“Don’t forget, it was their choice to get involved in this war”: Fantasian Bennett builds another world, convincingly, in which empires rise and fall and blood flows.
Less literarily allusive than its predecessor, City of Stairs (2014), this contribution to that worldbuilding epic is also more somber in tone, not that there isn't some good humor along the way. Turyin Mulaghesh, sometime general in the Saypuri army, is righteously ticked off to discover that someone in the bureaucracy is messing with her pension, luring her in for an unpromising mission: she’ll need to go to the ghost city of Voortyashtan, where a massive harbor project is underway to consolidate imperial power, and hang tight until the paperwork can get straightened out. But there’s more to it than that, for which reason Mulaghesh grumbles, “Why in hells would I want to do this?” Yes, hells, for when she’s not spitting out stronger curses, Mulaghesh talks like a teenager down at the mall or a Viking with a hangover (“If you’re not the kin of Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, then I am a dead fucking dog”). Bad things are happening in Voortyashtan, one-time home of the gods who fell in defeat to the empire; in its raw tribal violence and the unending atrocities clashing armies commit it might be another Afghanistan, though there are ghosts and gods in twilight to contend with, to say nothing of strange doings down beneath the surface of the planet. Shades of Outland, Dr. Lazarus! Yet the crimes are less cut and dried than all that, especially when a giant metal woman comes into the picture, “her hands…nothing but knives, long and curved and thin….” Bennett clearly has fun doing all the scene-setting and complicating that his tale involves, and while in the end this is a warning against the totalitarian impulse, it makes all kinds of detours into the dark hearts of men—and women, too.
Sometimes too talky but richly detailed and expertly plotted. A grand entertainment.