City Of Stairs
Robert Jackson Bennett
Broadway Books, Sep 9 2014, $15.00
Bulikov the Divine City was once the central sacred seat of power as a brutal military abetted by violent deities conquered and viciously oppressed millions. However that is the past; in the present its former colony Saypur replaced Bulikov as the superpower and adding insult to how far the change in fortunes have occurred, the once oppressed nation relies on the miracle of technology governing its past conquerors.
Ashara’s great-grandfather, as the Kaj of Saypur, led a successful revolt against the ironfisted Bulikov tyrants. When he killed the Divinities that made Bulikov the greatest nation, the Kaj freed his people and those of other lands. However, an unintended consequence left power vacuums throughout the lands leading to open conflict within and without as the tyrannical control of Bulikov had kept everyone in line. Currently Shara the espionage agent investigates the assassination of Saypuri professor Dr. Pangyui apparently for studying the once Divine City’s inglorious past, a tabooed topic. Instead with help from her assistant and her ex-lover, Shara begins to find the unthinkable evidence that some of the Divinities survived the onslaught and live in hiding waiting for the moment to regain their version of paradise lost.
City of Stairs is an exciting fantasy noir in which readers will feel transported to Bulikov. The storyline starts slow as the Bennett world comes into complex focus, but once Shara's inquiry takes shape by ironically spinning out of control into a wider thriller, the storyline also accelerates. With a deep philosophical look at unintended consequences and second order effects of moral causes (think of Iraq and Yugoslavia), Mr. Bennett’s opening epic is an insightful complex (and convoluted) tale.