Book Review: City of Miracles
And with this book, thus concludes one of my absolute favorite modern fantasy series. From start to finish, the Divine Cities books are gems of worldbuilding and memorable characters, so let's talk about that finish.
City of Miracles picks up several years after the events of City of Blades. Sigrud is in hiding, avoiding Saypuri and Continental authorities after his berserker rage killed several Saypuri soldiers. But when Shara Komayd is assassinated in Ahanashtan, Sigrud comes out of hiding to do what he's best at: kill a lot of folks until he's avenged her death. Except the forces that killed Shara aren't quite what they initially appear to be - and a new Divinity is on the rise.
I LOVE the world of the Continent and Saypur, not least because it has some forms of modern technology existing alongside magic and miracles. So it's fascinating to read this third installment, given that many years have passed and Saypuri technology has really taken off. (Ahanashtan even has skyscrapers now). Bennett's world has always felt real, but in this third outing, it's practically leaping off the pages (and out of the shadows).
What's particularly interesting this time around? The focus on the mechanics of miracles and the children of the Divinities. We learn a lot more about how miracles come into existence and how they function, some gaining properties just shy of sentience. We learn more about the creation of the world from Olvos and her theories on the Divine. And if that's not enough, we also get thrust into the world of the Divine children, each responsible for some minor domain of the world based on their parentage - everything from laughter to dreams.
And Sigrud is finally our main POV. He has been a scene-stealer in both previous volumes (though less so in City of Blades), so it's quite satisfying to watch him get all the limelight here. Bennett manages to give him a much stronger emotional conflict than I expected; instead of relying on the rogue with a heart of gold stereotype, Sigrud genuinely believes he's a bad person. He believes he only brings suffering and death to the ones he loves. The events of this novel force him to confront that directly, culminating in the knowledge of what the Finger of Kolkan did to him.
There's also a lot of lovely interplay between Sigrud and Shara's adopted daughter Taty. Sigrud is determined to do for Taty what he could not, in the end, do for Shara: protect her. Yet at the same time, he does not wholly shield her from the world, knowing that there are things she must understand to comprehend her danger. These scenes are remarkably touching for their realistic portrayal of an almost father/daughter relationship, a favorite trope of mine that is often vastly underplayed in fantasy fiction.
But in between those introspective moments, Sigrud kicks a lot of ass, to the point where other characters (coughMULAGHESHcough) point it out repeatedly. It's fun to be inside his head for all these battles, watching him come up with tactics on the fly.
The plot has that thriller tension that Bennett so skillfully injects into the other books of the series. We have an initial mystery (who killed Shara?) that spirals into a much larger problem, relying on tensions and plotlines that come out of the previous two volumes. The pacing is superb, striking the perfect balance between heart-pounding action scenes and contemplative and unexpectedly emotional interludes.
Surprisingly, I did not call the ending of this until mere pages before it happened. I'm usually good at pegging where a story is going by the midpoint of a book, but Bennett sold me hook, line and sinker on a red herring. So he gets the bonus points for surprising me!
Thematically, this series has been about the fall of gods and what humankind does when they're gone (but maybe not truly gone), and the ending of this book tackles that head-on to give us the answer. It's a remarkably satisfying conclusion to the series, and a fitting end for Shara, Mulaghesh and Sigrud as characters. I have a feeling this series will go down as one of my yearly re-reads for the next several years.