City of Stairs was fun, and in a surprising way. To live up to it, the second part needed to be different – and it was, in a way. The narrative structure was a bit (very) close to the last book: civil servant gets shunted off to the continent, figures out that all is not as it seems, and that behind nasty local politics there is some old divinity, thought to be dead, is at work.
I didn’t like this repeated story, but the characters and settings were sufficiently changed to get me to enjoy the book. The protagonist was a background character in the first book, and comes into her own really well. The old soldier with a missing hand and a lot of misgivings (plus a bit of PTSD) worked really well, as did the other recurring character. Having her casual memories of the events of the first book was also a nice change of perspective.
I appreciated the backdrop and the worldbuilding – the new side character, a badass engineering manager, was particularly cool and well-written. Nobody was anywhere near a Mary Sue, everybody sucked in very distinct ways, without being total idiots or unlikable.
The bad people were bad, the villain was obvious, and the twist gets spoiled if you read the introductory chapter quotes (I’d given it four stars otherwise), and all this led straight into the conclusion that aspired to having an impact like late Pratchett, but very much treated people like things (insert Granny quote here). It moralised and the whole “good soldiers don’t take, they serve” thing felt icky. The end wasn’t satisfying at all, and not because of its brutality: It led nowhere. I’m inclined to continue with the series, though, so it can’t have been too bad. It helps that the writing itself is solid with occasional Real Writing.
Bonus points for a scene where the minor villain baits the protagonist (remember, her of the toughness and the missing hand) into a sword fight and instead she shoots him in the head. That was nice.