City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett is the third epic in his Divine Cities Trilogy. In the first novel, City of Stairs, readers follow three fascinating characters: Shara Kamayd, spy and politician, her Beowulf-like sidekick Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, and Turyin Mulaghesh, a quirky yet distinguished soldier who spearheads the action in the City of Blades. In City of Miracles, Sigrud, perhaps the most interesting of the trio, is humanized and drives the narrative. Readers finally get to enjoy a close relationship with this mysterious, conflicted hero.
“What fools we are to pretend that when we walk to war we do not bring our loved ones with us.” (City of Blades)
In City of Blades, Sigrud’s involvement in yet another divine battle costs him dearly when he loses someone precious to him. His guilt-ridden, unreflective response is a vicious murder spree that brands him as a criminal. His only option is to vanish into the wilderness where he spends thirteen years in hiding, sawing down giant, “groaning” trees, perhaps symbolic of his past life as a destroyer of divinities. After vanquishing an especially large tree, he wonders how “Such a colossus could be eradicated in a few hours by a handful of fools with axes and a saw.” This quote harkens back to Sigrud’s past and anticipates his next adventure.
Sigrud, a ghost of the past, endures his exile by repeating a wishful mantra: “When will she send for me? Will today be the day she tells me to come alive again?” His dreams of forgiveness and acceptance are terminated by devastating news; Shara Kamayd has been assassinated. Ever loyal, he turns away from the forest and heads back to civilization, once again driven by an uncontrollable thirst for revenge.
It is extremely interesting that Sigrud is not the only player lusting after vengeance. His need to settle a score is mirrored by the actions of the malevolent antagonist who seeks reprisal as he struggles to attain absolute divinity. Who will succeed? Who will survive?
Bennett preserves constant stylistic patterns throughout the entire trilogy. A master of the present tense, he again creates action that feels in-the-now. Again, his main characters are real, palpable, and admirable. Even the diabolical antagonist, as twisted and monstrous as he is, has a back-story that depicts him as almost human, almost deserving of compassion. The constant action propels the plot at full-speed, allowing no chance for boredom. It is interesting that Bennett’s characters use modern linguistic terms, especially offensive language. He also sprinkles the scenes with modern props such as cigarillos, making his setting morph, mirage like, between a fantasy universe and our material world. This practice could be a calculated decision that forces readers to reflect and make connections between worlds.
As in the first two mythologies, the narrative symbolically mirrors our real world. The author urges readers to consider how parenting, good or bad, can create a divinity or a monster—how childhood abuse or neglect affects children. One terrifying divinity attempting to take control of his world by forcibly devouring all other divinities/religions is sure to urge discerning readers to wonder if humanity will ever evolve to the point where each and every soul may consider itself divine, perhaps ending a need for fanatical competition among divinities .
Although it would be best to have read the first two of the series, this novel is written in such a way that it can be understood and enjoyed as a standalone narrative. Sigrud, a stellar protagonist, conflicted, haunted, and struggling to come to terms with his past is sure to become an avatar of the futuristic epic hero readers will cherish and never forget. City of Miracles is highly recommended.