City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Book Description:

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 has become just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, 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 to catch a murderer. 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.

I had heard a lot of good things about Robert Jackson Bennett, but City of Stairs was the first book of his I had read.  I understand now why everyone has such good things to say about him.  He’s earned it.  City of Stairs is wonderfully complex, thought-provoking and wildly entertaining.  

City of Stairs takes place in a world that was once dominated from the city of Bulikov and the gods who built it.  The gods have been killed and the people who were formerly enslaved by them now rule in Bulikov.  The city and the country have been devastated and the people are forbidden from acknowledging much of their history or even the existence of lingering magic.  The story centers around the murder of a visiting scholar from the now-ruling empire of Saypur and the enigmatic ambassador sent to investigate, Shara Thivani and her even more enigmatic assistant Sigrud.

The world building in this story is detailed, fascinating and unique.  The political machinations that are revealed throughout make you reexamine the roles of all the principal characters throughout the book.  The characters are layered and the events that take place reveal more and more about them as the story progresses.  There are so many things going on in this book and all of them interesting: the history of the world, the gods themselves, where they came from, what they did and why, how they were killed, if they were killed, the murder, political ambitions on both sides and the various futures that some are trying to stop and others to bring about.

City of Stairs can be enjoyed on many levels.  It entertains as a straightforward mystery in a fantasy setting and it also can be enjoyed for its many deeper layers with political intrigue, magic and fascinating characters.  It’s worth reading the book just to meet the character of Sigrud even if for nothing else.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

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