Monday 27 February 2017

City of Blades

(February 2017)

Excellent storytelling; just one more chapter and suddenly it’s 3 A.M. stuff. It's also dedicated to "Sir Terry", which pretty much guarantees that I'm going to look on it favourably.

Picking up some five years after City of Stairs left off, City of Blades takes one of its predecessor's more diverting secondary characters as its protagonist. When we last encountered Turyin Mulaghesh, she was the Saypurin military governor of Bulikov, fighting against the city's presumed long-dead gods alongside the covert agent Shara Komayad and all-round hardcase Sigrud Harkvaldsson. As we open this tale, we find Shara as Saypur's embattled Prime Minister, calling Turyin out of a hasty retirement to engage in a bit of skullduggery in the strategically vital port city of Voortyashtan. The city's now deceased patron deity was, of course, the Goddess of War. Thereafter, conspiracy, intrigue, swords, and a surprising amount of macroeconomics.

Turyin is great as a lead character: level-headed enough not to be annoying, but also clearly drawn with enough of her own drives and issues for her actions not to feel forced. This is good, because for all that this book has in spades the 'flick-factor' that's so necessary for this kind of thriller, the foreshadowing is a little transparent. Not so much hanging a pistol on the wall as mounting a machine gun on a turret. (There is a machine gun on a turret.) Still, for all that it's pretty clear where the story's going, you never stop wanting it to get there.

It's interesting reading this so soon after Ninefox Gambit, as both are military spec-fic and, for all that both are very good, they also remind me why I don't read that much of it any more. The climax to City of Blades is a little deus ex machina, which isn't so much of a problem in a book that's literally about gods, but then it also hinges around what could be seen as an overly convenient rhetorical trick. Both this and Ninefox Gambit, for all that they attempt to engage with the horrors of war and the greyness of morality that engenders, are written from the victors' perspectives. I'd refer you all to this excellent piece by Samira Nadkarni to get a better measure of why this is an issue, and then I'd ask to what degree that greyness is a self-serving construct. It's all very well saying that soldiering is about service to a greater ideal first and formost, and not about death and destruction and pillage, but that's an entirely artificial binary. The unspoken assumption in pretty much all military SF (or at least all that I've read) is that it is, ultimately, a noble, selfless pursuit: "Thank you for your service." This is something I'm finding myself less and less able to buy into. Time, I think, to reread Jingo.

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