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?
Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs was one of my favourite fantasy novels of 2015 and it was always going to be inevitable that the sequel would be read as soon as possible and things just keep on getting better and better. It has several similar elements that City of Stairs fans will recognise, keeping the mystery theme to the fantasy novel going but instead switches the focus to General Turyin Mulaghesh, who has just been called out of retirement in order to try and find a secret agent who’s gone missing. The book takes place years after the events of the first novel so don’t go in expecting a direct follow-up, but City of Blades handles expecations well with a strong replacement lead character and an interesting plot to boot, filled with plenty of layers of intrigue.
When I first started this book it took me no time at all to settle back into the world, and was instantly at home. The pace is strong and will have you turn the pages, and there are plenty of colourful characters that we meet over the course of the book. Shara is now the Prime Minister but don’t expect her to be the main focus of the novel, which puts Turyin front and centre, and it’s interesting to see the differences between the cast. Whilst Shara was an accomplished spymaster Turyin is a General, and it’s interesting to read how they go about tackling their respective subject matters. Turyin also has a problem, she’s handicapped, and missing an arm, and doesn’t qualify for a pension due to an error. Therefore Turyin has no choice but to throw in her lot with Shara, who wants her to accomplish a task. Go undercover. Complete the mission. Retire.
The blend of mystery and fantasy is fantastic and as a result the novel feels very much like a crime thriller that happens to be set in a fantasy world. Too little do these genres combine and when they do it’s always great to see, with Robert Jackson Bennett bringing experience in the genre (check out The Company Man if you haven’t already, I loved it), to the table that brings out the best in the book. It never feels dull and is constantly fast moving, with the elements of modern technology really adding an interesting mix to the book, it’s rare that you see things like phones and guns in any sort of fantasy. Yet in City of Blades, Bennett can make it work.
Turyin Mulaghesh quickly emerges as an early contender for the best new character of the year and makes a powerful lead, it’s rare that people with disabilities and middle aged women get to be the protagonists of fantasy novels and it’s even rarer when both get to be the protagonist of one. Her character journey is handled so well that she leaves a fantastic impression on the reader, and when you consider the excellent combination of two of my favourite genres, mystery and fantasy, there’s a lot of things here to like. City of Blades is a must read.