Robert Jackson Bennett brings his “Divine Cities” trilogy to a thrilling close in “City of Miracles.” The first book in the series, “City of Stairs” was my favorite read of 2014 and I loved the sequel, “City of Blades.” So I’m incredibly happy that Bennett wraps up the trilogy with an inventive conclusion and some very satisfying character arcs.
Sigurd je Harkvaldsson is back, this time as the main character. A Dreyling from the North, Sigurd has a talent for staying alive when staying alive appears impossible. As a secondary character in the first two novels, Sigurd’s talent for destruction proved essential to disrupting evil intentions. That same talent has left him questioning his worth as a human being. A good portion of this novel is about Sigurd’s temper and his feelings of worthlessness.
The setup here is the same as the first two novels. The old Divinities of the Continent were all killed or disappeared long ago. The miracles that gave the Continent power mostly vanished with them. If all the oil in the world suddenly stopped today, right now, that’s the kind of power vacuum that was created by the disappearance of the Divinities. Out of the rubble left behind by the passing era of the Divine, a new world of technology rises with guns and automobiles and modern economics sitting aside the relics of the old gods.
As “City of Miracles” opens, Sigurd has spent over a decade in exile, mourning the death of his daughter, Signe. Sigurd hears that his old boss and friend, prime minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated. He immediately prepares to do what he does best: find the culprits and punish them. However, as in the two previous novels, the assassination is part of a wider war and Sigurd quickly finds that things are more complicated - and dangerous - than they first appear.
Bennett’s inspired and original world-building continues. The remaining effects of the vanished divinities exist alongside the modernizing effects of trade and industry. Bennett’s descriptions of the cities crackle with a mixture of mundane realism and fantastic imagery.
Bennett brings back characters from the previous novels, and they have all aged, moved on to new careers and started families. They wrestle with their legacy and with death. Bennett moves them through the character arcs that began in their youth and extends now into the wisdom, regrets and questions of old age.
But for all my love of the characters, Bennett’s greatest achievement may be the city of Bulikov. It’s now at the top of my list of fictional cities I would like to visit, along with Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork or the various cities of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Bennet’s prose, invention, and pacing make “City of Miracles” one of the more impressive fantasies of recent years.