quasi-Slavic/Russian world that used to have living gods walking the streets and running rampant over reality. There’s Saypur, a quasi-India that used to be a brutally colonized people until one of their number figured out how to kill the gods, causing many of the Divine’s wonders to cease to exist and allowing Saypur to turn around and rule the Continent. And finally, there is the Dreyling Shores, a quasi-Scanadavia with a strong viking undercurrent. The first book, City of Stairs, focused on young Shara Komayd, a spy/researcher from Saypur investing the murder of an old mentor in the Continent’s onetime capital, asking what happens when a god dies. The second book, City of Blades, took a secondary character from the first book, General Turyin Mulaghesh, and had her investigating another case in the war god’s old city, asking both what it means to be a soldier and what happens to the afterlife if a god dies.
And finally, we have City of Miracles. The protagonist here is Sigrud, the lost Dreyling prince, exiled due to events from the end of City of Blades, and Shara’s old partner. He’s basically a six-foot+, one-eyed viking. I’ve always liked what Sigrud brings to the table, good for an action scene when needed. True, he was perhaps the most stock character in the series, but I still found him interesting and exciting. Giving him the main role for City of Miracles goes a long way to giving him more facets to his personality. Sigrud is a sad, lonely man, full of despair and he has a bad habit of surviving things that would kill most people. And here, ten years after the end of Blades he seems to have barely aged a day. A wanted man, he’s been in hiding for the better part of a decade, and that’s before he spent many years shamefully avoiding his wife and children as Shara’s partner.
Then, word comes to him that Shara has been violently killed. That’s not a SPOILER, by the way. That’s part of the book description the publisher put out.
Now Sigrud has a purpose. That purpose is revenge.
Along the way, Bennett explores the ideas of, of all things, parenthood. Both Shara and Sigrud were parents. The plot deals with children of the Divine. The last surviving of the original six gods, Olvos, has some thoughts on parenthood. But also, Bennett takes time to explain Sigrud, and does so in a way that makes a lot of sense. Why does Sigrud keep surviving? It turns out there’s more to it than him simply being a badass.
With a highly appropriate but bittersweet ending that Watson will never read, I was satisfied with how Bennett ended the book. If this truly is the last we see of this world, he went out in a good way. If there is a flaw, it comes from the title: the action shifts between multiple cities, so while I am fairly sure which one is the actual City of Miracles, the plot moves around in ways the previous books did not. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just something that happens in a highly satisfying, genre-defying fantasy novel. Ten out of ten hidden orphans for City of Miracles and ten out of ten Divine mysteries for the trilogy.