City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
|Book Name:||City of Miracles|
|Author:||Robert Jackson Bennett|
|Publisher(s):||Broadway Books (US) Jo Fletcher Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Release Date:||May 2, 2017 (US) May 4, 2017 (UK)|
Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in The Divine Cities trilogy. Read with caution if you have yet to finish City of Stairs and City of Blades.
City of Miracles completes Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Divine Cities trilogy (which also includes City of Stairs and City of Blades). On the surface, this book is a tale of revenge, filled with explosions, chases, escapes, and fights against the divine. And while that alone might make for an entertaining read, it would not be enough to follow the depth of the two previous books. Thankfully, Robert Jackson Bennett gives the reader so much more. This is a story of pain, hope, survival, love, sacrifice, and our ever-shifting legacies. I can already tell that this trilogy will be one I revisit regularly, and it confirms that Robert Jackson Bennett deserves your attention. He is a talent that stands out among SFF writers, and his name should be on your “must read” short list.
In City of Miracles, Sigrud je Harkvaldsson finally gets his own story. When the book begins, Sigrud is deep in the woods, separated by distance and decades from the events of the previous novels. But when he learns that his oldest friend, now former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, Sigrud leaves behind his isolated, anonymous life to swear revenge. Until now, Sigrud has been seemingly unstoppable, employing both stealth and violence to achieve legendary feats. But when his quest uncovers a new divine danger, it might be too much even for him. Even worse, if he fails, he will also put Komayd’s adopted daughter and Bulikov, the eponymous city of miracles, in terrible danger.
Let me begin my breakdown of this novel by saying SIGRUD! He is a character I have enjoyed from his first appearance in City of Stairs. Perhaps fitting for a man who made a living slipping into shadows, he always seemed to be spotlight adjacent (but nevertheless stole every scene).
By the time this book begins, I had seen him do both unforgettable and unforgivable things. But I wanted him to be dead center in the spotlight. Here, Robert Jackson Bennett shows Sigrud coming out of retirement for one last case, despite being too old for this sh*t.
I’m intentionally using clichés here to hang a lamp on the idea that it could have been so easy for Bennett to let Sigrud get his Hulk on and smash, stab, and explode his way to revenge. Instead, Bennett portrays Sigrud in all of his strength, lethality, pain, and regret. Instead of being the same old same old (like many action stars who never evolve across the course of a franchise), Sigrud is 007 as I have always wanted to see him—carrying on, despite carrying the weight of his career. Bennett has given us something that has almost never been portrayed in film.
If Sigrud is one thing, he is a survivor. He is relentless. He will not stop until the mission is complete or someone (or something) has killed him. And so far, no one has managed to kill him. But in this dirty business, anyone who has survived and persevered that long has also lost much. Sigrud perseveres despite the pain. Or perhaps because of the pain, hoping one last time to do right by his friend. It’s not about doing good to make up for past ills. It’s loyalty. Love, even. Not romantic love, but the love for Komayd—a boss, a friend, a mentor, a savior. Sigrud knows in his bones that he is a tool of death and destruction. And, over time, he has found a way to accept it—a sacrifice of himself and the life that could have been for the life he has had with Komayd, one that hopefully made the world a better place.
And speaking of the world, Bennett has created a magnificent one. City of Miracles returns to Bulikov, the same city where the trilogy began. But it is not the same city. Over the course of the trilogy, gods have fallen, and technology has advanced. From trains to cars, telegrams, phones, skyscrapers, and deep water ports, this book features a new Bulikov, moving forward despite the damage the city has experienced.
But while there are plenty of new gadgets, there is also long memory in this world. Over generations, violence begets violence. Oppression leads to coups and coups lead to rebellions. Holy warriors find new struggles when their gods are toppled. And children raised on stories of past wrongs, grow up to become a new generation of soldiers. Violence and pain and anger reflect and refract over time. Actions taken one day echo on for years, taking on new meanings over time, both good and bad.
That generational divide, and the inheritance of violence, lie at the heart of City of Miracles. Bennett has created a world of memory and consequence. Actions taken earlier in the series still reverberate through the story. The younger generations think they can do things differently and create a better world. The older generation felt that way once too, but now their focus has withdrawn to a smaller scope. They are lucky if they can take care of their loved ones. If they can prevent the world from becoming worse more quickly, well, that’s a bonus.
I worry that I might be making this sound like a bitter, depressed novel. But there is a heart and hope to this series. Love perseveres too, not just Sigrud. While the series might be dark, there is an ambition and daring that I love to see. This is certainly not the same old fantasy. It is not a straightforward trilogy. Instead, Bennett weaves threads along, in and out. And there is a depth. I feel that should he ever return to this world, it would still be chugging along, with new characters loving, fighting, seeking revenge, and experiencing all the conflicting ways people try to improve the world in big and small ways.
City of Miracles caps off a tremendous series that stands out from the SFF crowd. And Robert Jackson Bennett stands above them. Bump him to the top of your “to be read” pile.