I was really scared to read City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett. For those of you who missed my review of the first book, City of Stairs, I had some strong feelings about how good it was. However, in many ways City of Stairs drew its story to a close, and while it provided a huge canvas for Bennett to work with, there was not a lot of indication where the series was heading. All of this, combined with the fact that City of Blades follows a different protagonist with a very different worldview, got me worried that lightning might not strike twice as City of Blades seemed to be a very different book than City of Stairs. It turned out I was both right and wrong; City of Blades is a very different book but is just as good as its predecessor. Bennett both brings in a slew of new elements to mix things up while also retaining the key elements of his powerful writing style that made City of Stairs such an enjoyable read.
Our story picks up after City of Stairs, which if you haven’t read go do so right now, after the protagonists from book one have tried to make reforms in their various countries and bring the world together in one giant Kumbaya of love. It has gone poorly. People are, shockingly, unwilling to drop blood feuds and forget war crimes. While all this reform is going on, Mulaghesh, our older, bitter, military protagonist from book one, has been trying to find a peaceful retirement on a desolate beach. Shara, former protagonist and master of spycraft, knows she is having difficulty adjusting and asks Mulaghesh to go on a mission to the legendary City of Blades to investigate some mysterious happenings. While Mulaghesh is in the vicinity, she connects with a superior officer from her past who is having trouble controlling the populace and a relative of Sigrud who is rebuilding the city. Thus begins another mystery that is slowly pulled apart and solved by a daring and compelling protagonist over the course of a thrilling and exciting novel. The humor is still on point, and the characters are still deep and compelling. Bennett continues to impress with his immersive world building and impressive imagination as City of Blades really delivers, much like the first book, when it comes to a magnificent world to explore and a compelling mystery to solve. However, there are also a lot of key differences.
The focus of the second novel is on the military, and the difficulties of being a soldier. Mulaghesh folds in a completely new perspective to the story and tells the tale in a much more dry and straight manner. Where Shara was prone to skulk, observe, and spy, Mulaghesh lacks her training in spycraft. The soldier asks questions, talks to civilians, and lives up to her background as a military personal and a governor. Bennett’s ability to weave the character’s lives to their POV was masterfully done and results in Blades having a wildly different tone and feel than Stairs. While the other protagonists from Stairs are a part of Blades, the new cast of characters adds even more depth and only made the book better, in my opinion. Signe is a delight and I found that not only did she add a new personality to the dynamic, she created depth in others like Sigrud that I had not seen before.
City of Stairs began fairly innocuously but grew to be a tragic and touching tale of people fighting to improve their way of life. City of Blades starts right out of the gate with a much more tragic and quiet story. The pacing of the novel is back heavy, starting slowly and picking up speed every chapter until I read the back third of the novel without stopping to do anything. The story is about many things, but it is apparent quickly that Mulaghesh is running from her past and seeking atonement for something. Almost the entire new cast of Blades are recovering from some sort of tragedy, or dealing with a new one. The novel at its core is about finding the will to go one when terrible things happen, and at many points Bennett’s writing hit home as I lived through events in character’s past and present, and how it changed them deeply.
For once I really don’t have any critiques for a novel other than “why wasn’t it longer”. I was almost sure it was impossible for me to like City of Blades as much as I liked City of Stairs, but I was wrong. Being wrong only excites me, because at this point Robert Jackson Bennett has proved he didn’t get lucky with City of Stairs; he was just showcasing his talent. I could not be more excited for City of Miracles next year, and when you get a chance please take a moment to read this heart wrenching tale of a soldier seeking redemption.
Rating: City of Blades 10/10