Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

In the city of stairs, nothing is as it seems.

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 pursue the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.

This was another book I picked up on a whim while waiting out the heatwave in Waterstones. Book shops are dangerous for me… I really can’t go in without buying something! And I absolutely adored City of Stairs. It was edgy, tense, fast paced, and full of complex characters existing in a very intriguing world.

I loved the characters. They aren’t quite what you expect and grow in depth and interest throughout the book. Thivani is the perfect strong female lead: clever, attractive without being sexualised (I may vomit in my own mouth if I have to read another book written by a man with a female lead who’s either a nymphomaniac or described repeatedly as “lithe”), complicated, and with a strong sense of right and wrong. The relationship between Thivani and Sigrud is deeply rooted, and subtly drives the story. And Sigrud… Well, Sigrud is just sexy. There’s really no other word for it!

The worldbuilding is fantastic. I was left desperately wanting more, wanting to visit these incredible places the author described. There was a very real sense of place, which puts this book in a class with some of the best fantasy.

The story itself is fast paced and surprising, with plenty of mystery and intrigue to carry it forward. It isn’t overly sentimental, but definitely has enough emotion behind it to give you the “feels”.

If I had one criticism, it would be that the ending felt a little rushed. It was a little simplistic. It had a good twist, and I enjoyed the battle scenes. However, I felt it could have done with a bit more drama. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the whole at all, and there is a second book which I think is why things were tied off in such a way, so it’s a very minor fault.

My favourite thing about City of Stairs (and I am hard pressed to pick just one), was the way it explored the nature of divinity. The idea that gods are as much a servant to humanity, and we have a reciprocal relationship with divinity, was clever. It really made me think. And some of those gods were properly evil. Who doesn’t like a really evil bad guy? Yet they had depth of their own and character progression of their own, and I think that really made the story into something special. I just really haven’t read anything else with quite the same ideas or concepts.

I seriously cannot recommend this book enough. It’s great fantasy and great writing, and I defy anyone not to fall in love with the beauty of the world and the complexity of the characters. I will definitely be picking up the second book in this series, City of Blades.

Rating: 4/5


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