I’ve been under a self-imposed ban on recreational reading for several months now, while I was using all my free time to finish the revisions on my MS. But when that wrapped up a week or so ago (freedom! blessed, blessed freedom!) the first thing I did was get on the ole Kindle and read a book I’ve been gnawing my arm off waiting to read since it tantalisingly downloaded itself earlier in the year.
It’s a tough gig, writing a follow up to an amazing book. Robert Bennett hasn’t previously delved into series so I’m guessing it was an interesting experience for him. City of Stairs (you can read my review of it from last year here) was so different and so brilliant, it was going to be hard to match.
City of Blades didn’t match City of Stairs. I’d say it exceeded.
I just finished it this evening and my partner, watching a movie, turned around to ask me what the weird noise I just made was. Well, how do you describe the weird little sigh of loss and satisfaction when you finish something great?* RJB is nailing unique worldbuilding; fresh magic; part crime/mystery/spy thriller, part fantasy mashup; compelling plots; and character – jesus, the characters. I actually let out a small shriek of delight when I got a few pages in and realised the main character this time round was going to be General Mulaghesh. Bad-ass, brilliant, one-armed Mulaghesh. I LOVE HER. I LOVE HER WITH EVERY FIBRE OF MY BEING.** The more obvious choice with the sequel would have been to continue to follow Shara or even fan-favourite Sigrud on the next stage of the journey, but I’m so pleased he didn’t do that. Mulaghesh was the right person to tell this part of the story, and she is fucking awesome in any case.
This is only a short review, because it’s late but I want to get something up because otherwise I may not get around to it, and you should review books you like, you guys, and especially books you love, not just to make other people read it and thus force the world into your image gently encourage others to enjoy excellent things, but also because it really really helps those authors you love to afford the fingerless gloves that will keep their joints working at keyboards over the long bitter winter. So anyway, quick blurb – Mulaghesh has retired to a backwater, but now-Prime Minister Shara pulls her (with something between persuasion and force?) into one last mission, investigating a strange substance found in the continental city of Voortyashtan: “ass-end of the universe, armpit of the world”. There she finds her old commanding officer, who brings back memories she’s been burying for decades, a missing person, magic that shouldn’t work but does, local tensions, grisly murders . . . a whole heap of shit, basically. Which is all very exciting and clever and tense, and should satisfy any reader looking for action and intrigue. But character wise, it’s more personal and wrenching than City of Stairs, which in the end is probably why I loved it more – I felt that I knew Mulaghesh in a way that I didn’t know Shara. Perhaps she’s too unpolished to hold us at arm’s length the way Shara could.
And you already know because you read his other stuff that RJB will do more than tell you a great story. He’ll also explore uncomfortable themes that sometimes get glossed over in epic fantasy (or indeed in our own modern world). In Stairs he said some things about colonisation and clashes of culture and religion; in Blades it is about violence and war and death and what it means to be a soldier, and forgiveness and weariness and long battles with no end in sight. At times it hurt to read. It is a sadder, less hopeful book than its predecessor. But in my view, it’s a better one.
So anyway, get out there and read it. This is an author to watch closely, my friends.
* Don’t say I’m the only one who gives the book a little hug when they’re done. I know you other book huggers are out there. Don’t be ashamed! Come into the light! It’s warm and we have pizza!
** I am now suddenly thinking that I love her like I love DI Steel in the Stuart MacBride Scottish crime novels and realising that if there was just a genre called grumpy tough blunt older women own everybody all the time, I would read the hell out of it.