Book Review | City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

A densely atmospheric and intrigue-filled fantasy novel of living spies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, ever-changing city-from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well. (description via Goodreads)

I would like to say that I loved this book, that it was phenomenal and delivered on every promise it made and lived up to the hype. It was some of those things, but not all of them. Decent, a good read for fans of futuristic fantasy, with wonderful characters and an enjoyable espionage spin that you don’t typically find in books about dead gods and characters attempting to outlive their pasts. There are some wonderful moments – notably starring Sigrud and Shara, two perfectly matched platonic partners. They’re a good mix of intellect and muscle, and there’s an established history of admiration, trust, and respect when we first meet them. Thank to Bennett’s worldbuilding, you really feel immersed in Bulikov. The opening trial scene and interspersed excerpts from primary sources and historical texts help the story feel grounded. I’m not into origin stories, and this is squarely outside of that – our first glimpse into this world, but one that’s already broken in a way, and with centuries of history behind it.

My major issue is that some of the reveals felt a little too heavy-handed, even a little too convenient. However, there’s an opening for a follow-up and if Bennett writes a sequel, I will definitely read it.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I selected the book based on my own preference, and all opinions are my own. 

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