Review: City of Blades (The Divine Cities 2)

9781848669581By Robert Jackson Bennett

Jo Fletcher Books, out now (UK), Broadway Books, out 26 January (US)

General Turyin Mulaghesh is sent to the city of Voortyashtan to investigate a discovery that could completely change her world – once again…

Robert Jackson Bennett doesn’t write sequels – or at least, that’s been a handy (if annoying) rule of thumb before. I’d love to read follow-ups to some of his earlier novels, but at last he’s decided to stay within one milieu and extrapolate from the situation established in City of Stairs. It’s not vitally important to read that first, although I would recommend doing so, partly because you’ll get a deeper understanding of the relationship between people and the gods in this world, but mainly because it’s such a good book!

City of Blades focuses strongly on Mulaghesh, a career soldier who is sent on a covert mission to find out exactly what a strange material is that has been discovered in the city. If what she sees is true, then it will revolutionise the economy and much else about her world, but this is a world where anything that unusual could well derive from the Divine, and that’s not something that Mulaghesh – a survivor of a previous incident with the Divine charted in City of Stairs – would be comfortable with. Her investigations lead her to ancient rites and a deeper question: if you get rid of the gods, what happens to all those who believed previously and whose fates were intertwined with them?

Writing here on SFB, Bennett says that one of the villains in this sequence of books is history, and that’s certainly one of the many overarching themes discussed, sometimes on a conscious, but more often on a subtextual level. We are all bound by our pasts, both in terms of how we react to current situations and how we are judged by others, and that applies firmly to all the key characters in City of Blades – and becomes vitally important to the climax of the story. “History” isn’t the only villain: there are those who act in a way that we might well objectively regard as evil – but do those actions in themselves make them evil?

At the book’s heart is a discussion of service in all its many different forms – What makes a soldier? Why do they do what they do? Is being in an army enough to make you a “soldier” – or is there some fundamental core element that a true soldier must possess? You’ll finish this book with plenty to think about, as you realise just how much of what Bennett discusses applies to conflicts in our own worlds.

Verdict: Bennett’s most powerful book yet – an examination of deeper issues within an enthralling adventure fantasy tale as sharply crafted as any of the titular Blades. 9/10

Paul Simpson

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