In 2014 Robert Jackson Bennett published City of Stairs, an amazingly drawn and vivid world build with a story that was equal parts fantasy, mystery, espionage and character studies. The plotting was well-paced and intriguing, with multiple storylines that are clearly defined while still unfinished at the end of the first book. After finishing City of Stairs, I knew I would want to follow the great characters in the next entry, City of Blades.
Unfortunately, Bennett’s second book almost goes out of its way to earn the term sophomoric. While entertaining, the book is predictable, the characters somewhat stiff, and the plot so much less than amazing. I enjoyed the main character, General Turyin Mulaghesh, yet I felt her role was more narrator than actual participant in the events. The book lacked the mesmerizing quality of the first, partly because we already know what to expect of the continent and its dead deities.
Also, I missed the first book’s main character, Shara Thivani, and was saddened by the few glimpses of her we were given. For her to survive the huge difficulties in the first book just to be found weary, harried, and cornered as she is in this one was a severe disappointment. I can only hang on to small threads of interest, believing that Bennett will bring her back in the third book, as canny and fortuitously prescient as ever.
Finally, and this is a warning to the sensitive, I rate this one as extremely violent. The violence is intensely graphic, as well, and several times there were anachronistic fighting methods and means. The author uses some of these to make very pointed analogs to recent Middle Eastern involvements by the US. They caught me by surprise and ruined the reading for a while. I had to get my head around these, fume about it for a while, then get back to the book. Not that I disagreed with him, not sure about that, just that they were so blatant in the middle of a good story. Quite jarring.
All in all, a pretty good read, but very disappointing in light of the first, masterpiece that it was. If he follows the usual arc, the next one will be better albeit still not equal to the first. But I’ll be waiting for it. Recommended, but with several reservations. ~ Tessa March 2016 3.5 out of 5 stars