The sequel to ‘City of Stairs’ open with what’s likely the most entertaining ‘calling-a-character-out-of-retirement’ scene I’ve ever read. General Mulaghesh has tried to leave war behind and purchased a cottage on a remote beach. However, we quickly begin to suspect that her retreat isn’t quite the haven she imagined. And now, an envoy has been sent from Saypur with a message for her – and a mission.
After the initial scene, the POV switches – it initially feels like a disappointment, because the opener was so strong. I also missed the brilliantly realized city of Bulikov that ‘City of Stairs’ introduced us to, even though it’s clear from the titles that each book in this series is intended to focus on a different locale. But soon enough I was won over by the new perspective and the new setting.
The ‘City of Blades’ is Voortyashtan. At times (and I’m not concretely sure why) it reminded me of an evil Gondor. Voortyashtan was largely destroyed by the ‘Blink’ – the cataclysmic battle in which all the gods and all their associated miracles were destroyed. The bulk of the city, once suspended by Divine power, has sunk below the waves. The surviving inhabitants are in conflict over the remaining bits of arable, livable land. Meanwhile, Saypuri politicians from overseas seek to maintain political control, and a force of Dreylings, also from overseas, are working on an engineering project to clear the harbor, which has the potential to become a key spot in international commerce.
Among both Dreylings and Saypuri, Voortyashtan has a reputation as being the ass end of nowhere – and dangerous, to boot. It’s the sort of place where half-discredited military officials are shoved out of the public eye. But now, a bizarre discovery has been made – one that’s either an amazing discovery that could revolutionize new technologies, or a disconcerting sign that the gods might not be as dead as everyone assumed. In conjunction with this, an agent has disappeared. Rumor has it that before vanishing, she went insane. General Mulaghesh is asked to investigate…
It’s a great setup for a murder mystery in an eerie, fascinating world. And indeed, the story unfolds with plenty of twists and action. However, as it progresses, somehow the book also becomes a truly insightful meditation on war, the multitudes of costs it inflicts on all parties, the place that violence holds in human society, and what it means to be a soldier. All this without in any way sacrificing the flow and tension of the plot. An impressive achievement.
Many thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for the chance to read this excellent book. As always, my opinions are solely my own.