The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now, Bulikov’s history has been censored and erased, its citizens subjugated. But the surreal landscape of the city itself, forever altered by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it, stands as a haunting reminder of its former supremacy.
Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched — along with her terrifying “secretary”, Sigrud — to solve a murder.
But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem, and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.
A tale of vast conspiracies, dead gods, and buried histories, City of Stairs is at once a gripping spy novel and a stunningly original work of fantasy.
City of Stairs is a beautifully written fantasy novel with an intriguing mystery and compelling characters.
I picked up City of Stairs because I loved Bennett’s most recent novel, Foundryside. I didn’t expect to enjoy City of Stairs as much as Foundryside but, boy, was it ever incredible. It’s difficult to compare the two since City of Stairs is not as humorous or laid back as Foundryside.
City of Stairs follows two nations (modeled roughly after Russia and India) in an early industrial era after a significant exchange of power. Enter the main character, Shara, as she’s dispatched to the country of Bulikov to solve the murder of her former mentor. Shara enters an unstable city rife with political shenanigans, enemies at every turn with few allies, and an oppressed magic system.
“Time renders all people and all things silent. And gods, it seems, are no exception.”
Bennett’s writing is some of the most beautiful writing I’ve read in a fantasy novel. Bennett straddles the line of lyrical writing and excessively flowerily writing with perfection. The imagery Bennett paints is vivid despite the very dreary world being depicted.
“Columns pierce the gray sky again and again, stabbing it, slashing it. It bleeds soft rain that makes the crumbling building faces glisten and sweat. Though the war that littered this city with such wounds is long over, the flesh and bones of the buildings remain broken and exposed.”
Shara and her secretary, Sigrud, are as compelling as characters come. They both have interesting pasts that affect their present actions and thought processes. Slowly discovering who they are and how they fit in the current events as they unfold was a pleasure to read. Sigrud is the loveable yet deadly companion while Shara is the clever and resourceful driving force of the novel.
“Scars are windows to bitterness – it is best to leave them untouched.”
The world building in this novel is absolutely incredible! For a book with only 450 pages, Bennett is able to accomplish a perfect introductory novel to what’s going to be an incredible trilogy.
Overall, City of Stairs an incredible fantasy novel that accomplishes everything it set out to do and more! City of Stairs features two nations with tumultuous pasts, robust characters, and beautifully poetic writing.