Recent Read - The Divine Cities

Oh, how blind we can be to our own selves.

Last month, as I was contemplating my goals for June and sharing them with a friend, it seemed perfectly rational that in the midst of moving into our new house, I would still be able to START writing my trilogy project and average 10,000 words per week. It's important to establish routine right away, I said. It will be a welcome distraction from unpacking and decorating. 

My dear friend just nodded and smirked at me. "Okay," she said. "Go for it."

Today is June 30, the last working day of this month for me. What do I have to say for myself, and my June goals?

Yeah...that about sums it up.

As the end of the month approached, I struggled to tear myself away from unpacking boxes, drilling holes in the walls, and periodically swearing at said walls. I was determined to have something to show for myself and my June goals... so I did what I can always do, no matter how creatively drained or distracted I am. I read a bunch. 

Read on without fear, friends -- there are no spoilers in this blog post!

If you're unfamiliar, The Divine Cities is a series of books written by American up-and-coming author Robert Jackson Bennett. The series is composed of three books: City of StairsCity of Blades, and City of Miracles.

I read the first book (City of Stairs) back in February, and at the time, I was somehow under the impression that it was a standalone novel. I'd heard about the book as a "Book of the Week" recommendation on the Writing Excuses podcast, and the description was so compelling that I decided to read it right away. When I finished the book, I was completely depressed that it was a "standalone," and moved on with other items on my reading list.

Lo and behold, City of Stairs is not a standalone novel, and is actually the first installment of this wonderful series. Robert Jackson Bennett has accomplished one of my favorite feats in this series--it is an undeniably genre-bending story. He has created a believable world that is bizarre, unique, and utterly compelling, blending elements of fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and much more.

The basic premise: for ages, the Continent ruled Saypur with the might of their gods. But somehow, Saypur managed to rebel, murdering all of the Continent's divinities. The story begins after this substantial upset of power, when Saypur has taken over the Continent and is just beginning to explore the mysteries of the nation's divine history. 

Though each book is written from multiple perspectives, each book also focuses primarily on one main character: Ashara Komayd, the brilliant and curious scholar; General Turyin Mulagesh, the hardened military servant; and Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, the lonely assassin. Each character is brilliantly written, and fascinating to explore. 

The over-arching story houses countless mysteries and adventures, all set in a gritty, modern industrialized setting. There are a million questions that you find yourself asking as the reader, because the components are so curious and imaginative. I guarantee you have not read anything like this before.

But the most impressive part of the series? It gets better as it goes. That's right, people. Book 1 is not, as we often find, an ultimate triumph followed by two disappointing sequels. My interest and delight only grew as I tore through Book 2, right up until the very end of Book 3. Part of the magic of Bennett's structure is that each book really maintains the feel of an independent story, much more so than I've experienced in other trilogies. I was satisfied at the end of each novel, yet ready and willing to read more. At the same time, the third book closes the series in a deeply moving and satisfying fashion, without tying up the ends too neatly. It is an ending worth waiting for.

If you don't mind some gruesome descriptions of violence and the frequent use of the F-bomb (Books 2 and 3 especially), this is a series you might love. Be warned: The Divine Cities series is definitely firmly housed in the adult literature section, mostly for its language and violence. I believe it would be a particularly useful read as a study for multi-book series structure, unexpected fantasy settings, mystery elements, utilizing supernatural elements, culture/world-building, and just about anything else you might want to dive into.