Sigurd je Harkvaldsson has been in hiding for 13 years, waiting on word from his good friend Shara Komayd, once Prime Minister of Saypur, now doing humanitarian work on the Continent. In a rage over the death of his daughter, Sigurd murdered members of the Saypuri military, and has been a wanted criminal ever since. Shara was supposed to reach out and let him know when she’d smoothed things over and erase his crimes so he could come home.
But that will never happen: Shara has been murdered in the city of Ahanashtan. The news breaks something in Sigrud, who couldn’t save his daughter before, and now, couldn’t save his best friend. And so, he returns to the world with a vow: find out who killed Shara, and do what he does best (it involves death, usually). So begins Robert Jackson Bennett’s last novel in The Divine Cities trilogy, City of Miracles.
The sheer amount of work packed into in these books is staggering; in the two earlier novels, Bennet balanced frankly huge amounts of worldbuilding with intensely deep character studies, interrogated political, social, and economic effects between national powers on a global and divine scale, and puzzled together plots both micro and macro with what seems like relative ease. His novels are never anything less than perfectly oiled machines, moving between layers and levels of narrative with elegance and precision. Impossibly, the sheer weight on these books has increased with each new installment—and I’m not talking about page count. They just keep getting better as they go: their politics murkier, their plots more labyrinthine and compelling. This is epic fantasy on a whole new level.
Sigrud has been central to this tale since the first book in the series, and he only grows more fascinating as we learn more about him. He’s a weapon lost in a world of progress he wants no part of, an operative without a mission, and a broken man outside of time (old friends constantly remark that he has not aged a day, and he cannot fathom why). In City of Stairs, Sigrud was a hulking behemoth at the beck and call of a brilliant young woman who saw more in him than he ever saw in himself, a sledgehammer to replace any tool. In City of Blades, he tried to create a new life from the ashes of his past, tried to be the father his daughter needed and leader his people craved. As City of Miracles opens, we find him at his lowest: no friends to call on, no handlers to give him missions, no family that needs him. He strikes out on his own, striving to be better than the weapon he was made to be. He meets up with characters we’ve met before, and new, stranger ones, who continue to prod him, guiding him to answers he would not seek otherwise.
But Bennett isn’t satisfied with writing a novel that is solely an intricate study of a man looking to avenge his best friend; no, he adds a whole new wrinkle into this world of dead Divinities and bizarre miracles. Because the Divinities? They had children. And those miracles? They’re stranger than ever. In his work to find Shara’s killer, Sigrud stumbles on a plot decades old, and sinister to the bones. But Bennett never posits that one is good or one is bad; this is a world where morality scales with survival. Watching Sigrud work to do good while performing bad deeds is experiencing Bennett at his finest.
Sigrid’s character growth culminates in his mentorship of Shara’s daughter Tatinia, a brilliant, reserved young woman whom he cannot help but care for, no matter how much he tells himself he is poison to those who get too close (everyone eventually leaves him, or dies). Watching him master his emotions and work to give Tatiana someone who will care for her even as the world begins to crashes down around them all, is powerful stuff, and pays off in scores as the book crescendos to its finale.
I could talk more about Bennett’s masterful work building up new characters—the antagonist, Nokov, and Tatiana, and so many others—the intricacies between them, the love and fear and pain that drive them all. I could talk about the ending that made me cry, because it is simple and beautiful and right. But really, this is Sigrud’s book, and he shines brightest when trying to make his world better than he believess it to be. City of Miracles is a treatise on how to let go of pain, how to rise above rage, how to accept the parts of yourself that have been broken, and how to mend those shattered pieces into something whole again. It ends the story of the Divine Cities with style, grace, and beauty. This may be the last we see of this world, but if it is, all the more read on, and treasure these divine tales.