Mount Readmore Book Review, 2017 50(!)/100
City of Stairs By Robert Jackson Bennett
Finished on 5/22/2017
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Kickass Female Protagonist, Adult, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Thriller, Politics
Bulikov was the Center of the World, the City of the Gods, a place of wonder and majesty. Those days are over. The gods are dead and their miracles are broken. These days Bulikov is the City of Stairs, called that from all the hundreds of stairs left after the city was broken. An old professor turns of dead in the oppressed city of Bulikov, and Shara Thivani must go solve the crime on behalf of the oppressors.
I can see why this is such an influential book in the fantasy community at the moment, but it was really weird reading this. The book I’m presently editing/sending queries out for was thematically very similar to this. Consequently this book occupied a weird Uncanny Valley space for me. I liked this book to be sure, but this book was very weird for me.
Here’s one way this book was unlike mine. This is an ‘issues’ book. Do you want to read a book which addresses homophobia, colonialism, skin-tone racism, religion bigotry, genocide, slavery and cultural imperialism? Because this book has you covered. The issues were handled tastefully, (with the exception of the ‘Bury your Gays’ trope), but without a sense of humor. This was a well written book, but with a serious tone. Also the author used Chekov’s Gun REALLY well.
Plot: It was strong, but not ultra-strong in my opinion. It was a Thriller-esque conspiracy plot where you start with one small crime (the murder of Efrum Pangui) and it eventually evolved through numerous cycles into a vast plot to overthrow the oppressing Sepuri overlords using divine creatures and miracles. To be honest I was expecting something more from the plot. The themes of ‘humanity are jerks, and politicos are worse’ and ‘what you remember of the past isn’t what the past actually was’ didn’t work for me.
Characters: I loved Sigrud and Mulagesh. They felt like Characters (aka larger-than life characters, the sort of people who don’t actually exist in the real world). Characters like them are fascinating to read about. Ashara was another larger-than-life personality, but her ‘quirk’ was that she was perfect in all scholarly and spycraft matters while being bad at interpersonal relationships. I’ve seen people compare her to the classic Mary Sue (good at everything, has men drooling over her, little self confidence), and I understand that comparison but I’m not sure it was a good comparison. I liked her, but didn’t love her.
Finally, Vohannes. I loved Vohannes. He was the sole source of innocent (and not so innocent) fun and wordplay in this entire book. I would read more of this series if there would be more of Vohannes. I don’t think I will read this series because I like my books to contain a little bit of life and light, and the author killed it for me when he killed the only major character who had some vibrancy to him. His death compounded ‘this is a serious book for serious people’ problem.
It was a good book, maybe a great book, but it wasn’t a book which sung to me. Those are my 2cents.