Holy increased pace, Batman!
Robin Hobb sure stepped on the gas for this one. There are more POVs, more plots, and the story is just tighter.
Let me talk about TV, and specifically Breaking Bad, a bit to illustrate this point.
In TV, when you only have forty-odd minutes for an episode, you have to make sure that each scene counts. In a (good) show, there are no throwaway parts. Every scene and interaction must either move the story along or show something about character development.
If you want to break it down further, you can even start analyzing story beats: the smallest action possible. Don’t just ask “is this scene necessary?” but also ask “is this line of dialogue necessary?” How does every beat advance the story? I’m drawing from Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting here, where he analyzes a scene from Casablanca for an entire chapter, line-by-line, looking at the specific purpose of every beat.
Unfortunately, most books don’t do so well in this. It’s not a point I begrudge them because sometimes I just like being in that world for an extended period of time (and most of the books I read are door-stoppers), but there’s a lot to be said about the tightness of TV.
I mention Breaking Bad, because aside from it being the greatest tragedy ever written (suck it, Shakespeare!), it’s a show where so much happens in each episode. An incredible effort went into making everything you see be intentional, and have a specific purpose.
Robin Hobb embodies that sort of TV writing in City of Dragons, at least compared to the previous two books. The plot advances much more quickly, and every POV adds something.