Book Review: City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett
I read City of Stairs at the beginning of the year and I am only just getting around to my review now in November. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? I think it is because I have taken part in a lot of blog tours and such this year, as these books get priority reviews. Oh well! It is what it is! I haven’t done myself any favours and made notes, so today’s review is completely from memory.
City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett
The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now, Bulikov’s history has been censored and erased, its citizens subjugated. But the surreal landscape of the city itself, forever altered by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it, stands as a haunting reminder of its former supremacy.
Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched — along with her terrifying “secretary”, Sigrud — to solve a murder.
But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem, and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.
A tale of vast conspiracies, dead gods, and buried histories, City of Stairs is at once a gripping spy novel and a stunningly original work of fantasy.
I hadn’t picked up any books by Robert Bennett Jackson before reading City of Stairs, so he was a completely new author to me. Whilst I enjoy re-visiting favourite authors, I enjoy the variety of new ones too. My read of City of Stairs at the beginning of the year was long overdue. I added the book to my TBR way back in 2015… it was about time I got to it really!
Fantasy is my all-time favourite genre. I read a lot of it, and so I’ve got pretty firm ideas about what themes within fantasy novels I really enjoy. The first thing I always look to is the world-building and development of the setting of the story. City of Stairs certainly didn’t disappoint in this sense. Before the story even really begins, the author sets up the political divides and complex relations that are pivotal to the narrative. I personally love this sort of thing in fantasy books, but even if you don’t, it isn’t so overwhelming as to be difficult to read.
I’m also a huge fan of magical elements in fantasy novels, and there is plenty of it in City of Stairs. I think it is really cleverly woven into what is a spy thriller/mystery novel. They aren’t genres I would have thought to put together, but I really think the risk of doing it paid off because, in my opinion, it worked really well.
The main characters in this book have been written very well. I got on very well with Shara and felt for her being in the awful position of navigating treacherous ground in search of the truth. She’s complemented by a host of minor characters that come together to create a world fizzing with tension and intrigue.
At 450 pages, City of Stairs is a solid fantasy novel, although not an epic compared to plenty of other fantasy novels I know and have read. There is plenty of content and the story unfolds at a good pace. It keeps you interested in finding out what happens next but doesn’t drag on either. It suited me well at least. If you like fantasy but the idea of committing to 700-800 page novels, this book gives you all the great elements of those books… but with fewer pages.