City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews Robert Jackson Bennett’s critically praised fantasy novel, City of Stairs, published by Broadway Books in the USA and Jo Fletcher Books in the UK. This review copy was sent by the publisher, and It is currently available to buy now.
“An excellent novel that will pull you in with an imaginative world and fascinating characters. It’s one of those books that you won’t be able to stop reading, and it’s one of those books that definitely lives up to all the hype.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
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 peruse the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.
Robert Jackson Bennett has been one of those authors who I really should get around to reading more of especially with the praise that he has received for all of his novels. As of the time of writing this review I have only read The Company Man, which I ended up really enjoying. However, it wouldn’t be until City of Stairs when I would return to Bennett’s work, and was really glad that I was able to check it out because I was quite simply blown away with it. I know I’ve been praising a lot of books that I’ve been reviewing lately, (Peter F. Hamilton’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams and Steven Erikson’s Willful Child) but the fact is, they’ve all been good books. And City of Stairs is certainly no exception to that rule as Robert Jackson Bennett steps out and knocks it out of the park.
The city of Bulikov once boasted the powers of Gods and had the ability to conquer the world. However, the mysterious deaths of its divine protectors has meant that the city has fallen into a shadow of its former self, and now Bulikov is simply just another outpost of a new world power with strict laws on censorship among other things.
This is where we meet Shara Divani. On paper, she’s an average diplomat sent by the authorities of Bulikov’s enemies. However, in secret, Shara is an expert spy, tasked with finding out who killed an innocent historian, Dr. Efrem Pangyui, who shouldn’t really have anything to hide. But little does she know that she’s about to stumble out of her depth, and the Gods themselves might not be as dead as everyone thought they were…
First off, there’s a lot of world building on display here. It takes the reader a while to get into the novel but trust me, don’t let that put you off. It’s well developed and well created, with some great attention to detail on display here. Bennett has, as far as I am aware, has never written an all-out fantasy epic before, with Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, The Troupe and American Elsewhere all being very different reads but it’s good to see that Bennett has continued his spectacular form across to a different genre from what we’ve come to expect from this writer.
Although the pace doesn’t quite pick up until midway through, City of Stairs is still an excellent success. You’ll find yourself immersed in the world that Bennett has created here and his characters are just as strong. Sigrud, Shara’s ally, is just as awesome and one of the novel’s clear standouts. Although Shara is the main character, Bennett makes his secondary cast leave a distinctive impression on the reader and that is excellent to see.
This is one of those books where once you get into it, you won’t be able to stop. It’s engrossing, captivating and engaging and is at this rate, on course to be one of the better novels of the year. There’s just so much good things about City of Stairs that it’s hard to ignore, and you’ll be blown away by just how awesome it is. There’s a good reason why everyone’s talking about this book, and believe me, you won’t want to miss out on the hype.