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City of Stairs (The Divine Cities) Paperback – September 9, 2014
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"A memorably surreal urbanscape...readers seeking a truly refreshing fantasy milieu should travel to Bulikov, and welcome its conquest.”
--New York Times Book Review
"A delightful urban fantasy that travels through a city full of Escher-like staircases and alternate realities...A diverse and entertaining cast of old gods fleshes out the ruins of this mysterious city, and Shara’s hit-man secretary delivers nonstop action."
"Entertaining yet thought-provoking...Entrancing characters, exciting descriptions and piercingly clear action keep the story moving swiftly and surely to a satisfying conclusion.”
[An] incredible journey through a wondrously weird and surprising world...I found myself both delighted and fascinated as every layer was slowly unpacked. Just the right mix of awesome."
“Suddenly, the pages are whipping by, 50 at a clip as mysteries are uncovered, miracles happen and assassins begin scaling the walls. … Bennett is plainly a writer in love with the world he has built — and with good cause. It's a great world, original and unique, with a scent and a texture, a sense of deep, bloody history, and a naturally-blended magic living in the stones.”
"Robert Jackson Bennett deserves a huge audience. This is the book that will earn it for him. A story that draws you in, brilliant world building, and oh my God, Sigrud. You guys are going to love Sigrud."
--Brent Weeks, New York Times bestselling author of The Way of Shadows
"Smart and sardonic, with wry echoes from classic tales mixed up in an inventive, winning narrative. [Bennett is] a master of the genre."
"An excellent spy story wrapped in a vivid imaginary world."
--Library Journal (starred)
A rich, layered, thoughtful story, full of gods and magic and characters that feel unflinchingly true…every once in a while I read a book that’s so well done, I find myself wanting to punch the author in the face out of pure envy. Congratulations, Mr. Bennett – you just made the face-punching list!
--Jim C. Hines, Hugo Award winning author of Libriomancer
"Alien and human at the same time, Bennett's world is engrossing and fascinating. The pacing kept me reading far later than was healthy."
--Mur Lafferty, Campbell Award winning author of Playing for Keeps
About the Author
ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT is the author of American Elsewhere, The Troupe, The Company Man, and Mr. Shivers. His books have been awarded the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson, and the Philip K. Dick Citation of Excellence. He lives in Austin with his wife and son.
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Top Customer Reviews
As a background to the complex plot, Bennett has invented a mythology. In the world Bennett creates, gods (recast as Divinities) once existed; the miracles attributed to them actually occurred. Prior to the Great War, Bulikov was a city of miracles, protected by the Divinities who occupied the Continent. Saypur was a Continental colony across the sea until a Saypuri named Kaj killed the six Divinities ... or so history records. After that, the miracles were locked away and forgotten.
Seventy-five years after Great War, Saypur rules the Continent. The people who inhabit Bulikov hate their occupiers, in part because the Saypuri have outlawed their divine symbols and all works that mention or acknowledge their Divinities.
The novel begins with the murder of Efram Pangyui, a Saypuri who was studying the Divinities and trying to learn how Kaj managed to kill them. Saypur sends Pangyui's mentor, a woman named Shara, to investigate. Shara, who does not want the Continentals to know that she is the great-granddaughter of Kaj, pursues mysteries and conspiracies that go much deeper than Pangyui's murder. Her investigation is impeded both by an uncooperative superior in Saypur and by Continentals who miraculously vanish on Bulikov's streets.
In addition to Shara, the novel's strongest characters include Shara's former lover, now a wealthy Continental; Shara's aunt, who operates Saypur's Ministry of Foreign Affairs while serving her own hidden agenda; and a rough-and-tumble Saypuri woman who is charged with governing Bulikov. The best character is Shara's assistant, Sigrud, who might be described as a philosopher-barbarian. Each character has a fully formed, carefully considered personality.
In many ways, the novel is allegorical. It can be seen as an exploration of leadership, of ruling by fiat versus leading by example. It can also be seen as a critique of religion, particularly religions that micromanage diets, dress, and sex acts, enforcing prohibitions by visiting inhumane punishments upon transgressors. Religious edicts that deny the experience of joy deprive their followers of a part of their humanity, while blind adherence to arbitrary rules, even when made by deities, is antithetical to progress and enlightenment -- or so the novel suggests.
Another of the novel's themes is the tendency of the oppressed to become oppressors once they seize power. Another concerns the consequences that befall wealthy nations when they allow oppressed nations to wallow in poverty. Yet another is how we deal with history when the history we learned turns out to be a lie, and how easily we forget that we all share a common history. This novel isn't a political or ethical tome but it scores points for illustrating meaningful lessons, always within the context of the plot and without lecturing. It scores even more points for using exceptional characters to tell a fascinating story.
① - There is no love story. Well that isn’t specifically true. There is a story that involve two people who were a couple in the past but really that is it. In the present tense of the story there isn’t any romantic hopefuls. I love having someone in by books to ship even if nothing comes from it for books and books.
② - It isn’t my typical fantasy set up. There are no dragons to be slain or lands to explore. No this is more of a political intrigue. A man is dead and someone has come to figure out why.
③ - Religion. There is a ton of it. I sometimes like the addition of religion to a story but I’m not usually fond of stories when it is one of the main driving forces of the plot. Unless you are Brandon Sanderson and you can blend the Religion, Politics, Culture and World building all together and not many can.
So this should have been a 2 star read for me. I should have been bored and maybe…possibly dare I say it even…not complete the book. But the reason I held on and finished the entire thing was because I loved the city, Shara and her secretary Sigrud. Sigrud is a hammer in a world of nails, and he is satisfied knowing only that. He is also one of the deadliest and coolest characters I’ve read in a long time. I also loved that he was not beautiful but came from a distant land with scars, horrors and a devastating past.
“Life is full of beautiful dangers, dangerous beauties," says Sigrud. He stares into the sky, and the white sunlight glints off his many scars. "They wound us in ways we cannot see: an injury ripples out, like a stone dropped in water, touching moments years into the future.”
Then there is Shara and she isn’t the beautiful and striking character that can flirt her way into men’s heads and hearts and coerce there trust that way. She is bookish and even boyish looking since she weighs about 95lbs soaking wet. But she is brilliant in her own ways and is not going to let anyone get away with anything they shouldn’t. I was pulling for her as it seems that she is alone with no one in the world to trust but Sigrud who if you are going to go into a city against unknown enemies you would want on your side.
Then last there is a city. It is a place that gods used to live with the people and when the gods were killed it was like the city forgot how to be a city and so some of it sort or vanished and there are building that just stopped being there and stairs that end up going to nowhere now but sometimes out of the corner of your eye it is like you can almost still see something. I had the best time trying to figure out where parts of the city went and how could you get there again.
This is a story about a race who had conquered another race for years and used them as slaves. But now the slaves have revolted and hold the power and turn about is not all fair play it seems.
“Just because you won the War doesn't mean you can do whatever you like!' says Yaroslav. 'And just because we lost it doesn't mean you can strip us of everything we value!”
I felt bad for both sides of that as it seems like no one is really right but also no one is really all wrong either. It is complicated a lot like Game of Thrones (I only use this reference because most people have read or watched the show) but when you can see all of the sides it isn’t like you can root for a single side because you understand the intricacies of it. It is more that you root for certain characters and hope that things work out for them regardless of the side they are on. That is what I felt like in this story.
I loved the magic, gods and revelations that were made as the story got going. There were some really cool reveals along the way and overall after hitting 20% I was pretty into the rest of the story.
Not something I would have read had I not been pushed by a few friends but something that I’m glad I picked up. Even if there wasn’t a clear ship to jump on.