My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 5/5
Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city's proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country's most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.
Only a few times a year does a book come along that just blows me away on every level. This is one of them. The other one this year was Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson, the only other book I have read this year that is comparable in terms of imagination and its urban setting. Yet, they are in other ways very different.
This is a lore and relic lovers dream. I'm a huge fan of both, Nearly all of my favorite series include deep lore and history as well as some sort of relic, a quest or some interesting uses of them. City of Stairs has some of the most unusual and interesting relics I have ever come across and there are pages and pages of them being talked about or more importantly used. I am dying to mention a few of my favorites but don't want to ruin the surprises. As for the lore, this book is basically one huge search for the truth about the world we find ourselves in. Through the eyes of our main character, a young genius, we learn how the things in the world came to be and it's extremely fascinating and as with the relics, wonderfully imagined and unique. I tire of the whole Game of Thrones numerous alternating point of view characters so to read a story in a more traditional limited third person point of view is very refreshing and fun.
Something else I really enjoyed were the vignettes that began each chapter, each one from a history or diary which brought more depth to the world. Each one of them held my attention and increased my desire to further explore the world. They all seemed to connect with events going on in the subsequent chapter so I thought it was a very fun way for a reader to be part of the mystery.
A final aspect I enjoyed was the urban setting which was drawn vividly and realistically. It also had extremely fantastical elements, all which fit in beautifully to make this darkly atmospherical story one you could see in your mind and feel in your bones. It's not a pleasant world. It's a dark and dreary world where the humans live a meager existence, cut off from their history and past with little hope for the future. The ending was great, wrapping everything up and leaving room for a second book.
This took me a bit to get into to be honest. Probably a hundred pages. It was by no means bad or boring, I think it just took time to get sucked into a new, intricate world. The rest of the book was a slow read for me. I can read a 450 page book in a day, easy. This took me over a week. But I savored each day with this book. I read a few chapters a day and felt that was sufficient. I let it digest, thought about it, and anxiously waited to pick it back up. That's rare for me. Books I am not in to, I don't feel like picking back up. Books I love, I usually can't put down. With this book, I think I liked it so much that I knew if I didn't put it down, it would be over too soon. If Robert Jackson Bennett can deliver a second book as wonderful and fantastic as this, I'll be a lifelong fan. Highly recommended for everyone!
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