Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

September 30, 2014 4 stars, Book Review 14 ★★★★

Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson BennettCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Published by Broadway Books on September 9, 2014
Genres: Adult SFF, Fantasy, Post Apocalyptic
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

*This book was provided by the Publisher for review. No compensation was provided and all opinions are strictly my own.

A densely atmospheric and intrigue-filled fantasy novel of living spies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, ever-changing city-from one of America's most acclaimed young SF writers.

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.


City of Stairs is an excellent novel. Robert Jackson Bennett is amazing at world-building, and in City of Stairs he introduces us to Saypur and the Continent and the ruins of the city of the gods, Bulikov. The sad history between the two lands is front and center as we travel through a journey of a Saypuri operative and history loving woman named Shara. Shara is a Saypuri government operative, whose job it is to pacify the Continent after the war of the gods which ended 300 years prior and also ended the enslavement of the Saypuri people. This was an apocalyptic event for the Continent and the freedeom of the Saypuri people all in one. Saypuri steps in to help the ravaged continent and takes over as conquerors. All mentions of the deities is forbidden and the populace in Bulikov is still very traditional and fighting against the “new” regime as well as they can. Shara is looking into the death of a famous historian that she admires greatly, and her investigation leads her to find a plot that can change the face of their world.

If you enjoy investigations, riddles and quick and intense world building, this is the novel for you. Robert Jackson Bennett puts the history of the gods first and foremost, and Shara’s obsession with history and the forming of their current world keeps that focus. Luckily there is a string of secondary characters that add life and interest to the story. Without them Shara would be waaaay to focused to enjoyably read. Sigurd, her blood thirsty Greyling secretary is my favorite. General Mulagesh (female, I may add) is also strong, funny and interesting. The love focus in this novel is not really there, there is an old flame that is central to the plot but the sparks are simply not there.

My only qualms with this book are the lack of a map and the constant info-dumping. While I feel like this has encyclopedic knowledge of the world, I really can’t understand how it is shaped and a map would have helped a lot. The history and knowledge given in this book is enough to have spread throughout multiple books. The plot didn’t really suffer, however, because a big part of the mystery involves history and how it affects the present. So while it was a bit much, the info dumping wasn’t overwhelming. The other questions it raises are whether gods are really needed, work taking over a life and the subjugation of people. I felt like it tickled parts of my brain that hadn’t been out in awhile.

I am not sure if this will have a second novel, but if there is I’m in.  =)


When not taking care of my two children, husband and mini doxy, rushing here and there on the go, I can always be found reading. Fantasy of course being my favorite genre, but not the only I'll read. Oh yes, and I throw bad books.

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14 Responses to “Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett”

  1. Melliane

    Oh yes I saw a couple of great reviews about this one and I confess that I’m curious to read more, to discover the characters and to discover the world because it sounds really intriguing. Great review!
    Melliane recently posted…Unbreakable by C.C. HunterMy Profile

  2. Danya @ Fine Print

    I am hearing excellent things about City of Stairs all over the place. Shara sound like an interesting character and the whole government operative thing certainly doesn’t hurt. I’m definitely a person who likes investigations, riddles, and good world building…so I guess I’ve gotta read this one ASAP!
    Danya @ Fine Print recently posted…Review: Lock In by John ScalziMy Profile

  3. Nikki

    Woooo. I’ve got this recently — must get round to it. It makes me smile how often you blog something just as I’m about to read the book you’re talking about!
    Nikki recently posted…Review – LifeMy Profile