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[INTERVIEW] Robert Jackson Bennett on CITY OF BLADES, Writing a Series, and More

Robert Jackson Bennett has won the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Philip K. Dick Citation of Excellence. Bennett was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but grew up in Katy, Texas. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and, like a lot of its alumni, was unable to leave the charms of the city. He resides there currently with his wife and son.

I asked Robert a few questions about City of Blades, and more!

Kristin Centorcelli: Will you give us a bit of a teaser for CITY OF BLADES?

Robert Jackson Bennett: Sure! It revisits the world of City of Stairs. In this world, gods walked the earth not so long ago, and they blessed certain countries with Divine powers that they used to colonize and enslave the world. Now those gods are dead, their miracles have vanished with them, and the conquerors have become the conquered. A new empire has sprung up, one founded in technology and mercantilism rather than Divine will.

The book is set five years after the events of City of Stairs, and it opens with former General Turyin Mulaghesh being recruited for a covert operation: the Ministry has lost one of its agents in the city of Voortyashtan – once the domain of the Divinity of death, destruction, and warfare – and Mulaghesh is uniquely suited to figuring out what’s happened.

Under the pretenses of forced exile, she journeys to Voortyashtan, only to find that the city is rife with factionalism, plots, and insurgency. And worse, she starts to suspect that here in the city of death, something terrible is beginning to awaken.

KC: Did you have to do any additional research for it or did you just build upon the first one?

RJB: I reached out to author Myke Cole for some advice about military culture and procedure, and modeled the Saypuri military after a mix of historical examples – turn of the century French and English militaries, primarily. He was really helpful – but for the rest of the book I just made it up out of my head.

KC: Is it easier to write the second book in a series? If so, why?

RJB: It’s harder. It’s harder because you’re trying to do a mix of something new and something that’s the same – something that’s new enough so that people feel it’s not a retread, but not so much that they feel it’s a totally different series. All while trying to set up the events of the next and final installment as well.

The Divine Cities is also a bit unusual in that the series doesn’t follow one character trudging through one large story – each book focuses on a different protagonist, each of whom is encountering their own struggles at very different stages of this world. Each book is its own self-contained story, while hopefully still feeling of a piece with the others. Shara’s story in City of Stairs was about coming to terms with history and the past, and committing to change things. Mulaghesh’s story in City of Blades is about how difficult change can be to execute, and the consequences those efforts have for everyone.

KC: What have you enjoyed most about writing this series?

RJB: Seeing the characters change. This series takes place over the course of twenty years. You get to see the characters grow up, lose or win, empower themselves or get broken, have dreams built or crushed. You get to see them living life, in other words. It’s probably my most “adult” series, in that the anxieties explored in this book are more adult fears – what sort of world am I leaving behind me after I’m gone?

KC: The world of CITY OF STAIRS and CITY OF BLADES is very rich. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds?

RJB: Probably Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the Discworld series, or Little, Big.

KC: It’s been a while since we caught up. Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?

RJB: I’m reading lots of history and poetry these days, so if you’re game for that – Venice: A New History is an amazing story about Europe’s sole independent republic, which resisted the usual medieval despotism and lasted from the Roman times until Napoleon. And Chernow’s biography of Hamilton is really terrific stuff, but it seems like everyone knows that these days.

KC: What’s next for you?

RJB: The final installment in The Divine Cities books, City of Miracles, starring Sigrud. That’s all I can say on that for now.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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