The Quill to Live turned two recently (go us!), and I decided I wanted to do a special review to celebrate our anniversary. I think the best tribute to the site is to review a book we really loved, or maybe talk about something that we have never seen before, or maybe talk about a big upcoming book. Luckily for us, Robert Jackson Bennett was able to provide all three in one package. City of Miracles, the third and final book in The Divine Cities trilogy, comes out later this year (May 2nd in the US) and we were lucky enough to get an advance copy. When we got the ARC in January, I sat on it for about two months (much to the ire to one of the editors) because I was afraid to read it. I had spoken to Bennett and he confirmed that City of Miracles is indeed the end of the line for this story, and I was not ready for it to be over. I wasn’t worried about it being good, I knew it was going to be good, I just didn’t want it to be over. I eventually found the courage to open it up and it was everything I wanted it to be. All good things must come to an end, and this series is most certainly a good thing.
Before I go on, if you have not read City of Stairs or City of Blades – please go do so. There are some mild spoilers ahead and they are two of the best books I have ever reviewed (or read, for that matter). Read them and come back!
City of Miracles picks up our story a few years after City of Blades left off. Our story this time follows Sigrud, spy and major player in both the previous novels, as he moves from a supporting role to the lead man. The book opens with Sigrud on the run for past crimes, when he finds out that his dear friend and partner, Shara, has passed away. This death comes as a huge shock to Sigrud, who has been waiting on a call from Shara for years to tell him he can come back to society – cleared of his crimes. Sigrud travels to Shara’s last known location, dusts off his rusty spy skills, and gets to work finding out what caused the death of his friend and partner. Every Divine Cities book is as much focused on an overarching mystery as on fantasy, and City of Miracles was my favorite enigma to unravel. The book takes everything you have learned about Bennett’s world in the previous two novels and asks you to apply it to new problems. City of Miracles continues to ask new questions and expand the boundaries of what we know about this universe.
The book nails all my usual metrics (characters, worldbuilding, action, creativity, humor, prose, and overarching themes), but instead of talking about the panoply of standard literary measures that City of Miracles nails, I want to talk about a few things it does that are extremely rare. When Bennett originally released the back of the book plot blurb for City of Blades I was disappointed. The book was going to jump forward years, the setting was going to change a bit, and we were going to get a different cast of characters (though many return). I loved the way City of Stairs’ story came together at the end tying everything together, and I wanted more of that story. City of Blades ended up telling a different, but equally incredible, story that once again blew me away. Learning from my presumptions of book two, when I saw City of Miracles once again was a different setting, cast, and time I said “sure, I know it’s going to be amazing”. It is. However, what I didn’t realize was that Bennett was playing a long con on me. On top of being a beautiful book in its own right, Miracles does a great job weaving all three books into one tapestry and it is one of the best and most emotional journeys I have been on. You get to watch a world, and its people, grow and change – which is a rare thing. It gave me hope in our current literary landscape filled with grimdark novels that toll the bell for the end of humanity, and I loved it.
Speaking of emotional journeys, Miracles continues the trend of being an emotional roller coaster that made me cry for both happy and sad reasons. There is something special about The Divine Cities, in that they don’t really feel like escapism pieces. Despite their fantastical settings, their magic filled cities, and their memorable and lovable characters, their lessons just hit a little too close to home for me to be brushed off as fun reads. These books will show you a great time, but also make you think and introspect a lot. I got to see some of my truly deepest fears play out across Miracles’ pages and I think Bennett made me realize they are as real as I imagined. But the power of Bennett’s writing is that not only did he bring these terrors to life, he showed me how to face them. Sigrud’s story was probably my favorite from the trilogy, and just like the other two will break your heart in half. Miracles had one of the best endings I have read to a series, rivaling those of my other top series (Malazan and The Black Company) which had a lot more time to build up to their fiery conclusions. City of Miracles is perfect from start to finish and will be one of the best books to come out in recent memory.
It should be fairly obvious that I am going to give Miracles a perfect ten at this point, but Bennett has achieved more than a perfect conclusion with his latest novel. I have a lot of series that rival this for “all time favorite”, however all of them usually have a few places where I thought it could be slightly improved. The Divine Cities is the first series I have ever read to get perfect tens straight through, with no areas that I think could have been improved. If you haven’t picked up these books yet, I implore you to correct that mistake. Now please excuse me, I am going to go order the rest of Robert Jackson Bennett’s work.
City of Miracles – 10/10
The Divine Cities – 10/10