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The Divine Cities #1

City of Stairs

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2014)
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.

452 pages, Paperback

First published September 9, 2014

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About the author

Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His eighth novel, FOUNDRYSIDE, will be available in the US on 8/21 of 2018 and the UK on 8/23.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,833 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
675 reviews43k followers
May 4, 2023
A truly wonderful start to a trilogy and one of the most original world-building I’ve ever had the chance to experience in a novel.

City of Stairs is the first book in the The Divine Cities trilogy written by Robert Jackson Bennett, and let me tell you all something, this was one of those series that has been sitting in my TBR pile for way too long; since March 2017. Not only that, but I’m ashamed to admit that it was also one of those series I considered removing from my TBR pile due to diminishing interest caused by the TBR mountain of oppression. And I’m so damn pleased I didn’t do that; better late than never because this book was great. City of Stairs also provides a unique experience in a genre that’s filled with the medieval setting; I honestly don’t mind medieval settings in my fantasy books, but it’s always awesome to read a fantasy book with different flavors, too.

Even though City of Stairs rightfully belongs in the high fantasy genre, it’s actually quite difficult for me to put a proper label of genres to this book. The story is a murder mystery, and it takes place in a high fantasy world imbued with sci-fi—and horror—elements. Genre classifications aside, I do know that this is a magnificent book; it even made it to my “favorites” shelves.

The plot in City of Stairs starts with a murder. Our main character and her secretary/bodyguard—Shara and Sigrud—are in charge of catching who the killer is. This investigation, of course, eventually become more complex as the story progressed, and what first started as a simple murder mystery ended up turning into something so much bigger and dangerous in both scope and tension. The story itself is a slow burn, full of compelling politics and thought-provoking religious discussion. To be honest, it took some time for me to get comfortable with the writing and setting of the book—around 25%, give or take—and this is the only minor issue I had with the book. Believe me, don’t let the beginning put you off; it’s a book worth continuing because the narrative keeps on getting better as it progressed. In my opinion, the world-building alone was more than enough to make this novel a must-try for any SFF fans.

“Life is full of beautiful dangers, dangerous beauties... They wound us in ways we cannot see: an injury ripples out, like a stone dropped in water, touching moments years into the future.”

Most of the story in City of Stairs takes place in the city of Bulikov, a Russian-inspired city that prospered due to the miracles and powers provided by the Divinity—the gods in this world. However, these divine protectors were killed, and the city of Bulikov is now a mere shadow of its former supremacy. There’s also the Indian-inspired city of Saypur. These two inspirations for the setting alone were something relatively rare in the fantasy genre; at least from my experience. But what makes the world-building superb was how phenomenal, intricate, and original it was. The integration of lore, history, religions, culture, mythologies, and divinities into every single narrative in the book was incredible. The world-building was divine in quality and every sense of the word.

“The Divine may have created many hells", he says, "but I think they pale beside what men create for themselves.”

As always, the characters and their characterizations were the most important part. I’m pleased to say that I highly enjoyed reading these character’s stories. Three dominant protagonists drive the narrative, they’re Shara, Sigrud, and Mugalesh. In my opinion, Bennett is an efficient writer; his characters don’t contemplate a lot, but they always have enough actions and dialogues for their character to be distinctive. For example, Sigrud is a side character with minimal dialogue, but he ended up becoming my favorite character in City of Stairs.

Picture: Sigrud Je Harkvaldsson by Chanh Quach

Overall, City of Stairs was a captivating and divine start to a trilogy. Reading a book as refreshing as this in fantasy felt like inhaling a breath of fresh air. For those of you who are looking for an original SFF novel filled with a great plot, characterization, prose, and most of all, phenomenal world-building, then I urge you to give this book a try, In my honest opinion, City of Stairs is one of the best starts to a trilogy I've ever read, and it was truly worth the climb.

“...history, as you may know, is much like a spiral staircase that gives the illusion of going up, but never quite goes anywhere.”

You can order the book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions | I also have a Booktube channel
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 508 books403k followers
July 24, 2015
Adult fantasy.

A highly original story involving gods resurrected in a modern world – how could I not be drawn to this? Set in an early industrial world where the two major nations are Bulikov (modeled loosely on Russia) and Saypur (modeled loosely on India), this story starts as a murder mystery and develops into a high fantasy of world-changing magic. Centuries ago, Bulikov had a pantheon of active gods who led their mortal worshippers to victory and made them the dominant world power through magic. Then, somehow, the leader of Saypur found a way to kill gods. Supposedly all the gods either died or disappeared, and soon Saypur was the dominant world power, using science and technology to conquer. Since then, Bulikov has been reduced to a backwater.

The main character, Shara Thivani, arrives in Bulikov to solve the murder of her former mentor, but soon learns there are strange things going on. It’s possible the gods are not dead after all. And if the gods come back, it might threaten Saypur’s power and plunge the world into another civil war.

The world building is great, the action is awesome, and I loved the clash of cultures and belief systems. Definitely recommended for fantasy fans!
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
December 20, 2016
My favorite books transcend genre. This one was particularly compelling in that it mixes fantasy with an alt-world of cold, Lenin-era ambiance. The premise is that gods once actually walked the earth, but then man killed them all. The story of the book follows the consequences of this action. This is a great, meaty fantasy and I highly recommend it for the world building and fantastic characters, including a kick-ass female lead. One of my faves of 2016.
Profile Image for carol..
1,538 reviews7,882 followers
March 30, 2023
Read this.

I almost didn't, wary of the disappointment an over- hyped book can bring. But once I started, it was very hard to put down (sorry, fellow jurors, for ignoring your social overtures during our breaks). Picked as a monthly read, I started right before being called for federal jury trial. At first, I was glad of the opportunity to get in some reading time--nothing better than sitting around reading as the gears of bureaucracy grind away--but imagine my dismay when I was picked. Suddenly my reading time dissipated like smoke. Still, a lunch hour here, a judge's meeting there, and I was able to make serious progress, until I got far enough in the book (and the trial) that I sacrificed sleep for resolution.

A very quick synopsis, but don't let it fool you. The complexity of the story is built well and is by no means a dizzying array of foreign place names and concepts:

The city of Bulikov has been conquered by the Saypur people, its powerful divinities killed or missing, and the history of its religion erased. Much like Greek and Indian gods, the Divinities of Bulikov were very present in their followers' lives. Now, however, it has become taboo to worship, to even speak of the gods or to acknowledge the daily miracles they created for their followers. Shara is a covert operative who has come to Bulikov intending to discover why scholar Efrem Pangyui, who was researching various miracles and mysteries of the gods, has been murdered. In disguise as a new ambassador, she brings her faithful protector Sigrud with her. Shara's Aunt Vinya is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and gives Shara one week to solve the murder before she needs to leave Bulikov for the next mission. As Shara investigates, not only does she have to confront the possibility that Restorationists in Bulikov are trying to overthrow the Saypur, she has to confront her own past.

Characterization is wonderful. The characters are complex, conflicted, with multiple motivations and loyalties. Even a brief interrogation of an elderly female maid had nuance. Questions are gradually built about Sigrud, at first a seemingly typical silent bodyguard character until the reader is as curious about his history as Shara's. It is also delightful to find an author who uses language well enough to imbue physical description with hints of the spirit. The first time we meet Ambassador Shara Thivani, the assistant sent to meet her notes:

"Pitry finds there is something off about her eyes... The giant's gaze was incredibly, lifelessly still, but this woman's eyes are the precise opposite: huge and soft and dark, like deep wells with many fish swimming in them.

The woman smiles. The smile is neither pleasant nor unpleasant: it is a smile like fine silver plate, used for one occasion and polished and put away once finished."

The setting is primarily focused on the city of Bulikov and receives equally lavish description:

"The house of Votrov is one of the most modern homes in all of Bulikov, but you could never tell by looking at it: it is a massive, bulky, squat affair of dark gray stone and fragile buttresses... To Shara, who grew up seeing the slender, simplistic wood structures of the Saypur, it is a primitive, savage thing, not resembling a domicile as much as a malformed, aquatic polyp."

Like life, such a serious tale of conquered and conqueror is leavened with humor. Much is cynical, based on Shara's sardonic nature and a friend's irreverent one:

"'She gives him a taut, bitter grin. 'And you're still so smugly, blithely ignorant.'
'Is it ignorance if you don't care to know it?'
'Yes. That is almost the definition of ignorance, actually.'"

What builds depth for me is Shara's curiosity about the divinities and their cultural effects, as well as my growing realization that no one here has the moral high ground. The Saypuri were the slaves of the Continentals until they rose up, and a hero killed one of the Continental gods. Now, the Saypuri keep the Continentals on a tight leash, hoping to prevent the return of their oppressors:

"While no Saypuri can go a day without thinking of how their ancestors lived in abysmal slavery, neither can they go an hour without wondering why. Why were they denied a god? What was the Continent blessed with protectors, with power, with tools and privileges that were never extended to Saypur? How could such a tremendous inequality be allowed? And while Saypuris may seem to the world to be a small, curious people of education and wealth, anyone who spends any time in Saypur soon comes to understand that in their hearts lives a cold rage that lends them a cruelty one would never expect. They call us godless, Saypuris occasionally say to one another, as if we had a choice."

Something about this reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay in its finely balanced blend between personal and political, the past and present and love and family, all woven through with the miraculous and colored with lyrical language.

I'll be adding it to my library and looking for more from Bennett.
December 24, 2018
Previous rating: 20 stars.
New rating : 22 stars. Because why the shrimp not.

And the moral of this rereread is : this book. This Bloody Fishing Book (BFB™). It is Slightly Extremely Good (SEG™) and stuff.

And the other moral of this rereread is : Colonel Turyin Mulaghesh, I want to be you when I grow up. Now let's dance and stuff.

P.S. Sigrud = YUM, just so you know.

· Book 2: City of Blades ★★★★★
· Book 3: City of Miracles ★★★★★

[March 2017]

· Aww Yeah We Are So Doing this Again Buddy Reread (AYWASDtABR™) with some People of Stupendelicious Good Taste (PoSGT™) over at BB&B ·

Previous rating: 8-10 stars. I obviously read the book VERY wrong the first time around.
New rating : 20 stars. Now that's more like it.

And the moralsssssss of this reread are :

① This book is so Bloody Shrimping Scrumptious (BSS™) I might die. Or worse, I might cry *shudders*

② Bloody shrimping hell, I feel like I've been sucker punched. Which is slightly orgasmic.

③ This book features some of the bloody shrimping mostest awesomest final chapters in the history of bloody shrimping mostest awesomest final chapters. QED and stuff.

Anyone who hasn't yet read this bloody shrimping book should die a slow, painful, somewhat excruciating death be kicked out of Goodreads. And then fed to the crustaceans.

P.S. Shara + Mulaghesh + Sigrud = poof! Gone! Harem! = MINE MINE MINE.

[Original review: January 2016]

Mostest Interestingest and Thought Provoking Buddy Read Ever (MIaTPBRE™) with my dear wives Choko and Maria

Actual rating: 8-10 stars. I kid you not ★

» Okay. I was going to write an ever-rambling, fangirl-unleashing review for this book. But I can't. Because it's so bloody brilliant (not the unborn review, the book, you silly! *eyeroll*) that speechless is me. Well, more or less. As speechless as I can get, anyway. Which is not very speechless. But hey, you never know, you might get lucky one of these days. Don't abandon hope all ye who blah blah blah! But I digress.

» So City of Stairs has been sitting on my Kindle for two years. What does that tell you about me? That I'm a complete, total, utter idiot, that's what. Then again, the blurb being what it is, it's nothing short of a miracle that I ever considered picking this book up. The thing screams "pretentious, overly descriptive contents inside." But I am not afraid and always up for a challenge, so I told my little self: "be bold! Be brave! You survived Dukes, and Mermen and babies, oh my! You can definitely survive a silly fantasy book about Gods and geopolitics! Besides, you managed to finish The Eye of the World and therefore became invincible! You can do this, Sarah! Nefarious is you!" ← self pep talk ends here.

Which loosely translates to: bring on the Murderous Crustaceans, I can totally do this!

I know, I know, I said that this book had left me speechless. Guess what? I lied. Moving on.

» Now tell me something: how often do you come across a truly original, unique world? A world that is complex but so well-crafted that even Crappy Historical Romance readers would understand what's going on? Anyone? No? That's what I thought. Not often, that's how often. And the more books you read, the more you feel like you're reading the same one over and over again. Not with City of Stairs, you don't. Because this book is nothing short of amazing. Flabbergasting. Astonishing. Astounding. Mind-boggling. And that's about enough of that, because if you read the book and end up thinking it's pure crap, I'm pretty sure you will (choose all that apply): 1-never let me hear the end of it 2-rehash it until the end of days 3-kick my ass 3-make me read YA Paranormal Romance until my dying day. So let's put a leash on the fangirl. Let's take the Murderous Crustaceans to a relaxing yoga class. Let's be calm and reasonable. Yes, calm and reasonable is definitely me. So, why did I like City of Stairs? Because it is a very good book. See? I've got this restrained, dispassionate, subdued thing totally under control I'm getting so delightfully undemonstrative in my old age. It's positively heart warming, isn't it?

Yes, yes, I know I know I know, time for me to get back on track. Again. I'm doing my best here, okay? Sheesh, people, calm and reasonable might be me but patience is definitely not you.

Warning: this is where I cut the crap and actually start talking about the book. You're welcome ☢

» The Continent, a country ruled by six Gods. Saypur, a country enslaved by The Continent. But that was before. Now the tables have turned. The slaves have become the masters. The Gods are dead. Persecution has changed sides. A deceptively unimportant historian is found dead on Continent soil. Shara Thivani, a seemingly inoffensive Saypuri diplomat, is sent to investigate the murder. And so it begins. Doesn't sound like much, does it? That's exactly what I thought when I started reading this book. Look at me now.

I promise this is the very last calm, reasonable and mature gif I will post in this review. Cross my heart, hope to die and all that crap.

» This book was a disaster waiting to happen. A world so rich and complex, with so many underlying themes, could and should have been a pompous, confusing mess. But it wasn't. Because of Bennett's masterful storytelling. This is a book about politics, religious fanaticism, history, slavery, persecution, ambition, government, patriotism, cultural hegemony, betraying virtue for the greater good, discrimination, resilience, resistance, oppression, revenge, ethnic cleansing…and more. You would think a book approaching such subjects would be overwhelming. Grandiloquent. Difficult. Depressing. Boring. Well it is everything but that. Bennett never lectures, his style is straightforward but not simplistic. He keeps the reader engaged and highly entertained from start to finish, and at the same time gives him/her a lot to think about. And when I say "a lot," I mean "A LOT." The book resonates not only with past historical events, but also with what is going on in the world today. It's captivating. It's amazing. It's pretty mind-blowing. And seriously impressive.

Yes, I wear my seriously cool yellow outfit, strike a seriously awesome pose and blow up some seriously dramatic fireworks whenever I'm seriously impressed. Low-key is me.

» Time for you to ask me a question. Oh look, someone wants to ask a question! This is so cool! So much interaction today! I'm listening! "Why is this book so impressive," you ask? Because, despite the very thought-provoking questions Bennett raises, the book is fun to read. As in FUN to read. It's fast-paced and intriguing. It's absorbing from start to finish: murder mystery, great banter, fantastic fights, bloodshed, humour, cool creatures, miracles, friendship, deviousness and trickery, unexpected twists and revelations...this book has it all, I tell you!

Yes, I tend to play the piano on my cat whenever I get overexcited.

» The characters are an awesome bunch: Shara (aka the little battle axe), the seemingly unassuming diplomat/spymaster (I want to be her when I grow up). Sigrud, the giant bloodshed-loving secretary/pirate. Mulaghesh, the cigarillo-smoking, ever-cursing, kick-ass army vet/governor (I'm in love with that woman). And Vo. Oh, Vo. And [spoiler spoiler spoiler], you, you, you @%$*@!!! And Urav, you delightful little pet. And the Gods. Oh, the Gods...Kolkan, you twisted bastard. And [spoiler spoiler spoiler], you hot [spoiler spoiler spoiler]. Damn, the characters in this book are so cool, even the lowly bureaucrats are fun to read about! But you know what is really great about these characters? They are all flawed. They are not wholly bad or good. They screw up. Their motives are sometimes dubious. And that makes them feel real. Add to that fantastic character dynamics, and you get the aforementioned awesome bunch. Simple as that. Ha.

Yes, this is me expressing my excitement in a very subdued, mature way.

►► And the moral of this calm, cool and collected review is: this book is entertaining, thought-provoking, intelligent and captivating. With a rich, masterful, atmospheric, unique world-building. And fantastic characterization. And an exciting plot that keeps you guessing until the very last page. And I liked it a little. Mind you, it's not that I LOVED it or anything. Oh no. I just thought it was almost tolerable. Almost. Need I say more? Didn't think so. Bye now.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,978 followers
February 10, 2017
As a novel of ideas, the novel is absolutely rich and fantastic.

But when it comes to the writing, I had to complain a bit about the choice of tropes. I'm wasn't certain that a mystery was the absolute best medium to propel the main tale, but when the book is said and done, I can't fault how it was wrapped up. Everything made perfect sense. I found that I was caught up in my own prejudices even as I was reading it, and the journey had changed me in the end, which is strange enough, because we're not talking about great human quirks that plague us. It was just the fact that I was reading a truly superior fantasy that thought it was a murder mystery.

It turned out to be a sneaky novel that paraded about like a police procedural in the beginning but wind up being a god-slaying action adventure and political coup. What the hell? Seriously, I was pretty ambivalent during most of the first third of the novel. I really enjoyed the brilliant worldbuilding, but the operative angle and murder mystery was just okay. If it's intent was to slow me down and take the view, it did, but I didn't need it. I was already completely hooked by the world.

And then something happened. At first it was Sigurd. And then it was Shara and the conspiracy, the hints of killed gods coming back.

One thing anyone ought to know before reading this book is that it has a really fantastic magic system. As a mystery and eventually a political novel, it turns out pretty awesome, but as an epic fantasy that masquerades as a modern land of industry after the assassination of all the gods that could bend reality to their will, the novel's pretty freaking fantastic. The fantasy compels and twists and delights.

When the action starts, it ranks up there as a heroic legend full of all the classic signatures, outperforming so many of my own favorite fantasy classics that I actually put the book down to cheer for a while.

The two main characters made this novel shine, heavy mashups of tons of tropes, and yet it wasn't a mess. I felt their personalities eventually blow across the pages like a storm.

Sigurd was a Queequeg. He was an unkillable tortured hero pirate and sidekick, and lost prince and a godkiller.

Shara was the transforming naive government functionary detective historian setting reluctant foot into national politics and fighting injustice while also happening to be a god-killing great-granddaughter of a tortured godkiller that brought about the technological supremacy of Saypur so many years ago.

Truly, I loved how complicated these two were. Their mashups were delightful.

But the question is: How does anyone transform such humble mystery beginnings into a nearly hopeless epic battle against truly reality-warping gods?

I'm at a loss to explain. (It's that good.) Read it for yourself to experience the journey. ;)

Mr. Bennett has successfully built a set of stairs into the sky, one step at a time, but unlike Bulikov, these stairs actually GO somewhere. Bravo!

Seriously, I am looking forward to the next in the series with something approaching insanity. :)

Profile Image for Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~.
347 reviews932 followers
April 4, 2018
Actual Review: 4.5 Stars

City of Stairs is, at its heart, a murder mystery, with a hull of geopolitical strife & fueled by a peculiar magic that isn't totally understood even by the story's main characters. The perfect recipe for a story that had me up past my bed time many nights in a row.

Right off the bat it plunges the reader into the thick of the roiling tensions between two major nations with a complicated history.

Once dangerously powerful & supported by miracles performed by their deities, Bulikov was responsible for the abuse & demoralization of many. Now, their gods destroyed & their histories revoked, Bulikov has been reduced to a shadow of its former splendor.

Saypur, persecuted for years by Bulikov, and now its rulers, sends Shara Thivani as an ambassador to the capital with an undercover mission to solve the murder of a Saypuri doctor who served as her mentor.

Shara is undoubtedly a star in this book. Strong willed, vastly intelligent, with a noticeable disability, she captured my interest from the moment she was introduced.

Shara is surrounded by a in intriguing group of characters, prominently featuring a huge & terrifying man from the North, Sigrud, and the equally terrifying retired General Mulagesh.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it's High-Fantasy that is not inspired by Medieval Europe. I've seen others designate that Bulikov is loosely based on Russia, and Saypur is loosely based on India.

It's so refreshing to find a Fantasy with a setting as vibrant & complex as this. I can see where some may have felt detached from the details here, but those details were crafted so skillfully that I never once found myself losing interest.

Author Robert Jackson Bennett expertly balances the current mystery plot with a number of flashbacks that help to flesh out & explain both the characters & their inclinations.

Personally, I've got this thing for stories that heavily revolve around politics & religion, especially when there are magical threads to consider. I love taking the journey through all the complicated motivations that have led the involved parties to their current situation, and this book is rife with the exploration of motives.

When a writer can show me only a small sliver of their world, but simultaneously convey that there is an expansive existence beyond the immediate scope of the story, that quickly grabs my attention.

The division of loyalties, obligations to one's religion, and the discovery of self-confidence are some of the major themes that weave together throughout this tale. In combination with exceptional magical qualities & a dynamic cast of characters, this book is by far one the most distinctive I've ever read.

I will say, the resolution of the plot within the larger plot was just slightly shaky for me with how it came about. But because the situations Bennett has created are so complex with many different moving pieces to consider, I'm willing to wait & allow my understanding fully develop before I let it bother me.

Would recommend to anyone looking for a fresh, bizarre, & beautifully crafted story that's (way) outside of the box!

This review and other reviews of mine can be found on Book Nest!
Profile Image for Brent Weeks.
Author 62 books21.5k followers
April 8, 2014
*The following is more a blog post about blurbing City of Stairs than specifically a review. But it's mostly pertinent, so I thought it would fit here.*

A few months ago, I teased about a book I’d read that I loved, but I didn’t tell you what it was. Partly because I didn’t want to scoop the author’s own marketing efforts, and partly because, hey, I believe in obnoxiously enjoying small perks to the hilt. But here’s what I was enjoying:

Robert Jackson Bennett is one of those quirky-bright writers whose quirky-brightness will serve him in the long run, but has seemed to handicap him in the short term. There’s a gap to bridge between even a great book, and that book finding the right readers. In my opinion, Robert’s books have been hard to shelve because they straddle genres. He’s drawn comparisons to voices as diverse as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Madeleine L’Engle, and has gotten good mentions from people as widely dispersed in the genre as Jim C. Hines, Jeff Vandermeer, Nisi Shawl, and…me! His debut novel, Mr. Shivers, certainly wasn’t my normal favored milieu, but I really enjoyed the book despite a setting I quite frankly usually avoid. (A quirk of mine, nothing more.) And I could tell immediately that Mr. Bennett was going to grow. That’s the thing about smart writers—they learn, they adapt, they get better.

I’m proud to say that I was right. (I love being right.) With City of Stairs, I think that RJB has done something really impressive: fans of his early work will see plenty of what they have come to love about Robert’s work, but new readers looking for an exciting, kick-ass story in a deep setting will enjoy this book too. Readers love great books, but people fall in love with great characters, and in City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett introduces one in a way that is clever, graceful, and over the top all at once. Sigrud is a side character, but he’s a GREAT side character.

Robert, don’t f**k up Sigrud.

Other people have nice things to say about City of Stairs, and I’m sure many more are to come. In the interest of being pithy and hitting different points than others had, I said this:

“Robert Bennett Jackson deserves a huge audience. This is the book that will earn it for him. A story that draws you in, brilliant world building, and oh my God, Sigrud. You guys are going to love Sigrud.” -Brent Weeks

As you may know, Robert has opted for an… eccentric online persona, so in that spirit, I also sent them the following blurb, but… I don’t think it’ll make it onto a cover:

“Please don’t read this book. I am jealous of the success of others, and would not like Robert Jackson Bennett to enjoy the hordes of fans he deserves.” -Brent Weeks
Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
841 reviews3,775 followers
February 15, 2021
What a cruel, marvelous, surprising little thing.

STEP 1 : Be intrigued by this complex, original and fascinating world-building whose layers still hide so many gems (I'm sure of it).

STEP 2 : Let the stupefaction stun you when you discover how all the threads are carefully weaved, bringing together... Well : politics, opression, a murder mystery, religion, tolerance, identity, fanaticism, racism and the ever controversial question of the Greater Good whose relevance is never a sure thing (for whom, decided by whom, see)... etc etc etc. And you are not even bored (if you are, let it be known that I don't do refunds).

STEP 3 : Be so fucking surprised that all this religious talk is not driving you nuts (okay, this one might be only for me) - actually, not that surprised : I'm interested in religion, as in : history and culture. I am not interested in being preached to. Guess what path the story took.

STEP 4 : Be amazed and a little in love with these FEMALE LEADS who put to shame every traditional Fantasy story which let us think that women are either queens or whores (tell me I'm wrong). Strong female leads can also be smart and fierce and driven and not the regular warrior either. Thank you Shara for showing us that we can be badass with our brain. (I love you too, Mulaghesh)

STEP 5 : Do not be fooled by thinking that these characters will be perfect or chosen or you know, heroes. Yet they're not anti-heroes either : indeed all of them show their realism through the slow reveal of their flaws. You just wait.

STEP 6 : Go meet Vo, because you need to (also, I said so).

STEP 7 : Bottle the laughs and smiles (and IN YOUR FACE, ASSHOLE! ← of course that's a thing) whenever they're thrown at you, because you'll need them.

STEP 8 : Do not think for one second that your heart is safe. Conceited me, who thought that I could go through Bulikov without threatening my well-being. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR.

STEP 9 : Be compelled to keep reading because really? It's not like you have a choice.

STEP 10 : Be aware that I overlooked some flaws, and I'm not even ashamed : mostly, a little too much telling in some parts and a deus-ex-machina-like character . I DO NOT CARE.


Art by John Petersen (source) - Thanks Kat for the idea :)

For more of my reviews, please visit:
Profile Image for Helen 2.0.
289 reviews788 followers
February 8, 2019
The city knows. It remembers. The past is written in its bones, though now the past speaks in silences.

This book is genius! At some points the writing is so lovely I had to stop reading for a second to bask in its glory. That's part of the reason why it took me so long to read the book - I didn't want it to end.

City of Stairs is set in an imaginative epic fantasy, almost steampunk setting. The Continent was once protected by mighty gods, allowing them to colonize and enslave many surrounding nations. In a creative twist, the Kaj, member of the enslaved Saypuris, figures out a way to kill the gods and leads an army to bring the Continent to its knees. The storyline takes place many decades later, in the continental city Bulikov which has been ripped apart by the death of its gods and the ensuing Saypuri rule. The main character, Shara, is a descendant of the Kaj sent to investigate the death of her colleague and friend in this ruined city setting.

So there we have the exciting set-up for City of Stairs. Once you get into the swing of the story, things get even more exciting. Here are a few aspects I particularly loved.

1. The world-building is unbelievably intricate. I can't imagine how many hours Bennett spent mind-mapping and listing and ruminating over every detail of the world he's created here. While reading the story, you get the idea that what is shown of the settings is only a small fraction of what Bennett has come up with.

2. More so than the elaborate world, I love the techniques that the author uses to reveal his world-building. His characterization and descriptions of characters often reveal as much about the world as they do about the character themselves. He also uses viewpoint to convey a better understanding of the world. For example, main characters are often introduced not in their first POV chapter but through the eyes of another person, so that readers can get an outside look at the character and what sort of insights their appearance and culture give to a bystander. This is how the main character and her tall secretary are introduced, as seen by a low-level bureaucrat:
It is a small Saypuri woman, dark-skinned and even smaller than Pitry. She is dressed rather plainly [...]. Pitry finds there is something off about her eyes... The giant's gaze was incredibly, lifelessly still, but this woman's eyes are the precise opposite: huge and soft and dark, like deep wells with many fish swimming in them.
The woman smiles. The smile is neither pleasant nor unpleasant: it is a smile like fine silver plate, used for one occasion and polished and put away once finished.

3. Which brings me to the characters, and particularly the diverse representation. We have several main characters in power who are women of color, one who is bi, and many other diverse people walk on and off the stage. This made a lot of sense, given the world in which the oppressed became the powerful, and I'm glad the author didn't shy away from representation.
As you've already seen, the characterization is incredibly well done, with descriptions and inner dialogue that create a very clear image of each narrator.

4. As for the beautiful writing, I couldn't post enough excerpts to illustrate Bennett's prowess, so I hope you go check out the book yourself for more.
The author has a talent for taking very dramatic emotions and putting them into the perfect phrase, without sounding overdone. Here is my favorite instance of evocative language.
Time renders all people and all things silent, she thinks. But I will speak of you, of all of you, for all the time I have.

I will deny all accounts that I cried upon reading this, so don't even think of asking about it.

So overall I loved the book and would recommend it to all of you! It dabbles in a wide range of genres - fantasy, steampunk, mystery, even a little romance - so there's something for everyone.
Profile Image for Anne.
3,922 reviews69.3k followers
June 4, 2017
Very thorough world building and extremely thought-provoking story, but when it was over...?


I just wasn't moved enough to grab the next book.
I'm pretty sure it's just me because this sucker has really high ratings and the vast majority of my friends LOVED it. I just couldn't connect with the main characters enough to truly care what happened to them by the end. At first, I thought I would love it, but by the last bit, I was just wanting it to be over so I could tick this one off my list...


The book seems to be a mash-up of fantasy, alternate history, mystery, and spyish stuff. Which is pretty cool, to be honest. It just wasn't enough for me.
It certainly wasn't a bad book. And I didn't struggle very much to get through it, but I'm not interested in continuing.
However, there are a multitude of fabulous glowing reviews, so check them out before crossing this book off your list.
Profile Image for Eon ♒Windrunner♒  .
423 reviews467 followers
March 28, 2017
There are two things I mostly avoid in my fantasy where possible. Religion & politics. I can usually stomach them in small quantities but when they play major parts of the story I lose interest. Some people may enjoy fantasy-lite, but I am not one of them. I have read and enjoyed some fantasy books of the light version, but these were few and far in between. Give me LOADS of fantasy and small pinches of religion and politics and I am a happy guy.

That said, I must have added and removed Robert Jackson Bennet's City of Stairs half a dozen times from my TBR list due to either great reviews or reviews highlighting the politics/religion. That changed when the most flagitious of carcinologists, her pernicious nefariousness, Sarah-of-the-dark-vitriolic-depths-of-doom ( SotDVDoD™ ), promptly asserted that this book was in fact worthy of my time and with her iniquitous and benevolent hand gifted it to me and coerced invited me to the Buddy Read.

Well friends… It started of politicky. And then it veered into full blown religion. And then it hinted at fantasy. I’m talking barely a whiff of the fantastical, with a HEAVY dose of IT-THAT-SHALL-NOT-BE-READ-BY-EON. EEK! Would I dare to DNF this book?

And then I remembered Sarah’s DNF graveyard that, like water, covers 70% of the earth’s surface and the tension melted away and I was able to keep on going for a few more chapters. And then the unthinkable happened. The whiff of the good stuff became a zephyr which was in turn punctuated by sudden gales of pure, magical fantasy and of course RJB did not rely only on his scintillating worldbuilding but also provided us with wonderfully detailed characters that grew on me so much that I am thoroughly looking forward to the next instalment in this series. *pauses for air

The story itself was very well written and will have you changing loyalties continually throughout the progress of journey. At first you think the one side is bad and then you jump ship to the other side and then you realize everyone is bad or just that everyone is human. (Even though everyone is not human) RJB dished up a murder mystery embroiled in those dreaded things called politics and religion. I know. Yawn. Then some BADASS characters stole the limelight in their fight to uncover the truth. And then weird magical things happened. And then there was a hint that gods long thought dead might be less dead than previously thought. And this was some bloody great writing.

That’s right. I loved it. Slow start, politics and all. This author has some serious talent!

This nonsensical review was brought to you by he-who-must-not-be-allowed-to-write-reviews-a-full-week-after-finishing-the-book-and-failing-to-make-any-notes.
Profile Image for Liz.
600 reviews504 followers
May 6, 2016
This is a rant about what I didn't like, it is entirely personal and I hope I don't sound too hateful. In case I do, I am sorry.

This book has such a high rating, a pity that I wasn't charmed by it. In this case I think I am the lonely soul that ends up hating what is highly praised by the majority.

It was an incredibly exhausting read.
I felt like I was reading 900 pages instead of 400-something.
I don't recommend it, no matter whether you are a sci-fi or fantasy fan. This was more of a mystery novel with fantastic elements than fantasy.

But let's start at the beginning.

1. The names. Godawful. It felt like the author, attempting to be original, took some Russian names, some Arabic and Indian ones, and because that was not enough also added some random letters of the alphabet here and there and threw them in one pot. The result - a poisonous something. The unfitting and partially difficult to pronounce (even for me) names made it hard to concentrate on the plot, the writing and everything else.

2. The writing was tedious. The parts that should have been spiritual, because holy writing, lacked authenticity, the dialogues reminded me too much on a bad Hollywood thriller, thus unrealistic and out of place and the descriptions were lifeless. It went on and on and on, partially Shara's inward or outward rambling, partially some other character's unnecessary sentiments and partially descriptions that were not needed at all.
I am generally rather fond of decriptive writing with many details and inner monologues, but only when they feel authentic, not when the author jumps from one thing to the next to another. That was arduous.

3. The characters were one-dimensional and everything was much too convenient for Shara in the book. E.g. there is a door and miraculously Shara knows a story that might provide the "key" and also she conveniently has all the needed tools and abilities to open it, and then is brave enough to walk through it and offer all the historical background too.
Shara is the main character by the way, a know-it-all, talented, educated, brilliant, badass, determined. She has every quality a person might dream of, she is perfect. Too perfect. Means, unrealistic and difficult to connect with.

Apart from that, it was difficult to differentiate between the secondary characters because they all acted in a similar manner and said similar phrases and had all the same reactions. The characters came from supposedly different cultures, but acted much too similar and much too modern-day-person like, and solely western too, by the way. Thus, the mild references to Russia and India were lost on me, on the contrary I found them rather unfitting in that context. The only refreshing and more-dimensional character was Sigrud with all his barbarism and Northern savage attitude. But in his case the author did not provide enough background in my opinion.
Coming to the point of the mild hints at some histocial aspects like the conquerors and the ones that were conquered, paganism and political "issues". I think the author used too much. He stuffed the book with all kinds of problems and issues that he mentioned on the side, but didn't focus on so that after half the book my brain felt like it was boiling because I could not understand what the author was trying to say anymore, where he was going and what the main problem actually was.
The author lost focus, in my opinion, and that is a horrible thing for me, because once the thread of the main-plot is lost the book loses its charm for me.

4. The plot. Yeah, well, not good. Lots and lots of historical facts, local and global economical problems, cultural issues that were only said but rarely shown, political conflicts, conversations about wars/battles of the past that did not matter for the present.
One can describe it as realistic and very close to actual life, that's true, but that's the problem of it at the same time. You cannot take all the aspects and problems of real life and push them into a book of 400-something pages. In a book you have to focus on one or two points or issues, call it however you like. Otherwise it will be just tiring, except you are interested in diving into the world of political intrigues. Which I hated, by the way. As I hate them in real life. Thanks to propaganda and subjective depiction of a problem one never gets to know the whole truth anyway.
Anyway, back to this particular case. In combination with the boring world-building it was a torture for me to continue reading. I was tempted to DNF it about 20 times. Let's be honest, there are high-fantasy books that have a phenomenal world-building, even an intriguing or just interesting one. This one does not fit into either of the categories. It was an attempt to create something epic, but thanks to the aforementioned issues I had with this book the author failed in my eyes. And there was no atmosphere either. I mean it, it felt like I was reading a modern-day mystery novel that took place in very weird city (by the way, I am not exactly a fan of mystery/crime novels).

All in all, I didn't like all the layers that the book had, although I understand that many other people loved them, I wasn't captivated or even interested in the world-building. I couldn't feel/grasp any atmosphere. But most importantly, I hated the lack of an actual main-plot and the bundle of subplots and subproblems instead, just as I had a problem with the names. I understand why so many people love it, I do, but I couldn't make myself love it. Not when I was tempted to just DNF it and write a real hate-rant more than one or even two times. Nothing in this book was catching or memorable to me.

P.S. Seriously though, Saypuri sounds like food to me. Indian food.

Not my cup of tea. Not recommended. I have forgotten half of what happened in the book already. And I am not even sorry.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
700 reviews868 followers
August 21, 2021
4.5 stars.

It had been a while since I've come across such a magnificent start to a series or trilogy; City of Stairs was a fine example of genre-redefining for urban fantasy.

Sometimes you wonder why you keep delaying a series that you have been meaning to read, and when you've finally read it, you want to smack yourself hard for waiting so long to do so. The Divine Cities falls right into this category of "Why in the world did it take me so long to read this? It is so darn good!"

Arising from my plans this year to read more completed trilogies, I have been blessed with some astoundingly good reads thus far, and City of Stairs is one of them. How do I even begin to describe this book? It is a fantasy in that we have a secondary world that although bears some resemblance to our own, still feels fresh and steeped with its unique religion and lore, which also somewhat faintly echo ours. Aside from that, the narrative has none of the usual medieval settings but is instead more post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. And on top of that, it is also a murder mystery novel of sorts, told mainly through the perspective of a political operative/spy, a woman named Shara Komayd. A highly intelligent Saypuri woman in her thirties, Shara is the type of minority character that I've not encountered often enough in this genre.

The characters in this novel are beyond excellent in my opinion - they are realistic, flawed and memorable. Aside from Shara, there are two other main characters whose POVs appear less frequently but are no less fascinating. Mulaghesh, a female ex-general stationed in Bulikov and Sigrud, a huge Dreyling man (read Nordic) who is Shara's loyal comrade. I was not surprised to know that Sigrud is a favourite of most readers out there. He gives me vibes of Ragnar and Rollo rolled into one (of course, I'll use a Vikings reference). Silent yet deadly, and an immensely strong and capable fighter, the most epic and badass fight scene in the book belonged to Sigrud. Mulaghesh is a surprise for me, as I find myself enjoying her terse and blunt remarks at, well, pretty much everything.

Shara's compelling characterisation takes centre stage in this book. For a woman of such small stature and unremarkable looks, she is indeed not one to be trifled with. Her cutting wit and intelligence, coupled with her well-honed instincts after years of being an operative, enabled Shara to navigate figuratively through the political landscape in Bulikov and literally through its surreal streets and corners - a once glorious city of the Continent transformed into a shadow of itself when their gods, or Divinities, died. Make no mistake, Shara is not your special snowflake or Mary Sue, but a strong-willed character who has grown into her peak by making hard choices, experiencing grief and sorrow, and surviving treachery.

Religion and politics form the backbone of the narrative and believe me, it served the plot exceptionally well. Far from being preachy or boring, the depth of the lore surrounding the Divinities and its religious resonance made the worldbuilding absolutely enthralling. As a reader, the worldbuilding is progressively revealed through the perspectives of the characters, instead of being info-dumped. Epigraphs are also used to great effect to tease and inform. To appreciate more of the religious commentary, I'll recommend that you read this brilliant review by the wonderful Celeste. I'm not as well-versed with the aspects of religion so I will graciously defer to her insightful analysis. However, even in my less enlightened mind, I saw in the opening quote a startling allegory to the basis of religious terrorism in our world.
"Why have you done this, my children? Why is the sky wreathed with smoke? Why have you made war in far places, and shed blood in strange lands?

And they said to Her: "You blessed us as Your people, and we rejoiced, and were happy. But we found those who were not Your people, and they would not become Your people, and they were willful and ignorant of You. They would not open their ears to Your songs, or lay Your words upon their tongues. So we dashed them upon the rocks and threw down their houses and shed their blood and scattered them to the winds, and we were right to do so. For we are Your people. We carry Your blessings. We are Yours, and so we are right. Is this not what You said?"

Wrapping up the stellar worldbuilding, characterisation and plot-building is Robert Jackson Bennett's elegant writing. The philosophical ideas within the story come across in clear and lucid prose, which I appreciate immensely. Quotable passages don't need to take up half a page, or more if one writes as well as Bennett does.

As I've mentioned above, City of Stairs is a prime example of a genre-redefining book, and a truly excellent one which I will recommend to anyone who is a fan of speculative fiction.

You can purchase the book from Blackwells | Bookshop.Org (Support Independent Bookstores)Amazon US | Amazon UK

You can find this and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews831 followers
November 12, 2017
"Any miracle, no matter how subtle, always feels tremendously unsettling." And what is a good book if not a miracle of a prime quality? City of Stairs proves this theory. It is one of those books you need to digest before writing a review that will not consist of banalities. And one of those that have you inwardly screaming for more the moment you finish the last sentence.

The world is less about tsarist Russia meeting the opulence of an Indian continent (although it undeniably is quite a clash), the world Mr Bennett has created is all about history. The way it is created, the way it is remembered and recreated, the way it is forgotten, the way it is missed or hated. It is also about history that is forbidden.

The city knows. It remembers. Its past is written in its bones, though the past now speaks in silences."


Welcome to the city of Bulikov, once a seat of the world, presently under the yoke of occupation by its former colony - Saypur. Bulikov is a crumbling memory of itself, poor, damaged and bursting with bitterness. Saypur is at the firm apex of its power and maintains a careful imbalance of power where Saypur rules while the Continent remains at the very bottom of worldly affairs. Preferably even below the bottom. They have only one thing in common, that is hatred.

Saypur and the Continent hate one another, completely oblivious that each is now the product of the other."

Into this hate-ridden, history-oriented city comes an inconspicuous woman, one Shara Thivani, cultural ambassador of Saypur. In reality, she is Ashara Komayd, one of Saypur's best intelligence officers with a mission of solving a mystery behind the murder of a Saypuri historian, Dr. Efrem Panguyi. She is accompanied by a killing machine posing as her secretary, Sigurd.


Who is Shara really? An agent. A scholar. A brokenhearted woman. A niece to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. A descendant of the very person who overthrew continental hegemony by killing their divinities. This event constituted a starting point of the new era, and the Worldly Regulations, a set of laws forbidding to even mention any emanation of the divine, stands firmly as a guardian of this point of no return. But the past is still there.

"Behind this crumbling city is a hidden, mythic paradise, and one only has to scrape at a reality with ones fingernail to find it." And Shara pokes the reality with more than one finger in what is a superb blend of urban fantasy (those of you who showered The Gathering of Shadows with milky way of stars can see how misguided they were), heroic epos, and a mystery thriller. It is a great story, a tale with many beginnings, numerous versions, built on the current of events, back-stories of a colourful array of characters that morph and develop (and sometimes shed their skins) frequently flipping the tale upside down with breathtakingly paced twists.

In addition to the dazzling plot and the overwhelming richness of the Bulikov city-verse, I have to say that for a long time I have not been able to identify with the main protagonist the way I did with Shara. I smiled with her, and plotted with her, I was scared with her and felt her indignation. My heart was broken in the very same places that her broke to pieces. I kept reading until the small hours of the night and then I dreamt on about all of it.

City of Stairs is provocative, disturbing and unsettling and undoubtedly one of my best reads this year. I quaffed it like a sailor drinking whiskey and have the most pleasant case of a book hangover. Highly recommended.

Other Divine Cities:
2. City of Blades
3. City of Miracles
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,608 reviews1,481 followers
March 17, 2019
Re-Read cuz Sarah said so. It was even better the second time around 4.5 Stars

Original Review

I should have hated this story. It shouldn’t have worked for me at all for a few reasons.

① - There is no love story. Well that isn’t specifically true. There is a story that involves two people who were a couple in the past but really that is it. In the present tense of the story there isn’t any romantic hopefuls. I love having someone in by books to ship even if nothing comes from it for books and books.

② - It isn’t my typical fantasy set up. There are no dragons to be slain or lands to explore. No this is more of a political intrigue. A man is dead and someone has come to figure out why.

③ - Religion. There is a ton of it. I sometimes like the addition of religion to a story but I’m not usually fond of stories when it is one of the main driving forces of the plot. Unless you are Brandon Sanderson and you can blend the Religion, Politics, Culture and World building all together seamlessly and not many can.

So this should have been a 2 star read for me. I should have been bored and maybe…possibly dare I say it even…not complete the book. But the reason I held on and finished the entire thing was because I loved the city, Shara and her secretary Sigrud. Sigrud is a hammer in a world of nails, and he is satisfied knowing only that. He is also one of the deadliest and coolest characters I’ve read in a long time. I also loved that he was not beautiful but came from a distant land with scars, horrors and a devastating past.
“Life is full of beautiful dangers, dangerous beauties," says Sigrud. He stares into the sky, and the white sunlight glints off his many scars. "They wound us in ways we cannot see: an injury ripples out, like a stone dropped in water, touching moments years into the future.”

Then there is Shara and she isn’t the beautiful and striking character that can flirt her way into men’s heads and hearts and coerce their trust that way. She is bookish and even boyish looking since she weighs about 95lbs soaking wet. But she is brilliant in her own ways and is not going to let anyone get away with anything they shouldn’t. I was pulling for her as it seems that she is alone with no one in the world to trust but Sigrud, who if you are going to go into a city against unknown enemies you would want on your side.

Then last there is a city. It is a place that gods used to live with the people and when the gods were killed it was like the city forgot how to be a city and so some of it sort of vanished and there are building that just stopped being there and stairs that end up going to nowhere now but sometimes out of the corner of your eye it is like you can almost still see something. I had the best time trying to figure out where parts of the city went and how could you get there again.

This is a story about a race who had conquered another race for years and used them as slaves. But now the slaves have revolted and hold the power and turn about is not all fair play it seems.
“Just because you won the War doesn't mean you can do whatever you like!' says Yaroslav. 'And just because we lost it doesn't mean you can strip us of everything we value!”

I felt bad for both sides of that as it seems like no one is really right but also no one is really all wrong either. It is complicated a lot like Game of Thrones (I only use this reference because most people have read or watched the show) but when you can see all of the sides it isn’t like you can root for a single side because you understand the intricacies of it. It is more that you root for certain characters and hope that things work out for them regardless of the side they are on. That is what I felt like in this story.

I loved the magic, gods and revelations that were made as the story got going. There were some really cool reveals along the way and overall after hitting 20% I was pretty into the rest of the story.

Not something I would have read had I not been pushed by a few friends but something that I’m glad I picked up. Even if there wasn’t a clear ship to jump on.
Profile Image for Hannah.
592 reviews1,052 followers
July 24, 2017
I absolutely, 100% loved this. So much.

I was starting to think that maybe I didn't love fantasy quite as much as I thought any more, but this year is turning out great. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong directions. Both Robert Jackson Bennet and N K Jemisin have written brilliant books that keep me glued to the page while at the same time challenging me to re-think some of my assumptions on what fantasy can do as a genre.

Set in a world formerly ruled by Divinities and their whims, Bulikov is far from its former glory as the centre of the world and the seat of the Gods - most of it was destroyed together with its Gods. It is now ruled by the very people it used to enslave. When a famous professor researching the Divinities is killed, Shara Komayd, granddaughter of the man who won the war, arrives to solve the case, unknowing that she pretty much stepped into a hornets nest.

I adored the mythology Bennet sets up here: what happens to all the things created by gods if they die? Especially when they ignored all natural laws to create those things? I found his world very well thought out and mesmerizing in its implications.

Nearly as great as the world building are the characters. I loved Shara - in all her prickliness and her vulnerability. I like that she is most defined by her brains and how she uses her intellect to survive. I also adored Sigrud, her insanely huge and strong bodyguard of sorts. He could have been very stereotypical but somehow Bennet managed to create a wonderful character here that I hope I will get to spend more time with*.

I found myself going down rabbit holes trying to figure everything out and there was a point where I was all smug and sure about myself. In fact, I kept thinking how stupid Shara was to not realize things sooner - - I did not have everything figured out. In quite some instances I was embarrasingly wrong. I love that! I like books that keep me thinking and surprise me.

So yes, I adored this. I cannot wait to read the rest of the series. I am so excited about all those great fantasy books I keep "finding" - although to be fair, this book has been on my TBR since I joined Goodreads, so maybe I only have myself to blame for not reading it sooner.

* As of writing this I have not even read the blurbs on the sequels.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
August 19, 2014
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/08/19/b...

I’ve never actually read Robert Jackson Bennett before City of Stairs, despite owning several books by him (and I can see there’s my copies of The Troupe and American Elsewhere on my shelf right now, glaring down at me balefully as if to ask, “Why haven’t you read me yet?”) So though the name of the author is familiar to me, I really had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that this book’s description was tantalizing in its promise of an atmospheric, immersive fantasy world, with a touch of the otherworldly and bizarre. As it turns out, City of Stairs is all that and more, being a sophisticated and cerebral cocktail of a multitude of different genre elements, including magic, mystery, and philosophy.

Years ago, magic was lost in the central city of Bulikov, then known as the Seat of the World, when its Divinities were killed by a Saypuri hero known as the Kaj. Throwing off the yoke of the Continentals, the Kaj led the rebellion to victory, conquering their conquerors and passing the Worldly Regulations which outlawed the possession and use of divine objects and miracles, even the worshipping of the old gods. With the passing generations, Bulikov went from being a shining capital to just another colonial outpost of world’s new authority

The story begins with the murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the visiting Saypuri scholar who stationed himself in Bulikov to study and document the city’s history to the outrage of the locals who are prohibited from doing so themselves. Enter Shara Komayd, officially there as a lowly ambassador to smooth over matters, but she is not without her own secrets. A direct descendent of the great Kaj, Shara is really one of Saypur’s most accomplished spies, and she is determined to discover the truth behind the murder of the historian, who was also a very close personal friend.

First, let’s talk about the world-building, which is in a word: phenomenal. Admittedly, I wasn’t really convinced I was going to like this book from its first 50 pages or so. The story was slow to take off, but in truth, this had a lot to do with the author’s meticulous efforts to plunge the reader into the intricacies of his setting. Bennett has created many layers of context for this world and has left no stone unturned when it comes to achieving the effect of a living, breathing, working society with the kind of history that Bulikov’s people have endured. Everything from politics to religion has been touched upon, giving us a clear idea of the mood of the city.

The plot didn’t gain momentum until around after the first third of the book, but I can’t say I ever lost interest in reading, being completely captivated by the complexity of the world. Before the Kaj, the six Divinities of the Continentals each had their own worshippers, living by the rules and ideologies of the god they followed. After the Divinities were killed, Bulikov was also devastated by an event known as the Blink, causing chunks of the city to disappear or warp and resulting in a section filled with giant staircases that went nowhere, but which gave the book its title. There’s a lot of history here, not to mention the magic and the miracles described in this novel, which are just so creative and unique.

I also adored the characters. I have a feeling Shara’s companion, the unforgettable and indomitable Sigrud will be a clear fan favorite for many after reading this novel. However, I have to say the soft spot in my heart must go to Turyin Mulaghesh, the soldier turned governor who after years of dealing with the problems and instabilities and Bulikov just wants to be transferred to a quiet little coastal outpost where she can settle down and spend her days lying on the beach – ambitions be damned. But don’t let that fool you, for she is a force to be reckoned with. I love how this novel features two strong, spirited and over 30 women at the forefront, and they are just two of the many great characters in this refreshingly diverse cast.

It was hard to stop, once the story got going. The initial murder mystery deepens into shady political dealings and conspiracy, which ultimately leads to an incredible climax and final showdown that unfortunately was over far too quickly and neatly. But what an experience it was. And yet, City of Stairs is also about so much more than just the thrills and suspense. Bennett dives into some heavy topics here, exploring the significance of religion, attitudes regarding sexuality, and the ramifications of persecution and oppression.

Like I said, this was my first taste of Robert Jackson Bennett’s writing, and I am impressed. This really is an excellent novel, and it deserves to be a hit this year. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised to hear there will be a sequel, since this book is the sort that would open doors to many great and interesting possibilities, and its world simply begs to be further explored. Highly recommended. This is an enjoyable fantasy that also makes you think.
Profile Image for Nicole.
732 reviews1,838 followers
September 3, 2021
City of Stairs is not your usual fantasy. It is set in a relatively modern world (in comparison to the usual high fantasy) where we have cars, photography, and telegrams. I wouldn't say it's cyberpunk exactly, I'm not a big fan of this genre, for technology was not an important aspect in this book.

The best thing about City of Stairs is the world-building. I am not hard to please when it comes to world-building, I only want some question answered, I don’t want to be confused, and that’s basically it. The world Bennett weaved is nothing short of amazing for 450 pages. I am rarely intrigued by the history of a world and it definitely helped that our MC is a history grad.

The events of the book mostly take place in the Continental city of Bulikov, a city previously considered the center of the world. Six divinities govern the Continent, their worshipers benefit from so many luxuries (they basically have no use for technologies), however, they have colonized Saypur for so long and its citizens were treated very poorly. After centuries of oppression, the Saypuri Kaj manages to kill the Gods in Belikov and now, Saypur has flourished and thriven while the continentals are living in very degrading conditions. Our MC, Shara, came to Belikov to investigating the murder of a former historian colleague, she’s an intelligence employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What starts as a murder investigation becomes a mission to unravel some very dangerous secrets of the world.

The other strong aspect of this book was the story itself. And here’s why. I could not connect to the characters (so I won’t bother to talk about each of them). They were all… meh. Many of my friends on GR praised the characters, however, they were the reason why I struggled with this book. I’m more of a character person, as long as they are engaging and I can connect with them, the rest is secondary (of course, to an extent). Anyhow, if the story wasn’t good, I would’ve dnf this book. Even at the end, I couldn’t connect with them. It might be due to age difference but I honestly doubt it. I admired Shara’s intelligence but I couldn’t develop any feelings towards her, even though she is the protagonist. Another point I need to mention is how Shara talked about some things that were supposed to be “top secret” casually in front of Pitry (a secondary character) and Mulaghesh did not even blink. This honestly didn’t make any sense to me, regardless if Pitry is going to do anything about this info, they talked about them casually as if he already knows (it wasn’t even mentioned that he was surprised and I’m sure this is new knowledge to him).

Nonetheless, I have enjoyed this book enough to give it solid 4 stars especially since the last 40% was very addicting, many plot twists and revelations, most I did not see coming. So this book was overall a pleasant surprise. I do not think I will continue with this series, however. Mulaghesh did not mean anything to me and even though I want to know what will happen in the future, this book offered somewhat of a satisfying conclusion.
Profile Image for Samantha.
417 reviews16.7k followers
February 6, 2021
3.75 stars

tw: biphobia; body horror

As a really big fan of Robert Jackson Bennett's newer series, I thought I'd like this more than I did. It took a while for me to get into this, as it started with mostly political intrigue and a murder mystery. But as the story goes on and world building was added, I started to enjoy it more. There is a former love interest of the main character who is bisexual, and I don't think that was handled well at all. The narrative has a lot of biphobic language about him being "stuck between two worlds" and "fighting with himself" and I just found that so off-putting. The discussions of divinity, miracles, and the various creatures in here were really cool, but I'm not sure if that's enough to have me continue with this series. If I do, I will likely listen to it on audio.

Full review to come on my channel.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
December 28, 2018
Amazing fantasy, incredible world-building, complex characters, creative magic systems ... this book pretty much has it all!

December 2018 group read with the Buddies, Books and Baubles group. Thanks to Sarah and the group for motivating me to read it when it’s been sitting on my Kindle for, like, a year.

Review to come. :)
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,228 reviews2,059 followers
September 10, 2016
What a beautiful book! The world building was so impressive and the characters are brilliant. I am missing Shara and Sigrud already and I only just finished the book. Sigrud made me think very much of Logen Ninefingers in the Abercrombie books, and Shara was like any of the strong female leads in a Brandon Sanderson book. Put the two together and we had a little bit of magic.
This was a new author to me but he came very highly recommended by many Goodreads readers. The sequel is supposed to be good too. I can't wait:)
Profile Image for Celeste.
908 reviews2,342 followers
July 14, 2018
You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.
“Time renders all people and all things silent. And gods, it seems, are no exception.”

I have a confession to make. I purchased this trilogy in February of 2017, even preordered the final installment though I hadn’t read the first two. I just knew that it was a trilogy that I would love based off of the synopsis. There is nothing in the realm of fiction that I love more than unique religions and overt philosophizing. While setting and characterization and plot and prose are what make a book function, the books that make me happiest are those in which religion and philosophy play a vital part. However, even though I was almost positive that I would love Bennett’s trilogy, I kept putting it off for some reason. Petrik finally convinced me to give in and read it, and I’m so thankful that he did. It was everything I hoped it would be and more.
“[She] had never realized until that moment what books meant, the possibility they presented: you could protect them forever, store them up like engineers store water, endless resources of time and knowledge snared in ink, tied down to paper, layered on shelves… Moments made physical, untouchable, perfect, like preserving a dead hornet in crystal, one drop of venom forever hanging from its stinger.”

The above quote perfectly expresses how I felt about this story. It had lived on my shelf for a long while, simply biding its time until I pulled it from the embrace of its companions, opened to the first page, and allowed it to blow my mind. The book was so much more potent that I could have hoped, and I’ve thought of little else both while I was reading and after I closed the cover for the last time.

(Before I really dive in to the review, please be aware that there will be some light spoilers, but nothing specific. These will be descriptions of the world built by Bennett that can be found in the synopsis or within the few couple of chapters of the book. Also, this is a much longer review than I generally write; I had too much to say to keep it short. Consider yourself warned!)
“The Divine may have created many hells, but I think they pale beside what men create for themselves.”

Once upon a time, gods walked the earth, performing miracles and leading their followers in the ways they desired to go. The Divinities that revealed themselves were: Olvos, the light-bearer; Kolkan, the judge; Voortya, the warrior; Ahanas, the seed-sower; Jukov, the trickster, the starling shepherd; and Taalhavras, the builder. Between them, these Divine beings led the people of the Continent and build for them a land of wonders. But the Continent wasn’t the only land in this world, and the people from other lands were treated as slaves and worse by the Continentals, and had no Divinity of their own to protect them.
“If we were only meant for labor, why give us minds, why give us desires? Why can we not be as cattle in the field, or chickens in their coops? … If we are but a possession of the children of the gods, why do the gods allow us to grieve? The gods are cruel not because they make us work. They are cruel because they allow us to hope.”

But one day, the Saypuris, as one such slave race were called, rose up against their tyrant masters across the seas. The Kaj, their leader, created a weapon that could not only wound but actually kill a Divinity. And so Saypur cleansed the Continent of their protectors, and the slaves became the masters. Not that they viewed their conquest as enslavement, mind you. No, they were merely stepping in to care for the people of the Continent as they adjusted to their harsh new world. For you see, without the Divine, the miracles that they had known their entire lives had no ties to the earth. As each Divinity breathed their last, every miracle they had ever created blinked out of existence.
“Whole countries disappeared. Streets turned to chasms. Temples turned to ash. Stars vanished… In short, a whole way of life—and the history and knowledge of it—died in the blink of an eye.”

Saypur has outlawed any mention of the Divine on the Continent, while they themselves are free to study the forbidden history of the people they conquered. But in spite of all the Regulations Saypur has put in place, the memory of the Divine still hangs over the entire world like a storm cloud. No amount of fines or regulations can erase what the people hold in their minds and hearts. And nowhere is this more pronounced than in Bulikov, the capital of the the Continent. City of Walls. City of Stairs. Most Holy Mount. Seat of the World. Bulikov was and is all of these things, and one has but to look at the miraculous wall encircling the city or the thousands of sets of stairs leading up to nowhere to be reminded.
“The city knows. It remembers. Its past is written in its bones, though the past now speaks in silences.”

“In Bulikov, every piece of history feels lined with razors, and the closer I try and look at it, the more I wound myself.”

Bulikov is one of the most fascinating settings I’ve come across in fiction. It’s a place of secrets and depth and confounding plurality. I loved this description of the skyline:
“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.”
Isn’t that one of the most atmospheric descriptions you’ve ever read?

One of the first things that struck me was how technologically advanced the setting was compared to the majority of epic fantasy. (And yes, I do think this fits the epic fantasy mold. I think N.K. Jemisin definite the genre beautifully here, should you care to read more.) I’ve never come across epic fantasy that felt like urban fantasy as well, but that’s exactly what this was. Here we have modern conveniences like automobiles and indoor plumbing brought into the city by the Saypuris, while many of the Continentals continue to live in relative squalor, refusing to accept technological replacements for the miracles they’ve lost. But Saypur honestly cares little for advancing the Continentals, despite their public stance on outreach. More than anything, they occupy their former enemy to prevent said advancement. They want to keep the Continent in their shadow, instead of ever allowing their roles to be reversed again.
“Your job is to make sure that the past never happens again, that we never see such poverty and powerlessness again. Corruption and inequality are useful things: if they benefit us, we must own them fully.”

Our main character is Shara, a political spy for Saypur’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But Shara is conflicted about her job, even though she’s amazing at it. She’s come to Bulikov without permission to solve the murder of a close friend. Shara is incredibly intelligent and easily overlooked. She uses both of these qualities to her advantage, sniffing out clues that others would never catch. I loved her as a main character. There was no whininess here; just quick wits and determination and subterfuge. Her physical appearance is utterly unremarkable, which serves to make her even more dangerous. Shara has experienced pain and grief and betrayal, which made her a richer character. She’s a treasure, and her mind was a joy to experience.
“Scars are windows to bitterness—it is best to leave them untouched.”

Of our secondary characters, the three most important are Governor Mulaghesh, a war hero who is counting down the day until her retirement; Vohannes, a wealthy Continental City Father who was involved with Shara in the past; and Sigrud, the brawn to Shara’s brain. Sigrud was hands down my favorite supporting character. He’s such an unapologetic badass. I loved his friendship with Shara, and his willingness to get things done. There’s one particular scene involving him that was perhaps the most epic scene involving a single character I’ve come across in any book, ever.
“The world is a coward… It does not change before your face; it waits until your back is turned, and pounces…”

While I loved the setting and the characters and the mystery of the story, again I have to say that my favorite aspect of the book was the religious/philosophical element. There were so many questions raised here. Within the confines of this series, did the Divinities create their followers, or did man create the Divine? If the gods of this world were truly Divine, then how could they die? If man created the gods in their own image, then were all of their decisions, no matter how brutal, products of man’s unspoken desires?
“Look at them! They’re praying to pain, to punishment! They think that hate is holy, that every part of being human is wrong.”

“Humans are strange. They value punishment because they think it means their actions are important—that they are important. You don’t get punished for doing something unimportant, after all.”

We as humans are as varied as snowflakes. What works for one often does not work for everyone. When opinions can be manifested as edicts, were does that leave those who don’t fit the mold? It leaves them cast out. It leaves them punished for being themselves, for viewing the world differently than their neighbors.
“Namely, I am ashamed that I was asked to be ashamed, that it was expected of me… I am sorrowful that I happened to be born into a world where being disgusted with yourself was what you were supposed to be. I am sorrowful that my fellow countrymen fell that being human is something to repress, something ugly, something nasty.”

I’m a Christian. I believe in one God, a God who created us to be unique and free-willed. I believe that He was here before the dawn of time, and that He is bigger than we could ever imagine. I believe that He is unfathomable, and yet He is an open book who loves us and allows us to make our own decisions, even if they harm us. I believe that man has used God and His manmade counterparts throughout the centuries as excuses to wage war on his fellow man, and to excuse his hate and small-mindedness. Bennett’s book opens with one of the best explanations of religious persecution and hatred I’ve ever read:
“You blessed us as Your people, and we rejoiced, and were happy. But we found those who were not Your people, and they would not become Your people, and they were willful and ignorant of You. They would not open their ears to Your songs, or lay Your words upon their tongues. So we dashed them upon the rocks and threw down their houses and shed their blood and scattered them to the winds, and we were right to do so. For we are Your people. We carry Your blessings. We are Yours, and so we are right. Is this not what You said?”

While I might not agree with Bennett’s worldview on all points, I have immense respect for his depth. The story he wove here is mindblowingly good. It gave me an incredible amount of food for thought. I’m already discussing it with my family and trying to convince them to read it.

On a final note, can I just say that Bennett’s prose is superb? I don’t usually include this many quotes in a review; in fact, I often forget to include any at all. But I have around 40 highlighted passages in my Kindle copy of this book, and they were just too good not to share. Not only am I excited to finish this trilogy, but I can’t wait to track down everything else that Bennett has written. I love how he crafts a story. I’m pretty sure that I’ve discovered a new favorite author, and am already trying to decide what books I’ll be moving from my special shelf to make room for this trilogy.
“Life is full of beautiful dangers, dangerous beauties… The wound us in ways we cannot see: an injury ripples out, like a stone dropped into water, touching moments years into the future.

I recommend this series to anyone who appreciates depth in their fiction. If you want a story that will not only enthrall you but will make you think and grow and question, this is the series for you. City of Stairs was so genre-defying that I feel it can be recommended to anyone. It’s a mystery, chock full of suspense and shocking revelations. It’s an epic fantasy, with a creative magic system and a lush mythology. It’s an urban fantasy, with action lurking in every alley. It’s a horror novel, with creatures that will haunt your nightmares. It’s a philosophical treatise, a religious dissertation, an anti-colonialism critique. It’s without a doubt a book worth reading, and I can’t praise it enough.

I buddy read this with the ever-lovely TS. Thanks for making an amazing experience even more wonderful, love!
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews315 followers
January 12, 2019
Have you ever read a book that had things you usually hate but does them all brilliantly you just don't know what to feel? Do I like or hate this?
I do know it's not perfect tho, thus the 4 stars.

Let me start by saying that this is not the usual fantasy book, or at least it's not what I think about when I hear fantasy. Fantasy for me usually means kings, assassins, magic, gods, heroes, battles and the all-consuming evil that wants to kill everyone. While this book has almost all of that, it was more of a mystery novel with investigations and murder, and I'm happy to say that it works.
Maybe because it was a nice change from what I usually read or maybe it was bc I focused on reading 1 star reviews before starting the book, whatever it was I'm always happy reading something, well if not unconventional (bc it does remind me of some other books that I read) then at least somewhat surprising.

Now let me talk about what I usually hate and how this book does them well.

1) You probably already know this so it's no surprise when I say, love triangles.
It's not them exactly but the cheating aspect of it and the emotional deceptions and lies that goes with them. This book has one weird romance, in the sense that there was one between characters, but now there isn't but maybe something would happen, even tho they haven't seen each other in years and one of them is engaged.
And I loved it! Okay maybe loved is a very strong word for what I felt but it honestly wasn't bad at all... Till the 75% mark (more on that later on).
I loved the first meetings of the MC and the love interest, they had that awkwardness of an ex-relationship yet they tried to maintain the professionalism they both are known for. I liked how the characters acted when around each other, their scenes were really good which is really high praise considering I would've pucked if any other book tried this but more than anything there was no indication that any cheating is going to happen and that feeling got even stronger for me as I read on and discovered the past of the characters.

2) The boring fantasy.
Titles can be deceptive *eyes Warbreaker* but more than that some books just scream to me ACTION! Maybe that's my fault and not the books, who knows? But I will say this, if the book has no action, I will absolutely read it and I can 5 even star it but for the love of everything good, make the characters loveable or at least have understandable motives and please please promise me something good at the end after all I had to read and endure all the slow boring pages of the book. What I'm saying is the different aspects of the book balance each other, if the story is slow then the character better be amazing, if the world building isn't good then the action needs to be that good.
Now that I finished and I look back I find so many boring slow moments in the book and I'm even surprised how I didn't skim pages reading it. The writing in this book is absolutely amazing and what it lacks in action it makes up for in the world building and the intrigue of what has and will happen, it was absolutely phenomenal and I'm talking like Mistborn phenomenal (which if you don't know it's my absolute favorite book in terms of revealing the history of a world)
Also, this has really REALLY good political intrigue and does a tremendous job with the info dumps (yes it has them but I didn't feel them)

3) A hero that knows more than I do.
This is not the best book at this point bc, to be honest, Shara is a Mary Sue character, but thru the course of the book she didn't feel like she's ahead of me, it felt like both of us were discovering what's happening together and through a very logical process even tho she is the best historian in this world and most of the info you get is from her. You basically don't feel stupid for not figuring things, and more importantly, when danger occurs you don't know if she'll survive bc she's not one of those "this was part of my plan all along" characters.

What I didn't like about the book

- Oh boy! Well, everything was really good until 75% mark. Then things took a wrong turn, and I started hating (despising really) Shara, and I can't spoil you about what happens but she basically does something and after when she reflects on it she says I was stupid for doing this not bc it's wrong of me but bc a good operative shouldn't have done this and she never considers for a second how might other people feel about this.

- I keep thinking that this book and Foundryside (other series by the same author) would've been so good if they were one book, I find that they weirdly complete each other (they are very different tho).

- Shara has no faults and a bit of a know it all. As I said she's a Mary Sue and I so hoped bad things happened to her (Sorry XD)

- So, Vo (the love interest is engaged) guess how many times the word fiancée was mentioned?
Once! ONCE!! She had basically one scene and her actual name was mentioned a grand total of 18 times. And if you're wondering, yes I couldn't even remember her name by the end.
The entire thing with her felt so unnecessary.

- The ending was weird. Not all of it but one scene in particular concerning the fate of a character, and we never get to know what happened there :|

Things I appreciate

- How immersive this world was.
- Sigrud. I love him!!!! And the only reason I'm not making this entire review about him is because I want to let you experience it all by yourself.

Finally, I absolutely think you should give this a try, especially if you're looking for political intrigue and ancient mysteries of fantastical worlds.
Profile Image for CC.
79 reviews53 followers
November 10, 2022
4.5 stars, rounding up because I should try to be nice with my ratings once in a while. Thank you so much Hirondelle for recommending this to me -- it was amazing!

The mix of fantasy and crime mystery gives this book quite a unique vibe. It starts like a thriller, with the murder of a scholar assigned to a colonial nation for history research, and the arrival of an ambassador to oversee the investigation of that murder. But from there on, events larger than either of them ever expected started unfolding themselves, and we are slowly introduced to the fantasy world hidden behind the mystery facade: the history between the two countries, the religion and political powers at play, and of course, the myths and legends of gods.

I always enjoy a high fantasy with good worldbuilding, so it was no surprise that this book drew me in immediately. The theological background, with a full history of the deities and how they interact with their believers and their cities, was well-developed and smoothly presented (there were a few places that gave me the feeling of info dumps, but it happened rarely and didn't affect my overall experience). The culture of the two countries, presumably modeled after India and the Soviet Union, was reflected vividly yet naturally through the characters. And the descriptions of the Divine City, be it the fallen ruins of the present or the splendid marvels of the past, were just so masterfully done:
She watches the crumbling arches, the leaning, bulky vaults, the tattered spires and the winding streets. She watches the faded tracery on the building facades, the patchwork of tiles on the sagging domes, the soot-stained lunettes, and the warped, cracked windows. She watches the people--short, rag-wrapped, malnourished--stumbling through oblong portals and porticoes, beggars in a city of spectral wonders.
Oh how I love that writing.

The characters were also complex and realistic. Way too often I find fantasy characters difficult to relate to, either because they're too singleminded and naive (in most YAs and coming-of-age stories) or because they're too aloof and passive (in books where the previous problem is over-corrected). Neither is the case here. Shara, Mulaghesh, Sigrud, Vo, each of them have their own ideals and beliefs, conflicts and struggles. None are simple stereotypes (not even Sigrud who started as nothing but a stereotype), and none are limited by only one way to look at the world. The fact that Shara and Vo, being on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, are able to understand each other's views and reflect on their own objectively, is so valuable and pleasing to my middle-of-the-road mind. It is rare to see a largely plot-driven book that also focuses on character depth like this, and the clash of everyone's past and present, dreams and reality, just adds so much to the richness of the story.

And speaking of worldviews -- Bennett keeps surprising me with philosophical, thought-provoking questions and revelations. Admittedly, some of those messages were delivered a bit heavyhandedly, but they made me ponder nonetheless. Some of them were also deeply harrowing, such as this testimonial from a colonial slave:
The gods are cruel not because they make us work. They are cruel because they allow us to hope.
So, this book pretty much checked all the boxes for me. The main reason that I'm holding back on a solid 5 stars, however, is that it doesn't quite read like a high fantasy most of the time. It's heavier in dialogues than I'm used to, making it lean more towards mystery/thriller, and since no one alive in this world had ever interacted directly with a deity before (a fact that remains true for a significant portion of the story), it gives off a paranormal rather than fantasy vibe, which isn't quite what I expected going in. But these are all very personal preferences, and I still enjoyed the read thoroughly regardless.

A couple more random thoughts:
- This book is long. Note to self: always check a book's length before starting!
- About the romance subplot (major spoiler for the ending):
- Does anyone else love that assassin's creed style cover?
Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews270 followers
June 23, 2017
For my individual taste, this novel is mystery first, fantasy second. As a mystery novel, I am not so satisfied with the plot and conclusion. As a fantasy novel, it is a damn good one!

When I read the beginning, I rated it 3 star. Then at the middle, I like the fantasy portion more and more, rated it 4 star. I have to admit, there are fresh ideas about the magic (in the book, the magic is mentioned as miracles). After reading half of the book, I wanted to know more about the world. This book gave me more and more revelation with about the world, and I like it more and more. The climax and conclusion are satisfactory. Solid 5 star for the world building. One of the interesting world building is the city itself. The stairs are not exotic views, but there is some meaning.

(I get it from soipondered.files.wordpress.com)

I usually don't give too much thinking in fantasy, but with mystery as the main plot, I read every fantasy factor as a clue. I blame the plot that made me thought so much and eventually detected some foreshadowing. I was not too surprised for some aspect of the novel. (OK, I am exaggerating my intelligence. Some foreshadows are so obvious, I believe every reader could detect them easily).

The characters are pretty solid. At least, this novel passed Bechdel Test, with so many good conversations between female characters (Majority of the important characters in this novel are female).

Using a mystery plot for a fantasy novel is a brave choice for the author. The main reason I read this novel is the curiosity how this novel could blend mystery and fantasy. After reading the end this novel, I think it is not a true mystery story. I wish this novel could use more mystery routines to make it a good true mystery story, it has so much potential.

If I read this novel mainly as a fantasy novel, it is an easy 5-star. But I read it as a mystery, I demand more clues/foreshadows that on par with mystery novels. With that kind of reading attitude, I believe readers could detect the foreshadowing parts, and guess the plot twists at later parts of the novel.
Profile Image for Kells Next Read .
528 reviews534 followers
February 6, 2016
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The Divine may have created many hells, but I think they are pale beside what men created for themselves

Where do I begin with this read...hmmm, I honestly don't know. It was...*no no* I feel *that's not it* Oh boy, I am speechless people. This book was flawlessly penned and beautifully told. My emotions literally ran from one extremity to the next. This book I can say is (so far ) my best read of 2016.

Guys it has Everything!!! Mr Bennet ( my first read from this author )has ripped open my chest and pulled out my beating heart. I cried, scream, fainted and cheered for the characters of this book. It's not often that I like all the characters in a book but in this one I did. They where strong and made their decisions based on what they believed to be right. Usually I'd get annoyed at characters making stupid choices, but I had none of that (useless ) feelings in this read.
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This book is a must read for those who have not done so already. The plot twist are jaw dropping and totally unexpected. I absolutely loved it. I can't wait to get my hands on Book two. Screw this, why am I even rambling about this, I'm off to Barnes & Noble to get myself a copy of City of Blades.
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Oh wait it's 11:20pm and B&N is close *Dammit*. Oh well, I'll have to settle for the ebook version. That will work just as well. Get this book and read it Now...*waiting* I mean Now dammit!!
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