ARC Review: City of Miracles


From Goodreads:

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.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of the first two books in the Divine Cities series, City of Stairs, and City of Blades. While all of the books in the series are stand-alone, and can be read separately, wrapping up their own plots in a way that is satisfying and feels complete, they also definitely gain something by being read in sequence, City of Miracles more so than City of Blades. So while you certainly can read the book without picking up the prequels, I would definitely recommend checking them out first — and they’re both awesome.

Both of the previous books are largely action/adventure novels with a large mystery plot, and much of City of Miracles follows the same formulas. However, it’s also a much deeper book. It explores a themes of power, love, family, purpose, and godhood, and had a much more intense emotional impact on me than either of the previous books in the series. I’m not ashamed to admit that I finished the book and had to wipe away a few tears. It was beautiful.

If you’ve read the previous two books (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?) then you know who Sigrud is. The good news is, as the first book was Shara’s, and the second was Mulaghesh’s, this book is Sigrud’s book. The bad news is that it’s the last book in the series, so we won’t be getting any more.

But whatever. WE GET A WHOLE BOOK OF SIGRUD. I legitimately squeaked in happiness when I found out that this would be his book, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since. Sigrud is the same awesome character you know and love, and getting the entire story from his viewpoint is mostly a stream of awesome. It’s also an opportunity to dive deeper into who he his, and why, and there were plenty of character revelations about his past that I did not predict, but loved.

In addition to Sigrud, we follow Tatanya and Ivanya, two new characters. Both are incredibly well fleshed out and have very intriguing backstories and journeys throughout the novel, and I loved meeting and getting to know both of them. Bennet has continued his tradition of strong female characters who aren’t just your typical ‘badass woman’, but instead are competent at what they do, important, and feel incredibly real. Like, you know, all characters should.

The plot itself is bigger and grander than either previous novel, if that’s possible. I don’t want to spoil any of it, so I’ll simply say that if you want overwhelming adventure, amazing power, and the potential end of the world thrown in for good measure, you’ll find all of it here, in abundance.

I know I’m flailing a bit here, but that’s just because the book was so good. I can’t even describe it all at once. It’s an action adventure mystery love story world-ending character study of doom and awesome and I’m sure I’ve left out a few subplots. Seriously, if you liked the first two books in the series, at all, you have to read City of Miracles. It was so so so good. Five of five stars, and my unconditional recommendation.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Website.

City of Miracles on Goodreads.

Book Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell


From Goodreads:

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (JSaMN) was a very different novel than those that I typically enjoy. My tastes typically tend more towards standard epic fantasy, focusing on world shaking events—usually involving lots of wars and battles, and often filled with magic and power. While JSaMN has plenty of magic and power plays, the tone differs immensely, and it paints a very unique ornate portrait of the time period, while only occasionally getting around to some interesting plot points.

The novel focuses mainly on the two titular characters, though we are not introduced to Jonathan Strange for quite some time. We spend the entire first third simply observing Mr Norrell’s quest to bring magic back to England—and to have control of it himself. He’s painted as almost despicable, a controlling, reclusive man who wants the power for himself. But when Jonathan Strange emerges as the second magic user in England in centuries, Norrell seems to welcome him as an equal—though he keeps his most important magical texts to himself.

Throughout the novel, we are always intensely in a character’s viewpoint, and the book goes to extremes to show and not tell about their motives and methods. It makes for an incredibly immersive reading experience, while at the same time bordering on, but never quite being, wooden and boring.

I think some of the wooden feeling comes from the style that Clarke is emulating here—it’s the stiff, formal style of the people in her book, characters on the upper crust of society in the early to mid 1800s in England. In this sense, it’s incredibly successful at making you feel like you’re there, in the world, and Clarke’s mastery of tone rivals that of Rothfuss or Kay.

The plot of the novel itself moves incredibly slowly, and is often derailed by delightful footnotes, detailing this or that quirk of the worldbuilding, which is phenomenal. Clarke has managed to build one of the most realistic, yet simultaneously strange, beautiful, and enticing Earth analogues that I’ve ever read, and while her worldbuilding is subtle and often hidden, unlike the breathtaking brilliant alienness of a Hurley novel, the extent and thoroughness of it gives an incredible sense of the massive amount of work and care taken to create the world. Clarke takes every pain to make us believe that it is real, making use of subtle touches and strokes to great effect.

The novel itself is one that gives you permission to set it down every few chapters, though I feel like I missed a lot by reading it over a period of several months. If you want something that you can dip into, immerse yourself, and then put down when you need to do something else, JSaMN is a great novel for you, but the foreshadowing, the subtle hints and connections that run throughout the text—and footnotes—are best experienced in a shorter period of time than a longer. The care and attention to detail that Clarke paid at every level of the novel is perhaps most evident here, and connections that she placed on almost every page make for satisfying payoffs at later parts of the novel.

The conclusion tends much more towards a typical fantasy feel, with battles, mortal peril, and the ultimate struggle of good versus evil with high stakes—and it makes for satisfying conclusion to the events that have been slowly building over the previous thousand pages.

Most people’s main complaint with the book is the amount of time it takes to get interesting. While I agree that it did not have me completely hooked until maybe 50-60% of the way through, where the conflict begins to become clear and the real plot seems to begin, the prose and delightfully interesting worldbuilding held me through the entire book, and I was never really “bored” while reading.

I would be remiss not to mention that BBC is producing a 7-part TV series of the novel, set to air later in 2015. It has me quite excited, and while I feel it will be very, very different from Game of Thrones and other such popular shows, and I’m not sure how well the richness of the text and footnotes will transfer to the screen, I am optimistic. From what little I’ve seen, they are doing a precise, careful job with the show, and I will definitely be watching it when it airs. Here’s the only trailer released to date:

In summary, JSaMN is a brilliantly written, if slightly stiff and slow, novel with an incredibly intricate world that enchanted me, even though it didn’t completely hook me for the first half, which falls heavily on the side of showing and not telling, and which will allow you to read a chapter or two at a time—until the very end, when it morphs into a more standard fantasy and the slowly building tension and carefully laid foreshadowing come to a tense, gripping conclusion. Four of Five stars, and recommended if you like carefully written, beautiful books that are a little slower than the fantasy norm.

Bloomsbury’s site for the book.