“What fools we are to pretend that when we walk to war we do not bring our loved ones with us.”
Good sequels are usually hard to come by. Good sequels to great first books are rare. This is one such book. It’s not as complicated and not as twisty as City of Stairs but that doesn’t make this book any less fantastic. While the first book was more about world building, Bulikov and the Divines especially Kolkan, here the story shifts to Voortyashtan, ass-end of the universe, armpit of the world. This book is also about Mulagesh and her exploits.
It’s been five years since the Battle of Bulikov and General Mulagesh has retired to the island of Javrat, away from humanity. She is forced out of her retirement by Shara, who is now the Saypuri Prime Minister, to go on a secret assignment to Voortyashtan. Another secret operative deployed there, investigating a recently mined ore which has unexplainable conduction properties, has gone missing. Mulagesh travels to Voortyashtan on the pretext of a final tour before retirement and tries to secretly gather information about the missing Choudary. She is helped a little by Signe, daughter of Sigrud, CTO of Southern Dreyling Company, a genius engineer trying to clear up the Solda river and build a harbor to better connect Saypur with the Continent. Mulagesh also meets General Biswal, her old commanding officer who is now the regional governor of Voortyashtan.
This book gives us a lot of history. The divinity we get to know more about is obviously Voortya, the Goddess of warfare and death. The truth about sentinels, the deadly soldiers of Voortya, and the atrocities they committed upon the Saypuri slaves is explained in such a horrid way that it disgusts you. The book goes into great detail about their armor, their strength, their methods, their motivations and their expectations from their Goddess and the afterlife.
“What wild promises we make in order to justify the worst of decisions.”
In this backdrop, we get to know a lot about Mulagesh’s past; her military history, the killings that weigh on her mind even after decades, her relationship with Biswal and the horrors of war. Amidst the story, there is a lot of commentary about war and peace, killing, the toll it takes on the soldiers, the motivations and justifications behind war etc. But nowhere does the author come across as preachy. The narrative and commentary are very organic, forcing the reader to contemplate the consequences of war – in the book as well as the real world.
“The world may not go on forever. But that doesn’t mean we cannot try to make tomorrow better.”
The strength of the series is definitely the world building and its rich history but the best part of this book is Mulagesh herself. Her struggles with the actions of her past, her PTSD, her evolution through the decades – it is all very gut wrenching – but what makes her amazing is what she comes to believe is the duty of a soldier and purpose of war, and how she uses this belief to destroy the enemy hell bent on annihilating humanity. The relationship between Sigrud and Signe is also explored well and I expect to know more of how the tragedies in his life will affect him.
“When the world grinds you down, you pick a handful of fires to hold close to your heart.”
Next task for me – find the last book and read it ASAP.
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️