City of Stairs by Robert J Bennett
City of Stairs is the latest release by Mr Bennett. This latest release makes me feel that in spite of enjoying all his previous books (or more to the point loving them) he was simply getting warmed up. This book is just the business. I loved it. It was riveting and displays again the talent of this incredibly gifted writer.
Set in a world with a long history between Bulikov and Saypur. A history that has seen wars and invasions and where the now defeated Bulikov is in a state of repression. Bulikov became the land of Gods. To be precise six different Gods that came together and formed the Seat of the World. These Gods sat in judgement on all their subjects and their edicts and punishments could be harsh. On the other hand the Saypuris were shunned, for some reason, by the Gods. Spurned or simply ignored they were the underdogs until they eventually turned and fought back, conquering Belikov and vanquishing their Gods. Since then the citizens of Belikov have been forbidden to practice their faith. Religion is no longer recognised by the rulers from Saypur. Any infringement will result in punishment by the courts. Of course, as we all know there is nothing quite as sweet as forbidden fruit and denial usually simply drives something underground. Also, the years (and years) of Saypuri control have served to eradicate the memory of the Gods from people’s memories until they have become, for some, little more than myth.
Now. The start of the story sees the inside of a courtroom where one of Bulikov’ s residents is being prosecuted for displaying a sign that appears to contain a religious symbol. Is he innocent, did he truly not know the meaning, well, your guess is as good as mine because the court proceedings are abruptly brought to a halt by the news of the death of one of Saypuri’s chief historians. Greatly resented for his ability to study the Gods that the residents of Bulikov are themselves forbidden to speak of, he seems to have been murdered.
Now enter Shara and her (ahem) secretary Sigrud who have come to investigate this death and this is where the plot starts to thicken. Immediately. The city of Bulikov is more than it at first appears. You see, much of the city was created by the deities who ruled it and therefore upon their demise entire buildings and sections of the city ceased to exist. Of course this was a major catastrophe causing the death of many people as entire structures collapsed or disappeared. The city now has streets that lead nowhere and staircases that apparently lead to nothing.
As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that Shara is almost like an undercover agent herself however she seems to be banished from her beloved Saypur. Working constantly at a disadvantage she strives to uncover the murderer of her operative whilst keeping her own identity a secret.
There are so many secrets and hidden revelations in this book that are staggering and best left to you to reveal by yourselves. Therefore I will avoid further elaboration on the plot. It would be folly to give away more and spoil the uncovering of truth, deception, belief and betrayal contained in this story. Therefore go and pick up a copy and check it out yourself. Seriously you will not be disappointed. This book is just so full of depth and meaning and yet conversely so easy to read.
Moving swiftly on to characters and world building.
The world building is frankly epic. Bennett leaves little, or nothing, out. There is history, there is belief, there is superstition, there is background, there are artefacts and even miracle like objects. All of this is woven into the story to seamlessly provide you with a picture perfect image in your mind’s eye. There is no info dumping or huge narrative pieces, no plot devices where one character speaks to another about their history thereby allowing the author to impart big chunks of background. Instead the background and history to the places and characters are gradually revealed to the reader during the course of the story.
In terms of characters I tend to think of myself as these days being character centric and in that respect this book doesn’t disappoint. Shara is a wonderful example of dry, intelligent analysis in action. She certainly will not rush into the fray screaming ‘aaagghhh’ at the top of her lungs. She has Sigrud at hand to provide all of the drama possibly needed. Instead, she calmly and collectedly analyses the situation, sifts through her knowledge and comes up with a, whilst not always perfect but sometimes possible, solution. She makes 007 look agitated with her calm demeanour.
Sigrud is more like a protector or bodyguard although to be honest both of them can operate completely autonomously of each other. He is a completely devil may care bloke. A killing machine to a certain extent. Certainly a guy that you want on your side and one with a dark past that lends him a certain death wish. His past will be revealed during the course of the story and will reveal a lot about both characters.
Without a doubt these two are my favourite characters and it would be difficult to choose between the two but in case you’re wondering there are other very well drawn supporting characters that support the story admirably well.
In terms of fantasy. Well this is tricky. There is a city that isn’t really revealed. There is magic and magic artefacts that aren’t really magic and there are monsters that aren’t really monsters. Didn’t I say you needed to read this already?
There is such a lot going on here that it would be ridiculous to write more. This is already turning into an essay for goodness sakes. In a nutshell. Undercover agents. Mystery. Monsters. Magic. Artefacts. Excellent characters who you will love. A compelling plot that make an epic story feel like a snippet. Depth and epicness. Really, what’s not to love? Did I even mention that I love thus book? No? Well, part of me is surprised that I liked this book so much because statistically how many books by one author can you consistently enjoy/love? And part of me is surprised that Bennett keeps on upping the ante and yet he does.
I have no hesitation in recommending this novel in case you hadn’t guessed!
I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks are extended. The above is my own opinion. Apologies for not posting sooner due to holidays and unreliable wifi connections. Also apologies for any misspellings or typos but my usual gadgets are not to hand so basically ‘it’ happens”
Now, get out of here and go and pick up a copy so we can discuss it.