Rated Reads

City of Stairs

by Robert Jackson Bennett

Rated: High

For centuries the world was held in the strong and despotic grip of Bulikov, the City of Stairs. It was the city of the gods, where deities walked and thousands of miracles made the city safe, comfortable and beautiful. Bulikov was the envy of the world — until its divinities were killed and the miracles ceased.  Now 70 years later, Bulikov is a broken shell of its former self and Shara Thivani, a direct descendant of the god-killer, enters its walls to solve a murder.

Though she appears to be a junior bureaucratic functionary, Shara is really a highly placed spy. She arrives with her thuggish bodyguard and immediately sets about investigating the death of a history professor whose work has international diplomatic implications. He had been studying the dead gods of Bulikov and, as Shara follows his killers, she begins to suspect that these deities are not as gone as everyone believed. Miracles begin happening again — men disappear into thin air, others combust spontaneously, and horrible monsters appear and deal death to all within their reach.

The professor’s murderers appear to be religious fanatics set on restoring a god to Bulikov. Most believe that’s impossible, but Shara sees the miracles and believes these are all the result of a god exercising its power. She has to find proof that one survived in order to convince her government that a real threat exists and must be dealt with before the fanatics succeed in unleashing a new war on the world.

Robert Jackson Bennett is a good storyteller. I enjoyed the cross-genre aspects of the book. It’s a murder mystery in a fantasy world with lots of action and adventure, but what really pulled me in was his characters. I was intensely drawn to Shara, who is an idealist in a very cynical career, who loves history and believes in preserving it even while her government tasks her with repressing it. I was also sucked in by the mystery surrounding the violent Sigrud and wanted to know much more about him. Despite the violence and language in the book I actually went so far as to pick up the sequel, but was very disappointed to find that it barely mentions Shara and instead follows Mugalesh, the former governor of Bulikov. Overall, I enjoyed the book but probably not enough to pick up more of Bennett’s writing in the future.

Rated: High. This has lots of strong language (I stopped counting F-words after a while) and lots of gore. (I mean lots. After one particularly descriptive scene I put the book down with an involuntary “Eeeewwww!”) There’s lots of hand-to-hand combat and the author is inventive and detailed in the injuries and mayhem that he describes. It also has plenty of sexual conversation and innuendo, but little description of the act.

— Reviewed by Niki Bissell

Niki is an Ohio mom raising four children. Though her first love is fantasy, she also reads biographies, YA fiction, science fiction, LOTS of children’s lit, and whatever her book club buddies have chosen to read this month.

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  • City of Stairs
  • by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: