City of Blades is the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Divine Cities trilogy. It’s overall a great book but in my opinion, this was a far cry from the greatness of City of Stairs. There are several reasons for this so let me begin with the problems I had on the book first.
Out of the three main protagonists in the previous book, Mulaghesh was the one that I care the least. She was interesting when she’s a side character around Shara and Sigrud, but to have her be the main character all by herself with several new characters for almost the first half of the book was not a good experience for me. She didn’t get interesting for me until the halfway point of the book and this brought me again to my other reason. Except for Signe, all the new characters were really bland and not interesting, the villain was also predictable right from the start. Structure-wise, this was almost a complete copy of City of Stairs storytelling structure; this is both a good and bad case but I’ll get into it later.
The first book was also a slow burn but at least it established the main compelling mystery plot immediately right from the first chapter, making the reader know that there will be a grand conclusion to the plot from the get-go. The mystery in the first book was really well-written and well-paced, this one just seems directionless for the majority of the time. The first half comprised of only Mulaghesh exploring the city of Voortyashtan and it felt so damn long. The plot was also very straightforward where City of Stairs was more multi-layered and complex. In conclusion, my main problem with this book is that nothing grabbed my interest in the first half. It’s really not until Sigrud appears in the book (around 40%ish) that the book finally grabbed my attention.
Up until today, I have only DNFed one book and I’ll admit, I have considered DNFing this book in the first half. I usually don’t read any reviews of the book I’m reading but I just had to for this one, I’m glad I did because apparently a lot of readers feel the same the book: a boring first half and a great second half; because of this, it pushed me to stick through it and I’m happy for it because oh boy, that turning point in the halfway mark of the book was amazing, turning everything I previously disliked about the book into something good.
“Lonely places draw lonely people...They echo inside us, and we cannot help but listen.”
The story took place five years after the end of City of Stairs and like I said earlier, not only this time the main character is different, the setting of the plot is also different. We’re not in Bulikov anymore but in the city of Voortyashtan. City of Blades is very similar to its predecessor in terms of storytelling structure, the good thing about this is that it still works. Why change something that’s not broken, right? The bad thing about this though: there is almost nothing new in this sequel and I was hoping for more variety.
Picture: Voortya Sentinel by Mblank17
One of the main difference in the story is that the theme of this book focused more on war, its effect, and the meaning of it, meanwhile the first book focused more on religion. This makes for a fresh experience, especially when all the discussion on war and PTSD were just irresistible and applicable to our world.
“I was taught that peace is the absence of war. But I wonder if these days we’ve simply replaced conventional war with a war of paper. I’m not so sure which is better.”
In terms of world-building and prose, there are no complaints from me here. Although the new city in this book isn’t as fascinating as Bulikov, Bennett’s world-building skill remains top-notch. The prose was still really enjoyable to read and I just love reading about the world, divinities, and cities that Bennett created within his trilogy. Plus, I think it’s been a while since I highlighted so many passages within a fantasy series and I just love how thought-provoking Bennett’s prose can be at times.
“Do you not enslave people now?” asks the man. “Chains are forged of many strange metals. Poverty is one. Fear, another. Ritual and custom are yet more. All actions are forms of slavery, methods of forcing people to do what they deeply wish not to do.”
Although I’m a bit critical towards this book, overall I do think that City of Blades was a great sequel. It’s just a shame that in my opinion, it wasn’t up to the standard set by City of Stairs. To sum up what I think about this sequel: Bad first half, incredible second half. I will continue to the last book immediately I can’t wait to find out how this trilogy will end. I just hope City of Miracles will deliver a satisfying conclusion that this trilogy deserves.
“Deserve.' How preoccupied we are with that. With what we should have, with what we are owed. I wonder if any word has ever caused more heartache.”