City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett: Review

I’ve read many stories in which the characters have strong spiritual/religious beliefs, but those beliefs are just internal. They don’t seem to affect the reality of the story in any solid way. I’ve also read or seen a great many stories in which Greek gods co-habit the cosmos with us regular folks.
I want more than these two. I want to read about other gods who are real, and have real relationships with human beings.
Even if they’re made up.
Maybe especially.
Enter City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, and the next in the series, City of Swords.
No doubt inspired by spiritual traditions from various parts of the world, the author presents a pantheon of gods who embody various qualities, like warfare and nurturing. Human followers flock to a particular god, because of the humans’ qualities. Those who are warlike are attracted to a warlike god. The gods are in turn effected and empowered by their followers. A reciprocal relationship exists between worshiper and worshiped, in which each is changing and empowering the other. Spoken and unspoken agreements exist between them, and the gods are not completely indestructible. In fact, many of them have been killed… or have they?
City of Blades deals with the land and followers of the warlike god, Voortya, a female Divinity. The land has been decimated after the Divinity’s death, and now work is going on to open the main river there, as a trading port for the rest of the continent.
Mulaghesh, a battle-ax of an old woman with one arm missing, plenty of psychic scars from warfare and a goodly ability to fight, is called in to help settle some mysteries in the region. She’s tired of fighting. She hates violence, but she’s committed so much of it.
In the course of the book, Mulaghesh struggles with questions about warfare and sacrifice. Is the warrior a vicious conqueror who takes from others for themselves and their country? Or can a warrior be a servant? There’s been steady warfare throughout the history of this fictional world (and ours, of course). Can it be stopped? The followers of Voortya were tribal and brutal. They needed no excuse to decimate another country, slaying its people. War was its own reason. But for all their justifications and social systems, do ‘civilized’ cultures wage warfare any less? Are such societies simply less honest in how they wage war?
Although the story is humorous, tongue-in-cheek and fantastical, it asks the reader to reconsider what it means to be a soldier and a warrior. It asks us when killing is and is not necessary. It’s also very far out from a conceptual point of view.

You can get these two books from the links below.

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities)

City of Blades (The Divine Cities)


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