Today I am interviewing Robert Jackson Bennett, author of the new fantasy novel, City of Miracles, final book of The Divine Cities trilogy.
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DJ: Hey Robert! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Robert Jackson Bennett: I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer. I believe I have 10 books under my belt at this point… I try not to count, since I’m sure it’d just depress me.
DJ: What is City of Miracles and then The Divine Cities trilogy about?
Robert: Think of the Greek or Norse pantheon of gods. Now imagine that those gods are very real, and their divine powers are at the disposal of one nation. You can imagine what that nation then does – empire, slavery, and hegemony. The nation essentially wields their gods much as one would a weapon of mass destruction – gods as nukes, in other words.
But then someone finds a way to kill the gods, bringing that nation to utter ruin. There’s a tremendous power vacuum, and one of the former colonies steps in, trying to fill the divine gap with trade and technology.
Except – are the gods really gone? And even if they are – how should the world proceed? Is it possible to move past these horrendous conflicts?
The Divine Cities trilogy looks at three different characters trying to navigate these waters. All of them are involved in the shadowy, grungy work of statecraft, some utilizing the pen, others the dagger. City of Miracles is the last entry into this world, and we see how previous efforts have failed or succeeded, and where everyone tries to go from there.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Divine Cities trilogy?
Robert: I really liked how Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell worked so, so much rich backstory into the narrative, and what worked so well about the backstory is that it was incomplete or incomprehensible. No one is quite sure how magic worked or what it did – and that makes the backstory so much more tantalizing. That was one big inspiration, this idea of fragments of damaged history drifting down through generations, tales of things that are both perfectly true and yet also completely mind-boggling or impossible. Another big influence were John le Carré novels, the “stale beer” sort of spy stories, featuring dour cynics and bruised moralists trying to navigate the gray back passageways of bureaucracy and national nihilism. I think that shows up quite a bit as well.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your other main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Robert: Shara Komayd, the first main character from City of Stairs, is very much a George Smiley type, the sort of person whose stupendous memory and ability to make you underestimate her make her a fearsome opponent. She’s an unusual fantasy protagonist, adept at maneuvering through labyrinthine governmental regulations and norms while also having a very keen, incisive understanding of human nature. Turyin Mulaghesh, the protagonist of City of Miracles, is basically the opposite: as a former military officer, she demands to be noticed, whereas Shara would prefer to be forgotten, even when she’s in front of you. Turyin is a one-handed, grizzled veteran with a bloody past, and she’s loud, brash, practical, and cynical. She does not quietly circumnavigate obstacles, as Shara might, but would instead blow through them at maximum speed.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the previous two books of The Divine Cities trilogy? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Robert: They’ve all been quite positive, as far as I can tell. What I find most interesting is that some people react to different installments in very different ways. Which makes sense – they’re very different stories about very different characters. Each take place in the same world and feature most of the same characters, but as the viewpoints and times change, the characters you thought you knew change a little as well.
DJ: I don’t think I’ve read one review that hasn’t mentioned the magic, magical artifacts, and gods in these books… what is your magic system like?
Robert: It’s very simple: there are gods, and what the gods say is True is automatically True. If a god says the sky is green, then it is, and, in fact, it always has been. Reality has been completely overwritten. The gods’ sphere of influence is somewhat geographically limited, with some strict boundaries in some places, so when you cross one boundary then the sky can abruptly turn from green to yellow – and in that moment, you will never have any memory of it ever being green. It will have always been yellow to you, because that is what that god asserts to be True.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing City of Miracles s and completing the final book The Divine Cities trilogy?
Robert: Seeing how things failed or succeeded or changed. This is, at its heart, a family saga. So you get to see people grow up or grow old. There’s something very satisfying about that.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish City of Miracles?
Robert: The ending.
DJ: Did you have a goal in mind when you began writing The Divine Cities trilogy? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Robert: Change is hard. But it’s worth it. And, frequently, it’s also unavoidable.
DJ: I’m always curious when authors finish a series, how close to the original course they stayed when it is finally completed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Did the plot stay the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? The evolution of your characters?
Robert: I had no original course when I started it, really. When I finished Stairs, though, and people asked for more installments, I knew immediately that Shara would eventually die. She is very much the animating force of change in these books, and the world does not like change – it is lethally reflexive to it. It would be inevitable that it would react in this manner against her.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from City of Miracles that you can share with us?
Robert: Sure. It would be – “Can you believe it?”
DJ: Now that City of Miracles is released, what is next for you?
Robert: I’m not quite sure I can tell you yet! But I will say that I am almost done with it.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: I am highly googleable.
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about City of Miracles and The Divine Cities trilogythat we haven’t talked about yet?
Robert: Nope. Best to go in blind.
DJ: I’m sorry, one more thing! I just remembered this: I heard a funny story on a podcast a few years back that you basically wrote the entire novel for, I think it was, City of Stairs at work?! Please do explain how that was possible? 😛
Robert: Mm, nope. That might have been Mr. Shivers. I worked at a Home Depot call center at night, helping people fix paint machines via phone, and it takes them quite a long time to restart, so while they restarted I wrote the novel bit by bit.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** City of Miracles is published by Broadway Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.
So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.
Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And perhaps most daunting of all finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.
Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. His sixth novel, City of Blades, is in stores now.
He lives in Austin with his wife and son. He can be found on Twitter at @robertjbennett.