City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date: 07 January 2016
Genre: Adult fantasy
Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review for both City of Stairs and City of Blades.
As you guys may have already seen, I absolutely loved City of Stairs, the first book in this trilogy, to the point where I couldn’t actually figure out how to review it. I was hesitant about reading City of Blades for several reasons, the main one being the dreaded second book syndrome. Some of my recent favourite books have had seriously disappointing sequels, however I was delighted to discover that City of Blades did not have this issue. Not only was it just as good as its predecessor, I think it may have actually been better.
A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death and the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions. Now the city’s god is dead and the city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is just a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh – foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumoured war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister – has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten. At least, it makes the perfect cover story.
The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world – or destroy it.
It’s so hard to compare City of Stairs and City of Blades. While Stairs is an incredibly unique spin on fantasy, Blades is more like an espionage/military novel. It has a completely different tone and a mostly new cast of characters outside of Mulagesh, however old favourites do drop in. It is not a direct sequel – it takes place about 5 years after the events of the first book and follows a completely different storyline – these books are like a combination of a companion novel and a sequel. It was sad to not get more of Shara and Sigrud’s exploits, but Bennett manages to make the story just as engaging.
Despite continuing along in a world that is very much the same as the first, Blades feels completely fresh and new. So many sequels pick up the characters and move them to a new location. Often, I find this doesn’t work well because the reader misses the familiarity and the world building feels a little bit wasted. However, Blades is one of the few books that manages to pull this off — I was just as interested in the events of Voortyashtan as I was in Bulikov. In addition, I also felt like we got everything out of Bulikov in the first book and it was time to explore a new part of this fascinating world. Based solely on the first two books in this series, I’m going to boldly say that Robert Jackson Bennett is one of the best world-builders writing fantasy today.
Like Stairs, Blades is a deeply character drive novel. Mulagesh is a secondary character in Stairs, but she’s the main character in Blades. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone take a side character and develop them so fully, so completely, and so beautifully. Mulagesh is an incredibly complex woman and the exact kind of woman I’ve been wishing for in fantasy for years. From her past as a young soldier through to her role in wartime atrocities and her attempts at redemption, to her time as a disgruntled political figure, she has such a complex and complicated background. Despite this, you really get the sense that you know her by the end of the book — she’s one of the best written characters I’ve ever read. I loved her in the first book because of her grouchiness and humour, but her role in the second book really blew me away. She is now one of my favourite characters in fantasy fiction ever.
I can’t keep going without fangirling – the fact that I have made it this far without bursting into tears and shipping you all copies of this book is pretty remarkable. Robert Jackson Bennett is an author you all will get really tired of hearing me talk about because he’s one of my new favourites. If you’re looking for books that feature interesting non-Western fantasy settings, compelling women who are so far from the ordinary, friendships between men and women, incredible character arcs and development, and sharp, witty writing that will have you both laughing and crying, I cannot recommend these books highly enough. Start with City of Stairs, thank me later.
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Have you read City of Blades? What did you think? Are you desperate to read this series because of how much I ramble about it (please say yes)? Let me know!