the Little Red Reviewer

City of Miracles, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Posted on: May 18, 2017

City of Miracles, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published May 2017

where I got it: purchased new







All artwork (other than the book’s cover art) in this post is by the very talented Chanh Quach. You can view the rest of her Divine Cities character portraits here.


This is the third book in a trilogy, and I’m a little jealous of people who will read City of Miracles as their first Divine Cities book.  How different would City of Stairs be if you already knew Sigrud’s secrets, if you already had Vinya’s backstory?  I imagine those early conversations would read much differently and have layers of subtext.


Picking up twenty years after the events in City of Stairs,  City of Miracles feels slower, more introspective, and less subtle than the previous installments in the trilogy.   The pace and quietness reflects Sigrud’s personality – he’s not slow by any means, but he’s self contained, doesn’t waste words, and comes to things on his own terms.  Still wanted by the government for his actions after his daughter’s death, he’s been living in hiding under an assumed name. At his age, he should be slowing down, but to Sigrud one day is timelessly much like the next – he patiently waits for Ashara Komayd to contact him, he keeps to himself, and if anyone suspects his identity, he disappears.  In the first two Divine Cities books, Sigrud stole every scene he was in, so it is nice to have an entire novel where he is the star of the show.

artwork by Chanh Quach

As with other Robert Jackson Bennett books, the world building in City of Miracles is fantastic. Gorgeously rendered city scapes,  barren hinterlands, everything in between, and more importantly everything has a history. When you close your eyes, you see it, you are there, you can hear the breeze through the trees, you can find someone nearby who can tell the story of those ruins.  In the twenty years since we first met Shara and Sigrud, the world has changed. A young industrial revolution, of sorts – more automobiles, a sky gondola contraption that goes over the mountains instead of through them, more telephones, etc.   As the younger generation is excited about these new technological developments, the older generation is still getting used to a changing world.

Much of the new technologies are thanks to the Southern Dreyling Company, where Sigrud’s daughter was the star engineer.  The Dreyling culture does not have gods or miracles. But isn’t engineering and industry a miracle of sorts? You can now hop on a more reliable train and get somewhere in a few days, where in the past it could take weeks unless you had a pair of miraculous boots or some such.  Is there room for technology and miracles, or do they repel each other in the same way the past and the future aren’t usually in the same room together?  There is a whole ‘nother conversation here that I’d love to have regarding which has more staying power – human accomplishments or Divine miracles, and if you are surrounded by one does the other hold much allure?  But I digress.

Artwork by Chanh Quach


With the news of Shara’s death,  Sigrud travels to the city of her death intent on taking care of her assassins. And surprising nobody, Shara was involved in something far more complex than a simply charity.  Along with clues that don’t make any sense, Sigrud finds Shara’s adopted daughter Tatyana, an unkillable enemy, unlikely allies, and a Divinity who is satisfied to sit back and let everyone die.  Sigrud is so used to just murder machining his way through his problems. This mystery will require a completely different method.


I describe this book as slower paced, but that’s a misnomer because things actually happen very quickly, and scenes and actions seemed to rush by while I was reading.  It’s more as if the characters do not want things to happen so quickly. Sigrud is more than happy to hide in the hinterlands and avoid everyone, Ivanya is surprisingly happy living on her ranch and not talking to anyone, and Tatyana would like to be a sullen teenager who needs time to mourn her mother, thank you very much.  These are people who want to be left alone, and the world just won’t leave them be.  Also, this reader isn’t real excited about the series coming to an end, either.


As Sigrud delves deeper into what Shara got herself involved with, he meets a secret Divine. Of the original six Divinities of the Continent, only one still survives.  However, the Divinities had many children, and very little is known about these Divine children. What Sigrud has learned so far is that the unstoppable Nokov carries a pure and primal anger made of pain and hate.  And after what happened all those years ago, Nokov has every right to be angry.  In fact, it’s pretty easy to sympathize with Nokov, and a few other characters who have been severely wronged.   No wonder no one wanted the truth to ever come out.  Sigrud struggles at the realization of what he and Nokov have in common. (Sigrud and Olvos have something in common, also another fun conversation on the human attributes of Divines)

Artwork by Chanh Quach

To circle back to “less subtle” for a second.  Sigrud is aware of miraculous items, but he doesn’t care about them them like Shara did. As a reader of the previous two books in the series, I know to keep my eye out for anything out of the ordinary, whether it is pointed at as “hey look, that’s weird!”, or not. Anything weird is probably miraculous, and sometimes Divinities made their miracles invisible, so if you can’t see something that should be there, that’s also a good sign it’s miraculous. In City of Miracles I didn’t need to keep my eye out for people who looked oddly alike, or someone who doesn’t age the way they should, because Bennett kept pointing to things.  While there were a few wonderful surprises (and some nice delicious red herring) at the end of City of Miracles, there was also plenty of times the characters acted shocked at some revelation and I had figured it out chapters ago because it had been pointed at a whole bunch of times.  It came off as noticeably unsubtle.


Unsubtleness aside, did I enjoy reading City of Miracles? Oh Hell Yes.  Was the novel a fitting ending to the series?  Abso-fricken-lutely. I didn’t think Jackson could top the Divinities of City of Stairs, but man, Nokov is his own special perfect form of oh-shit-we-fucked-up, and the other Divinities have plenty to answer for on something even bigger they were absolute jerks about too.  Shara’s death will hit you like a ton of bricks,  but that’s nothing compared to the rest of this book. Make sure you set aside a nice chunk of time for the last third of this book, because you won’t want to put it down until to get to the end.


Something I continue to love about this series is everything that isn’t said, that this is a world filled with opposites, filled with cultures that were all dealt completely different hands.  Their history is filled with hubris, arrogance, violence and horrible acts towards each other, and no one is innocent. The more I think about this entire series, the more everything circles back on itself.  It makes me want to pick up a history book,  because the real world is just like that –  there is no escaping history because it shapes everything about our world today.


Bennett writes my favorite kind of story – a story that isn’t about what it’s about.  If your read the back cover copy of the Divine Cities books, you’ll think these are just fun fantasy novels with mysteries and some politics. But that’s like, 2% of what’s going on here.  We all talk about fully realized worlds, and fully fleshed out characters.  The way to do that is to give the weight of history to what you’re writing, to put the weight of all those generations, all those decisions, all that mythology and culture and beliefs on the shoulders of your characters. Bennett does all that.  His characters can climb out from under their life, but they can’t escape it.  And I just freakin’ love it.


I realize I’m not made a single mention of City of Blades, which continues to be my favorite book in the series.  Perhaps because much of the action takes place in Bulikov and they are both Sigrud/Shara books,  City of Miracles feels like a sequel to City of Stairs, where  City of Blades feels like a companion novel rather than a middle book?  None of that really matters, because you can actually read these in any order you want.


Thanks to the vastness of this world  there are more Divine stories to tell, and I hope Bennett chooses to play in this world again, or let others play in it. And wouldn’t that be just divine – an anthology of Divine cities stories, penned by multiple authors?


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