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Preview — City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
How do they do it? Pitry wonders. How can anyone in Bulikov sit next to the city walls or even live with them in sight, peeking through the blinds and drapes of high windows, and feel in any way normal?
I considered starting every DIVINE CITIES book with Pitry meeting the protagonist - readers of CITY OF BLADES might find some faint ironic echoes there - but the plot of MIRACLES simply didn't allow it, unfortunately. I hope you enjoy these author notes for CITY OF STAIRS. I also wrote them for my new book FOUNDRYSIDE (out now!)-- maybe check those out too and read along with me.
She watches. She watches the crumbling arches, the leaning, bulky vaults, the tattered spires and the winding streets. She watches the faded tracery on the building facades, the patchwork of tiles on the sagging domes, the soot-stained lunettes, and the warped, cracked windows. She watches the people—short, rag-wrapped, malnourished—stumbling through oblong portals and porticoes, beggars in a city of spectral wonders. She sees everything she expected to see, yet all these dreary ruins set her mind alight, wondering what they could have been like seventy, eighty, ninety years ago.
Every once in a while - mostly due to reader comments - I find myself wondering if the present tense is worth writing in. But the opening sequence to this chapter dispels any such thoughts from my mind.
I love writing in the present tense. It gives an immediacy that can be hard to handle but the result is always worth it. Finding your books was all the proof I needed to cement that opinion. You pull …
Do your readers complain? I find I'm writing a lot of books/stories in present tense, too, and have worried that it puts some people off. But I'm seeing more and more of it.
I'd forgotten until my current reread (2nd time through) that this was written in present tense, but I love it all the same.
Though of course the Kaj could not know that he was almost directly responsible for the devastation of the Continent, for it was the Kaj’s successful assassination of the Divinity Taalhavras that brought about the Blink …
The most tantalizing way to experience the fantastical, I find, is from a peripheral perspective. It's like the shark in Jaws - you glimpse its form somewhere in the waters, and you think you see something, but you're never really sure.
The steepest form of 'show don't tell'. Your comment reminds me of the scene in Spirited Away where Haku runs with Chihiro at the start. We barely know or understand the world she's in, and we have th…
Turyin Mulaghesh is, much like her offices, cold, spare, brutal, and efficient, a creature so born and bred for battle and order that she cannot tolerate another manner of living. She is one of the most muscular women Shara has ever seen, sporting wiry biceps and a sinewy neck and shoulders.
When I first outlined CITY OF STAIRS, Mulaghesh was going to be a man - a pompous, patriarchal, doting general, whom Shara would promptly dupe. But since Troonyi had already been a lot like that, and we'd seen her deftly handle him, I didn't much like that. One night, while wondering what to do, I fell upon the idea of making the character a woman - a smart, shrewd person whom Shara could not dupe, and would have to work with. The entire book came alive after that, and Shara, Sigrud, and Mulaghesh quickly became the book's main trio, with Mulaghesh filling in for the audience, asking questions about the Divine.
Loved Mulagesh and Shara and I give out my lending copy of City of Stairs to women that I want the, to love the pair as I did.
Mulaghesh was a favorite of mine in CoS and I really enjoyed her expanded role in CoB.
I really appreciate how you were able to answer the questions that we had about the Divine without making it too awkward by creating a character who know about as much as we did :)
and there is something on his mask, something large and white-pink and rippled that extends outward, into the doorway, where Cheyschek cannot see. As Cheyschek nears, he sees that the something on his compatriot’s face is actually somethings: a pair of huge hands grasps the sides of the man’s head, yet the thumbs have been shoved deep into the man’s eye sockets, all the way up to the second knuckle.
In college I read a leaked script of BATMAN BEGINS, and I appreciated that the audience's first sighting of the superhero felt like something out of the movie ALIEN: you saw the action from the point of view of the criminals, and Batman was their predator. I always enjoy that nasty thrill, staging a scene so that the hero is more like the monster from a horror movie.
So whenever Shara is really puzzled by something, she takes her thoughts and sorts them, threshing them out like chaff from wheat, tunneling down and through her mind as she tries to wring truth from everything she knows, a frequently endless list of annotations, qualifications, categorizations, and exceptions all collected as she interrogates herself:
Structuring Shara's thought processes like a long, complicated list is one of the more whimsical things I've ever done as a writer.
“No,” I said. “I am on an errand. I have a Burden. I must deliver my Burden to Jukov himself, and no one else.” And they laughed.
Others may disagree, but Jukov is/was probably the most terrifying entity in the DIVINE CITIES world.
Mulaghesh has never looked at this list—she never wanted to—but she casts an eye over a page now, reviewing notes written decades ago by the now-dead Saypuri soldiers who locked all these things away:
Lists of whimsical, magic things that no one understands are always fun to write. That's half of HARRY POTTER, really
That was honestly what I thought of at first read when this part came about. I pictured it as a mix between the room of requirement's storage incarnation, the dept. of mysteries with its shadowy conte…
“You’re a mhovost, aren’t you? One of Jukov’s pets.” The little girl sits up, but there is something disturbingly mechanical about the motion, as if she’s being pulled by strings. Her face, which was once contorted into a look of such heart-piercing agony, is now utterly blank, like that of a doll.
I'm not sure I've ever written something as gleefully nasty as the mhovost - though I'm working on it.
The interior of the Unmentionable Warehouse is musty beyond belief, much more so than the Seat of the World: it is like entering the home of a hugely ancient, hoarding old couple. Shara hacks miserably against the bloody handkerchief around her hand. “Is there no ventilation here?”
Steven Spielberg went into his own Unmentionable Warehouse in KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, but I didn't find it terribly thrilling. I felt obliged to write my own rendition, possibly in response.
Sigrud’s boots make hollow thumps as he walks across the ice. He can tell right away that the ice is slightly less than two feet thick. A good ice, he thinks, for sleighs and horses.
I remember folding laundry and listening to Promentory from LAST OF THE MOHICANS and suddenly getting the idea for this scene. I wish I could bottle that feeling.
I sing and caper Dance and twirl And many a merry pattern I weave But cross me not, children For there is no burning coal in all the fires of Bulikov No raging storm in all the South Seas No element on this earth or in this world That could match my fury. My name is Jukov And I do not forget. —THE JUKOSHTAVA, BOOK SIX
She immediately sees that they are walking tangles of many complicated miracles, but inside there are real human beings, people who have been forcefully conscripted into Kolkan’s service.
I have it set to 'Want to Read', but I don't get giant cliff notes from the author for any other books on that list.
Probably because most authors don't post giant Cliff's Notes for their books. Which is a darn shame IMO!
Sure, it's great for someone who finished the book, and wants to refresh their memory before the next one, but terrible for those tracking the book to read later.