End Date: July 1st
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 464 (paperback)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.
“So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do – and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.
“Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And – perhaps most daunting of all – finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.”
I was excited to see Sigrud as the central character in the series. My excitement turned to ire about midway through the novel. What I love about Sigrud is that he can be single-minded and practical in all that he does. However, what turned me off more than anything was the incessant self-flagellation, which unfortunately was key to his survival for all of the years passed since the last installment.
Sigrud was introduced to readers as a tool in City of Stairs. Bennett keeps this theme going throughout all the installments and is no less true in the current one. This is sorely disappointing to me. In an attempt to make Sigrud so simple, it’s as if he’s made it impossible for him to complete a complicated thought beyond solving a mechanical problem, if you will, when dealing with a physical challenge or danger. Sigrud is indeed a tool; however, I am to believe that in all the time he spent observing Shara, learning things that he could care less about learning (at the hands of Shara) that he wasn’t capable of piecing things together, but stumble upon the answers? I was profoundly disappointed in this. However, I can admit, I wanted there to be more substance to Sigrud, and there is, just not as we wish it to be.
Another aspect of Sigrud we are beaten about the head with is his complete and total embracing of the idea that he invites pain, death and is doomed to suffer. We are told of his past briefly in the first novel and get more of it here. However, Sigrud’s story unfolds here and it’s nothing particularly extraordinary for a person who is bound and determined to blame themselves for all the woes that anyone he may have loved encountered. He holds himself accountable for being unable to protect his family, including his extended family of Shara. I can get behind the feeling of responsibility but the redundant self-castigation drove me nuts. What is unique about his acceptance of his ill-fate is that, not only is it his fuel, but it fuels the miracle within him (sorry, spoiler alert). This fuel serves him well in his goal of avenging Shara and protecting Shara’s adopted daughter.
What I can say about Bennett, is that when he finds a theme, he beats it to death. In this case, self-awareness is hard to come by. We are introduced to a host of new characters, most of which are unware of who they are or what they are by design. I found it acceptable for the divine children to not be aware of who they are thanks to Jukov’s shenanigans. However, this plot devise is used to further the idea, that only through something profound can someone achieve self-awareness. I can appreciate it and it’s horrible that these characters have to suffer in order to know what greatness they have within them. Tatyana Komayd is one such character.
Tatyana Komayd is the youthful expression of Sigrud’s desires. Sigrud is action, where Tatyana puts into words how Sigrud feels about his newest mission in life. Both are grief stricken, but neither are capable of objectively seeing the broader scope until it is smacking them in their face. Tatyana is acts as a typical teenager, all angst and anger and it’s understandable considering what she has gone through. When she learns of her mother’s life before Tatyana came into it, she becomes sulky and annoying. Get over it, people have lives before you came into theirs and while they didn’t share it with you, doesn’t mean you needed to know anyway.
The remaining of the divine children that are of note are Nokov and Malwina. Nokov is the epitome of the spoiled child who wants to exact his revenge on all the world. Ultimately, he is just a child who feels jilted because mommy didn’t love him enough to save him from tortures at the hands of Shara’s forebear. He takes his grudge and just let it proliferate to the life similar to that of that World War II psychopath (who shouldn’t have to be named and therefore I won’t). He hates part of himself so much, he is willing to expunge it completely from the world, the other divine. Again, all because mommy didn’t love him enough. His dislike of the world may be well earned; however, his idea in how to handle the adversity is just unconscionable.
On the other end of the spectrum is Malwina. She’s angry and her anger is well earned. However, her action in handling the anger is to protect vice destroy. Enlisted in Shara’s fight against Nokov, Malwina has enough at stake herself. Her ability to control the past allows her to aide Sigrud, not only in saving his life, but also in helping him understand why Nokov to become as he is now. Malwina is one part of a whole and in understanding this, you will understand her and her function. Becoming whole again does require that she lose herself, but she’s better off being apart of the whole than a single element on her own.
I won’t beat this to death as Bennett did because there is no need to wrong you as I feel we the readers were wronged by him. Don’t me wrong, as usual, his imagery is great and there is a build, albeit slow, to the final confrontation. I am pleased he brought us back old friends. However, my displeasure is not trumped and as much as I wanted this to be a 5 cupper, it only rose to the level of 3 for me. (Long exasperated sigh.)
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Sigrud & Malwina.
Lady Esbe read the Broadway Books paperback version of this selection.
Caveat: Elle did not finish reading this selection.
I didn’t finish this book. I tried – with all of the power of Grayskull, I tried – but after completing a mere 80% after five weeks (we even had an extension, since none of us had finished by the original due date of June 24th), I threw my hands in the air, cried, “To hell with it,” and begged BillMo to tell me how the trilogy wrapped.
He knows her supporters fondly call her “Mother Mulaghesh,” which amuses him, as Mulaghesh was about as motherly as a dreadnought.
It sounds worse than it is. The book is, as one would expect at this point from this author, extremely well-written. The conclusion, from what I was told, sounds like it was satisfying and what one would expect from the characters involved and the progression of the tale until this point. And what I still find so puzzling is that what I liked the most about this installment is also what I liked about it the least.
People don’t change. Nations don’t change. They get changed. Reluctantly. And not without a fight.
Sigrud. Oh, Sigrud. I loved him in City of Stairs and City of Blades, where our view of him was filtered through the lenses of the characters who served as the primary focuses for those previous installments: Shara Komayd and Turyin Mulaghesh, respectively. By the end of the second novel, we know that Sigrud is a man of unfathomable depth, but with Shara as the duty-bound intellectual and Mulaghesh as the honor-bound soldier, Sigrud is shunted into the position of silent muscle; if Shara can’t out-think their enemies and Mulaghesh can’t out-strategy them, send in Sigrud – he may leave one hell of a mess, but he’ll get the job done. The problem is that Sigrud, by the beginning of this third installment, has come to believe that this is all he is, as well: a big dumb brute of a man with no purpose left in his life. And now, for various reasons, Sigrud is left as the last able-bodied man standing, leaving him also as the focus of our story.
Youths are such a danger, I find. You must watch them carefully: if unemployment or the poverty rate ticks up too high among a nation’s youths, that’s when the trouble starts. Young people congregate too much, feel too much, and know so little of life, so they don’t know what they have to lose. It’s wisest to distract them, keep them engaged with something else, until they grow old and lose that wild fire in their hearts.
And this was my primary problem. I had a horrible time getting through the first half of this book, mainly because it’s spent following a man who has been a pawn and lackey for so long that he doesn’t know what to do if someone doesn’t tell him to do it. Don’t get me wrong – Sigrud is, as I said, a remarkably deep character who I love quite a lot. But so much of the first half of the book was spent following along as he tries to sort out what’s going on and what he plans to do about it that by the time I hit the 60% mark and things had begun to get truly interesting, I almost didn’t care anymore.
“Everything Shara read,” says Sigrud, “she remembered. Or so it seemed.” He fits the extractor spring and plunger into the bolt. “Papers about history. Papers about people. Papers about papers. They were all in her brain, whenever she needed them. Perhaps she only ever learned the basics of firearms because she had too much paper in her head.”
Which is ironic, considering that what I loved most about this book was being inside of Sigrud’s mind more than the previous two novels. He is far from the oafish tank he is made out to be – he is, in my opinion, the only truly pure character in the series. I loved Shara in City of Stairs and related to her intellectual idealism, but with City of Miracles we now see that all of the steps she took after the first installment were, truth be told, rather ruthless: she loved her adopted daughter, of that I have no doubt, but she also manipulated, controlled, and lied to her; she looked on Sigrud as one of the few true friends she had in the world, and yet she kept the truth from him, and we quickly learn she had set up a plan to manipulate him into once again playing the part of her puppet to complete a mission which she feared she would never be allowed to finish. Mulaghesh in City of Blades was bound by her duty and code of honor, and yet her hypocrisy appears to know no bounds: it’s clear that she still is unable to completely forgive Sigrud for what occurred near the end of that second novel, despite the fact that she knew and proclaimed to understand why he did what he did, as well as the fact that she herself had gone to extraordinary lengths to destroy countless numbers of other soldiers – who were themselves only doing the duty which had been assigned to them by their leaders.
“Nothing is more romanticized than war,” says Sigrud. “But war is mostly waiting. Waiting for orders, waiting for movement, waiting for information.” He sits back, thinking. “I could measure my life by sleepless nights spent in empty rooms, staring out of windows.”
Sigrud, on the other hand, is compelled purely by loyalty to his friends, justice for the wronged, and a desire to protect those who cannot protect themselves. His friend asked him to do something, and he does it without question. A child struggles with an enormous loss, and he shares some of his own pain with her so that she might see that it can be overcome, that the sorrow will pass and she will be stronger for it. The other characters all had something to which they could cling, while Sigrud alone had lost everything: his family, his people, his only friend, even his identity and sense of self… And yet it is Sigrud who clings to hope, who fights to save a world that has never accepted him.
Violence is a part of our trade, yes. It is one tool of many. But violence is a tool that, if you use it but once, it begs you to use it again and again. And soon you will find yourself using it against someone undeserving of it.
Ginormous, long-suffering, stupendously unlucky Sigrud.
“It is a firearm, after all. It is a tool designed to do one thing. Just as one might fear a mechanized saw, it is reasonable to fear a firearm.”
All in all, I can say that I’d recommend this novel to those who have read both City of Stairs and City of Miracles. It doesn’t add or take much away from any of the characters, really, but what I did read wrapped up a few loose threads from the previous installments, and from the way the ending was told to me, it will give you the sense of closure that seems to be lacking in a lot of fantasy novels these days.
Because I am a big dumb loser and didn’t finish the selection, I am now out of information about this book which I feel I can knowledgeably convey without giving something away. And thus I now have a surplus of quotes that I loved:
In the Divine days, it was the purpose of the gods to shape the reality of the world’s citizens. The gods are gone. But this need remains. Now it is the task of governments to tell their citizens what reality is, to define it for them. For citizens are, by and large, wholly incapable of doing this for themselves.
“It’s unfair that the dead leave us,” she says. “But it’s worse that they never really go away.”
My definition of an adult is someone who lives their life aware they are sharing the world with others. My definition of an adult is someone who knows the world was here before they showed up and that it’ll be here well after they walk away from it. My definition of an adult, in other words, is someone who lives their life with a little fucking perspective.
“There are those who mean us harm,” says Sigrud. He makes a fist and lowers his hand. “And those who offer us shelter. We must flee from one to get to the other. The rest – that is beyond our control.”
“To live with hatred,” says Sigrud, “is like grabbing hot embers to throw them at someone you think an enemy. Who gets burned the worst?”
“How much credit is owed to someone who says, ‘Do this,’ and does very little themselves is debatable.”
“If one were to protest all the injustices of life,” says Sigrud, “great and small, one would have no time for living.”
“I suppose I was no different from any other parent. I’d watch her sleep, and I’d just wonder – Who’s in there? Who will you be one day? Will you remember me? Or will I be no more than a pleasant shadow, faint and indeterminate, skulking at the borders of your memories as the years stretch on before you?”
“What riddles children are. How time changes them. That’s the real enemy, time. We race against it, then try and slow its arrival.”
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Sigrud, no contest.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.
I am going to admit that this was not my favorite out of this trilogy. It wasn’t even my second favorite – OH NO! Now you know which place this one is in. Yep, it’s in third place. I was so excited when I heard that the next book in the series was going to center around Sigrud. He was one of my favorite characters. Suffice it to say, I was let down. It was rather dull and uneventful for the majority of the book. We got to see some old faces, and we were introduced to new characters – but none of those new characters gave me chills or warm & fuzzies. I did like some of the old faces we saw, and I like that I know what happened; I’m glad I read the book, but I was really disappointed overall.
To convince this grand old thing to fall, he thinks, is like carving off a piece of time itself.
Sigrud is one of those characters that you develop strong feelings towards. He loses everything and still keeps punching his way through life. I dig him. I wished there had been more of those moments where he stripped down and jumped into the belly of a sea monster – oh, how much more this book would have spoken to me then!
The historians theorize it was a giant, organic tangle of trees and vines, all of which merged together to create homes and structures. Glowing mushrooms and peaches acting as lights, vines flowing forth with healing waters, that kind of thing.
There were a lot of quotes in this book that spoke to me, but the story itself just… didn’t. I’m not even sure what to write in my review, because there’s so much that I wouldn’t want to give away.
What a crime it is that creatures of hope and justice fade from this world, he thinks, while those like me live on.
I really like the addition of Ivanya’s character. She developed nicely since the first book to become strong and cunning. I liked that she was prepared and wasn’t a hindrance to those around her. It’s nice to see that Shara can be a puppet-master, even in death. I felt sorry for her – she kept things from her adoptive daughter so the child could be happy and not worry about the troubles of the world, and she sincerely believed this was the best for Taty. Hindsight being what it is, there clearly should have been some honesty… maybe. I know she did what she thought was right, but I got the feeling she did what she wanted, and to me it seemed a little selfish. All those things she kept to herself, thinking it would be for the best… But I guess all mothers probably feel this way – they keep things from their children to keep the monsters at bay. I think Shara probably should have trusted her friends more, because there was a lot of time spent trying to figure out what was happening, and if she had just confided in those closest to her, more lives could have been spared.
Change is a slow flower to bloom. Most of us will not see its full radiance. We plant it not for ourselves, but for future generations. But it is worth tending to. Oh, it is so terribly worth tending to.
This book wasn’t horrible, and I would recommend it to those who read the first two so they gain some closure. For those who haven’t started the series yet, I will say the first two are very good – so good that the weaknesses of this finale are still worth the trouble. Again, not horrible, but a bit of a snoozer. The author is a great writer and tells a good story.
It is a little too civilized for Sigrud, who was raised in a culture where the person who yelled the loudest was usually considered to be in the right.
How about those quotes! There is one thing I learned from this book: Sigrud is a deep man with a lot of soul and wisdom.
If he’s wrong, then this will go spectacularly bad.
It is a fool who lives his life believing the waves upon which he sails shall remember him. The seas know nothing. This makes them beautiful. And this makes them terrible.
“He sounds loony as fuck all.”
“Unless the sheep have rebelled and taken up sharpshooting, I suspect we’re quite safe here.”
“One should not seek ugliness in this world. There is no lack of it. You will find it soon enough, or it will find you.”
“What puzzles the dead are,” says Taty. She looks away into the wilderness. “They take so much of themselves with them, you’re not even sure who you’re mourning.”
What a tremendous sin impatience is, he thinks. It blinds us to the moment before us, and it is only when that moment has passed that we look back and see it was full of treasures.
She says, “We are all but moments.”
He listens as she explains the doll’s complicated, heroic origins in tones of tremendous gravity.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Sigrud.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.