City of Miracles (The Divine Cities)
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Review by Sam Lubell
Broadway Books Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553419733
Date: 02 May 2017
City of Miracles is the third and final book in the Divine Cities series, following City of Stairs and City of Blades. This book follows Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, the giant Dreyling, a mountain savage who in the first book served as Shara Komayd's bodyguard and partner in investigations. Now, almost 20 years later, Sigrud hears news of Shara's death and rushes to Ahanashtan to find those responsible. While he finds traces of a bomb, he discovers a Divine barrier in the streets of the city that turned Shara's hotel into a fortress, suggesting that Shara has once again involved herself in the Divine. But Sigrud knows there is only one God left in the world because Shara has killed the other two.
Surprisingly, Sigrud finds the actual killer fairly easily, although overcoming the killer's divine protections was more difficult. Still, while searching, he learns that Shara was working a larger operation collecting mysterious children that seem to have special powers. But this work is opposed by Nokov, a child of the Gods who has powers over darkness. Nokov is able to gain strength by absorbing the powers of the other children, which he plans to use to become a full God himself and then defeat the remaining original one. He has a list of these Godlings, including Shara's adopted daughter, Tatyana.
Sigrud is aided by a girl with powers over time, the extremely rich fiancé of Shara's former boyfriend, and his own hand which has power over the Divine as a result of past torture with the Finger of Kolkan. Ultimately, Sigrud becomes not just Tatyana's protector, but also her teacher in the use of weapons.
This book provides a strong characterization of Sigrud who embodies persistence. He finds himself drawing on skills he has not used in over a decade, constantly surviving incredible damage and injuries culminating in an incredible action sequence on an aero-tram, essentially a cable car that can travel for a three-day ride. The book would make a fantastic action movie. His age comes up frequently as well, although he does note that he isn't aging as much as he was before he went into hiding. For instance, he wonders if he is "an old dog insisting he can still perform old tricks". However, at other spots, Sigrud is surprised at how well his old tricks work in the modern sophisticated world.
It is worth noting that unlike so many fantasies where technology is essentially frozen, in City of Miracles the world has made advances since City of Stairs. There are trains, cars, guns, and bombs, in addition to the aero-tram. Yet the book feels closer to traditional fantasies with its invented world than to urban fantasies in which magic functions in our own world. The book also has some interesting speculation on the nature of the divine.
Although this is the third book in the series, Bennett provides enough information that a new reader can follow along, especially since each book in the trilogy focuses on a different main character and nearly 20 years have passed since the first book. However, the books in the series are interesting enough that the reader really should start with City of Stairs.
Overall, I think City of Miracles is the best book in the trilogy. It has stronger characterization and a better sense of consequences to the characters’ actions. Sigrud is not as clever as Shara is in the first book, but succeeds through determination and stubbornness. Readers who enjoy Max Gladstone's The Craft Sequence will also enjoy this trilogy's take on the relationships between humans and the divine.