“Dying nobly is preferable to living savagely.”
I’m completely blown away by Bennett’s world building. City of Blades thrilled me and surprised me and cut me to the quick with its rich character development and lore. I cared so much about the characters, and felt every emotion they felt as I read. Bennett’s world is unlike any I’ve ever come across; he absolutely excels at creating both empathetic characters and compelling mythology and history to add a depth and uniqueness to his writing that I believe to be rare.
“O, the things we kill for our dreams, forgetting all the while we shall wake up to find them naught but dust and ash!
What fools we are to pretend that when we walk to war we do not bring our loved ones with us.”
City of Blades picks up five years after the events of City of Stairs. General Turyin Mulaghesh has retired at long last. Or, at least, she thought she had. She’s roped into one final job by a friend who won’t take no for an answer. Against her better judgement, she returns to a part of the world she hoped to never revisit, in order to investigate a mystery completely outside her realm of expertise.
“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.”
Mulaghesh is a complete different main character from Shara in City of Stairs. Where Shara has made a weapon of her wits, Mulaghesh is herself a weapon. After enlisting in the military at the tender age of sixteen, Mulaghesh has spent the rest of her life in military service and retains the body of a fighter despite her years. But while Mulaghesh isn’t Shara, she’s no slouch in the mental department. She’s a straight shooter and a clear thinker, and all she wants to do is serve and protect. I found her to be the epitome of who a soldier should be.
“A soldier serves not to take, they don’t strive to have something, but rather they strive so that others might one day have something. And a blade isn’t a happy friend to a soldier, but a burden, a heavy one, to be used scrupulously and carefully. A good soldier does everything they can so they do not have to kill. That’s what training is for. But if we have to, we will. And when we do that we give up some part of ourselves, as we’re asked to do.”
Books from the perspective of a warrior of Mulaghesh’s type and caliber rarely make it into my list of favorites because it’s not a lifestyle I can at all relate to, but this book is definitely an exception. And while she is a warrior, she is first and foremost a soldier, and she does an exemplary job of demonstrating the difference. The inner struggles Mulaghesh deals with regarding her past and what it means to be a soldier really resonated with me, and I found her incredibly compelling. Middle aged women of the armed forces aren’t often represented as main characters, and I loved the life experience she brought to the table. She wrestled with remorse and duty and honor, and those struggles were deep and real.
“Killing echoes inside you. It never goes away. Maybe some who kill don’t know they’ve lost something, but they have.”
While Mulaghesh is the central character, she is by no means the only one. We have return characters from the previous book as well as brand new characters. I won’t reveal any names, but I was incredibly impressed at the depth and development Bennett wrested from side characters in this story. There were events I found completely shocking because of how well developed some such characters were. This isn’t a world where departed loved ones spring back to life or where the consequences of your actions are wiped away because you perform a heroic deed. Bennett’s world is gritty and dark and real, and sorrow doesn’t pass you by just because you’re important. Everyone has demons they’re fighting and struggles they might never overcome.
“‘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.”
Once again we are presented with a mystery that remains a mystery until Bennett is ready for his reveal. I appreciate so much that so far, there is nothing remotely predictable about this trilogy. We also get more background of the fascinating mythology of the Divine. The religious element of this series feels so original to me, and is more thought provoking than any other fictional religion I’ve come across.
“People often ask me what I see when I look at the world. My answer is simple, and true. Possibilities. I see possibilities.”
I highly recommend this series if to any fantasy fan, and if you enjoy more philosophical, cerebral fantasy, this is definitely the series for you. Rarely have I read such a strong second installment in any trilogy. I can’t wait to see how Bennett concludes this story in City of Miracles.
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