Mihir's Reviews > City of Stairs

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
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it was amazing


Full review (along with Liviu's review) over at Fantasy Book Critic

OVERVIEW: City Of Stairs was one of those books that I was intrigued about when the author spoke about how history affects perception and the lives of those living in a city that previously ruled the whole world, oh and also the bodies of dead gods being used as WMDs! After finishing the book earlier this year, I felt this was the first standout out book of 2014.

I'm usually a sucker for stories that sound weird and have cool blurbs such as the one above. To back it up, the author also spoke a bit more about the story's conception over HERE & HERE. Plus I had read the author's previous work which was excellent (American Elsewhere) & not-so-good (Mr. Shivers). This was the author's first stab at something other than what he had written so far.

The story is set in Bulikov, the aforementioned City Of Stairs and erstwhile de-facto capital of the world (or atleast that's what the citizens would have you believe). Bulikov is situated in the continent with several other divine cities, it however is conquered by Saypur, a crumbling outpost which nearly eighty years ago did something so outrageous that it shook the foundations of history and literally changed the world.

A man titled Kaj, slew a god via his machinations in the battle famously known as The Night Of The Red Sands. After which he sailed onto the continent wherein he further slew the remaining gods. Thereby destroying the continent's rule on the world and establishing Saypur's ascendancy as the supreme power.

The story begins in 1719 wherein in Bulikov, the murder of Efrem Pangyui has caused upheaval and led to the coming of Shara Thivani, a middling diplomat who comes to the City of Stairs to find out the real reason behind the murder. She however is not one without any mystery of her own and should her real identity be revealed, then the continent will truly erupt.

Of the many excellences that this book has, none is supreme than the world-building encompassed within. The author has taken pains to create a world that is magical, technologically oriented and sincerely refreshing in more ways than one. Six gods there were: Olvos, Kolkan, Jukov, Ahanas, Voortya, and Taalhavras, their wonders elevated the continent but now their age has gone and it left to diplomats and spies to manage the world. These gods had their own cities that were labelled by their divine names plus "stan". The world-building and the current state of the world is the remarkable part of the story possibly even better than the terrific characterization. Kudos to the author for eschewing pseudo-European templates and creating a world that's complex as our own and incredibly diverse. I couldn't help but wonder at the role-reversal effected by the author in this tale wherein the brown people are the conquerors and have in effect stymied the rest of the world with their scientific progress. The names and locations have a certain Indian & Russian feel to them & I hope to clarify more about this with the author in his interview with us.

After acing the world-building component, Rob J. Bennett brings us down to the action via Shara Thivani and her secretary (this is a complete misnomer for him) Sigrud. As they try to figure out what is happening behind the scenes. By the way Sigrud truly is a memorable secondary character, his actions and past truly make the scenes come alive whenever he's featured and I sincerely hope in the future books that the author dwells into his past and future. Shara is a remarkable protagonist as it's through her eyes we come to experience the disheveled state of diplomacy and the many sacrifices it demands. The author doesn't stop at these two and gives us a strong secondary character cast beginning with Governor Turyin Mulghesh, who provides some of the black humour in the book with her sardonic observations. The divinities described are also rich and diverse in their viewpoints and it was fun to read about them and their wills.

Lastly there are a few mystery threads to this plot which the author very efficiently unveils and the reader will enjoy all the revelations that are laid bare about the characters, the gods and what exactly happened with the Kaj & his deicidal efforts. All in all, this book is a rich secondary fantasy story that again is hard to classify whether it's is epic fantasy or a spy story in a fantasy world, or something else. I honestly feel that this book has so many dimensions to it and the more you re-read, the more you find.

CONCLUSION: This book is the overwhelming fantasy favorite for 2014 and all others will have a hard time to eclipse it in my list. I'm glad Robert J. Bennett is also writing a sequel to this, because I truly can't wait to read more about this strange world and the three-dimensional characters that inhabit it.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 9, 2014 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Mike Thanks for this. Going to the top tier of the TBR list.


Mike Now I realize that it's not coming out till September. Face palm!! Haha.


Nayan Patel 5 star after a pretty long time I believe... definitely a TBR for me :)


Mihir You will definitely like this one Nayan. Highly, highly recommended.


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