Fantasy novels make for great stories of adventure, romance, or horror. But it isn't often that a fantasy is able to blend fantasy with a thrilling mystery and a tale of intrigue.
But City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennet, does a masterful job of taking a political tale of murder and intrigue and placing it in the most fantastic of settings. Bulikov is a city built by beings revered as gods, where reality is bent and shaped to their will. But upon their deaths, the city undergoes a catastrophic change as reality suddenly remembers what it is supposed to look like.
Trying to picture the place where the story takes place, the city of Bulikov, was quite difficult. I couldn't grasp the concept of a solid wall that looked like it wasn't there, random stairs to nowhere, and buildings that grow into each other. It was distracting to the story, because what happened to the city is integral to the story. The god-like beings, the Divinities, were killed by a hero of Saypur, a nation once held in slavery by The Continent, where Bulikov is located. Now the conquering nation, Saypur rules those who were once the rulers.
The first chapter starts out quite dull. A courtroom scene with a bored panel of judges overseeing a case of illegal use of divine advertising, with a room full of hostile, poor, Bulikov residents. But plow through to page fifteen, where we meet the movers of the novel, and you will be transported into the subtle machinations between the political and military powerhouse of Saypur and fractured groups of The Continent make for a thrilling story of spies and traitors worthy of being placed with greats like Tom Clancy, James Patterson, and David Baldacci. The plot twists enough to keep you guessing until the end.
The characters are well defined and capture your attention. Shara Thivani and her trusted "secretary," Sigrud, add life to the novel with their interactions - between themselves and between the various residents of Bulikov. They must solve the murder of a prominent historian, and in doing so they must come to grips with various hidden truths. As a reader, you are swept along in their discoveries and cringe at the dangers they face.
I wouldn't say that this book was an easy read, but it was an exciting read. And it didn't end as it started - bored and ready to end. Instead, it offers readers a chance to ponder history: how it is told, and how it is forgotten.
This book is reviewed for Blogging for Books, enjoyed by me, and read with the anticipation to share!