Book Review: City of Stairs

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities #1)

by Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Stairs Disclaimer: City of Stairs does not actually feature stairs as much as you might think. What it does feature is a no-nonsense & brilliant spy, her hulking Nordic ‘secretary’, a handful of maybe-or-maybe-not-dead gods, a murder mystery, pocket alternate realities, magic-as-religious-act, and a whole host of interesting characters and political-bureaucratic tangles. In sum: it’s a full, fun read.

The Continent, blessed by their 6 gods, used to be the most powerful empire in the world. Until a hero from Saypur (one of their colonies) managed to kill off the gods, thereby also erasing all of the magic and structures of society that the gods had gifted their favored land. Now Saypur rules its former conquerer. The city of Belikov, once the central hub of the Continent and home to the gods, has fallen far, but is still home to plenty of intrigue. 70 years may have passed, but its citizens haven’t forgotten their golden age, no matter how their new rulers try to censor history and any mention of divine beings. The city hasn’t forgotten either; there are areas where reality seems to shimmer, or change. Add together the new overlords, one native faction wanting to move forward, and one faction wanting to return to the past, and you have a nice mix of flammable politics. When Saypur makes the questionable decision to send a historian to study Continental history and artifacts- that the Continentals themselves are forbidden from viewing or speaking about- it throws a match on the whole situation.

Enter Shara Komayd, a high-ranking intelligence officer from Saypur, sent to investigate the historian’s murder. She is undercover as a minor bureaucratic functionary with only her giant bodyguard/secretary Sigrud as back-up. What starts as a simple murder investigation soon turns up more questions than answers. Why exactly was the historian murdered- simple offense or some deeper reason? Why does the Saypuri Foreign Minister not want Shara in Belikov? Why do some areas of the city seem to change, or allow people to disappear? How is Shara’s old flame from college mixed up in this? Why do some of the god’s miracles still work? What really happened all those years ago when the gods were killed? What if they aren’t actually dead?

I enjoyed this book a great deal. It was a bit slow to get started, but once Shara arrived on the scene things picked up and I was hooked. I loved her as a main character. She is smart and no-nonsense and capable, but also human underneath with her quirks and things from her past she’d rather not relive. Sigrud, her companion, is one of the best sidekick characters I’ve come across in a long while. He’s just so… taciturn. And efficient, and seemingly blasé about necessary violence. But he’s got some depth to him, too. The writing is very atmospheric, and the world has a kind of proto-Russian/Eastern European feel. And overall the mystery was very well done, though at the end I did feel it wrapped up too quickly (and so was glad to hear there will be a sequel).

If you like mysteries with an urban fantasy setting, give this a try.

I give it 4/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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City of Stairs

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Bookish Associations

One thing I always hated about English class was how the teacher or professor would over-analyze everything and make the tiniest details into an Important Symbol or Metaphor. I always doubted whether the author was intending or even thinking about that particular association when they were writing the book. I still doubt that, but now my own brain has played a trick on me. Having devoured a good number of books in my lifetime thus far, I’ve noticed that there are certain symbols or things that immediately make me think of a certain book or series. This is never to […]

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Taking Stock

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5 Things Friday

5 Things Friday

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Books I’m Not Sure I Want to Read

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ACR Summer Show Recap

This past weekend was the Austin Craft Riot Summer Show, otherwise known as the first major craft show that I’ve ever done. Which you probably knew because I basically talked about nothing else here on the blog for the past month. And of course I had high hopes, though I tried to temper those with realistic talk about it being my first show and that any sales are good and it’s getting my name/brand out there locally, etc. etc. And at the end of the weekend, I’d made back my booth fee and a little more – but not that […]

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Taking Stock

Taking a page from Pip’s book and using this list to do a life snapshot. Making : a few more prints for this weekend’s craft show. Cooking : nothing at the moment. Will probably have leftovers for lunch (spaghetti). Drinking : water. Reading: The Furies by Mark Alpert. Wanting: to do too many things at once. Looking: at the computer screen, out the window, and occasionally at the pup at my feet. Playing: I was playing Two Dots, but I beat all of the levels. I need a new iPhone game now. Deciding: what to tackle next after I finish […]

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