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Book Review: City of Blades

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Blades cover

A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.

Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.

So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.

At least, it makes the perfect cover story.

The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world–or destroy it.

The trouble is that this old soldier isn’t sure she’s still got what it takes to be the hero.

One of my favorite books of 2014 was City of Stairs, the first installment of The Divine Cities series. At the time, I wasn’t aware there would be a second. I wasn’t even sure I needed one.

The setting is rich enough for a dozen books, to be sure. But the story was complete and satisfying. I’d definitely recommend reading it before this one. However, I’m pleased to report that City of Blades is fully comprehensible on its own.

Three generations ago, the Continent’s centuries old stranglehold on world affairs was broken by upstart colony Saypur. Colony became colonizer when the Saypuri devised a method of deicide. In a blink the landscape literally changed as the miracles sustained by the slain divinities simply ceased to exist.

Turyin Mulaghesh languishes in her beachfront retirement, plagued by a past that won’t let her sleep regardless of how hard she drinks. The protagonist of the first book, now Prime Minister of Saypur, exploits a loophole in the law and perhaps another in the former General and Polis Governor’s heart. She agrees to one last job.

Yes. Really. Dragged from a deserved respite off a remote beach, even. One of the signal joys of City of Stairs was the utter devotion to generic tropes while spinning them delicately in the light to make them appear fresh again. Bennett has recreated that rare please once again.

City of Blades felt like a longer book until I realized I wasn’t reading the same thing with different characters again. Mulaghesh is haunted by the things she’s done and unsure where the meaning of it all lies. And the story itself parallels her search for answers. Set to discover the whereabouts of a missing agent and the truth behind a mysterious mineral, she seems mired in fragments of past wars and present conflicts with no clear way forward.

Mulaghesh must confront both her demons and those of both her people and their former oppressors. She’ll investigate an afterlife that should no longer exist and a future few can comprehend. Ultimately she’ll have to embrace it all in order to save the world.

But it’s the journey, cliched as this sounds, that makes it matter. City of Blades is as much a thoughtful meditation on the contract between soldier and society as it is an epic fantasy. What is the price of making war for the warrior? What are the responsibilities of the individual and the state in the aftermath?

Robert Jackson Bennet has crafted another surprisingly intense and introspective book combining fantasy, noir, military history, and theology. this one will stay with me for awhile. I’m delighted there will be a third.

Recommended for fans of A History of Violence, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and The Library at Mount Char.


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Our Most Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2015

Well, mine anyway. But since I read more of it, I figure it’s technically ours. Anyway, 2014 saw the release of some wonderful science fiction and fantasy. And while we won’t be seeing The Winds of Winter or The Doors of Stone this year, 2015 is full of exciting titles. So, in chronological order, here’s what The Dinglehopper is looking forward to talking about.


Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie (February 17th)



Half the World is the second book in Abercrombie’s YA Shattered Sea Trilogy. The third appears later in the list and I reviewed the first last year. Half a King was a marvel of plotting and structure with a single point of view character. Two near characters provide the perspectives for this sequel.

Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.

Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.


Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (May 19th)



I’m one of the few people who didn’t like Snow Crash but kept reading Stephenson anyway. I loved his last two novels, Anathem and REAMDE. The concept seems sort of similar to Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix only further into the future and perhaps more complex. I’m excited to find out.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.


The Philospher Kings by Jo Walton

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (June 30th)



The first half of this duology came out in January and we’ll be reviewing it soon. Maybe the most succinct thing I can say about it is that it left me wanting more. As soon as possible. Thankfully, I only have to wait a few months.

Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.


The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen (July 7th)



This is another sequel, the second part of a trilogy by Chinese superstar Cixin Liu. What can I say? There were some exciting first books last year. We reviewed the weird, wonderful, stunningly imaginative The Three-Body Problem back in October.

With the scope of Dune and the rousing action of Independence Day, this near-future trilogy is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author.


Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie (July 28th)



This is the final book in The Shattered Sea Trilogy. After the just the first chapter of Half the World, I knew I was on board for the rest of the ride. This one will add another point of view character.

Yarvi is the unlikely heir to the throne—a clever, thoughtful boy with a crippled hand who feels out of place in a violent, Viking-like society. Thorn is a young girl, determined to follow in the footsteps of her dead father and become a famous warrior, whatever it takes. Now Yarvi has avenged the murder of his father, and sets out on an epic journey with Thorn that will embroil his kingdom in all-out war.


Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville (August 4th)



China Mieville is my jam.

In these stories, glistening icebergs float above urban horizons; a burning stag runs wild through the city; the ruins of industry emerge unsteadily from the sea; and the abandoned generations in a decayed space-elevator look not up at the stars but down at the Earth. Ranging from portraits of childhood to chilling ghost stories, from dystopian visions to poignant evocations of uncanny love, with beautiful prose and melancholy wit, this breath-taking collection poses searching questions of what it is to be human in an unquiet world.


Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (August 11th)



I spent my tween years reading fantasy, but sort of drifted away from it on my way through junior high, meaning I missed a lot. For example, the dozen or so novels Robin Hobb set in The Realm of the Elderlings. The first book of her new Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, Fool’s Assassin, was one of my favorite books of last year. And no, I didn’t bother to catch up.

After a devastating confrontation, FitzChivalry Farseer is out for blood—and who better to wreak havoc than a highly trained former royal assassin?


The Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley (October 6th)



I haven’t been this excited about a book since The Wise Man’s Fear. And there was so much more waiting involved with that one. I raved about The Mirror Empire in September. The Empire Ascendant continues Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga, about the interdimensional invasion of one world by its parallel(s) and the people caught up in it. But that barely scratches the surface of what’s going on in this incredible series that takes nothing for granted.

As the foreign Empire spreads across the world like a disease, one of their former allies takes up her own Empress’s sword again to unseat them, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with what they hope is the key to the Empire’s undoing.
But when the enemy you must overcome shares your own face, who can be trusted?

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (November 11th)



This one’s as surprising as it is exciting. I enjoyed City of Stairs, a post-colonial epic spy fantasy, but I was under the impression that the author didn’t do sequels. That he switched genres with every novel. So revisiting this imaginative world wasn’t on my radar at all. But I’m glad it’s coming.

The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own?