City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett
You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air.
The murder of Dr Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners. Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.
With all the glowing reviews for this books, it wasn’t easy not to have immense expectation when I got a chance to read it myself. But I wasn’t disappointed, at all! The book might take off a bit slow, but it’s got such a strong world building and interesting characters that it won’t let you go.
I absolutely love books like this and I’d been craving one just like it for a while now. I mean, City of Stairs has it all: Gods, magical creatures and divine objects, an immersive world, a rich and fascinating history behind it all and to top it all off: a murder to solve.
The background for this story has familiar elements as well as fantastical ones that aren’t essentially new, but do have an extra twist. Saypur used to suffer under the yoke of The Continent, that was ruled by different Gods. One guy, the Kaj, sought to overthrow The Continent by killing its Gods. And he succeeded. That was 75 years ago and The Continent has now lost most of his glory and is controlled by Saypur.
Efrem Pangyui is a Saypuri historian who’s researching The Continent’s history. This much to the dislike of the people on The Continent, who have been forbidden to even talk about anything related to the Gods. When he’s found murdered in Bulikov, once the Seat of the World, the list of suspects is obviously rather long.
Shara Thivani, presenting herself as a Cultural Ambassador from Saypur, travels to Bulikov to solve the case. But it isn’t as easy as it seems and the more she digs, the more she’s convinced that everything that’s happening is deeply rooted in the past.
The world building is simply amazing. Bulikov before the annexation sounds absolutely fantastic, like Firenze, but in white and gold. The seat of the six Divinities that ruled over The Continent was once a magnificent city, built for large parts by the Gods. When the Kaj killed the Gods, all the work they put in building the cities disappeared. This left the cities decimated and robbed of all their former glory.
The difference between the Divinities themselves gives an extra dimension to the story. They all have their own traits, as have the divine objects and creatures they’ve created. The history Bennett created for this world is detailed and fascinating, especially for a history nut (whether it’s a fantastical history or our history, I’m fascinated by it all) like me.
All of these things make for an atmospheric and immersive read. Trust me, you’ll lose track of time and read well into the night before you even realize it.
The cast of characters is diverse and everything you’d wish for in a story like this. Intelligent and brave Shara whose past seems to catch up with her in more than one way. Tough and loyal Sigrud, who seems to be a reader favourite, and who I imagined as a gritty, scarred Thor. And my personal favourite: Mulaghesh, a former soldier who has now taken a political seat. She’s one tough woman and I enjoyed her character immensely.
City of Stairs also has a distinctive philosophical touch. Shara (and the late Efrem as well, for that matter), is very intelligent and whenever she finds something new popping up during her investigation, she turns it round and round, looking at it from all different perspectives, trying to find the meaning of it all. She makes some interesting remarks about the Gods and the justification of their actions, something I’ve never seen in books that incorporate the Divine in their story before. It made me stop and think and see everything from in a new light, which is something I love experiencing as a reader.
City of Stairs may be one of the best books I’ve read this year. It had everything to keep me hooked all the way through and the story still lingers in some corner of my mind after a few weeks. The huge amount of positive reviews aren’t lying, this is a winner and you’ll love it.
Jo Fletcher Books are offering some special prizes to celebrate the launch of City of Stairs!
They have five copies of the book to give away, plus one lucky winner will receive a £100 Red Letter Day experience.*
All you have to do for your chance to win is let them know on their blog, Facebook page or Twitter – with #CityOfStairs – what tangible miraculous object would you create if you were a god of Bulikov? A door which takes you to the past? A knotted cord that brings rain when untied? These are just some of the miracles the gods brought to Bulikov, but what would you add?
Let them know by October 30th for your chance to win.
*Prize will be supplied in a £100 worth of vouchers for Red Letter Days. Full terms and conditions can be found here.