{ARC} Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

September 17, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★★

I received this book for free from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

{ARC} Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson BennettCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Series: The Divine Cities #1
Published by Broadway Books on 2014 September 9
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 452
Format: E-book {ARC}
Source: Blogging For Books
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five-stars

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 Thivani. Officially, the quiet 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.

I have to be honest here.  When I signed up for an account on Blogging for Books, my intent was to look for an ARC of a book that I really wanted.  I made a request on EW but sadly, got rejected.  Driven by a sick obsession, I sought Blogging for Books in the hopes that I might find what I’m looking for there. Obviously, my search failed and I end up with City Of Stairs.  Yeah, I know, I could have just walk away without adding another ARC to my staggering TBR pile but I need to try the site and see how it works, build some reviewing cred… yada…yada… There weren’t a lot of choices because some of the titles being offered were horror, zombie stuff and other titles that really didn’t catch my attention.  City of Stairs was the best choice because it belongs to my favorite genre, Fantasy (Although I would learn later that the author does not have a specific genre for City of Stairs. Here’s the post if you’re interested in reading it: The Genre Fountain). Prior to requesting the book, I’ve already read a wonderful review of it a month before. That review has made me consider picking up the book but I didn’t anticipate that it would be this soon. Well, what I can say right now is that: Thank heavens for making me pick the e-ARC asap! City of Stairs has just compensated for all the other ARCs (10 of them and still counting) that greatly disappointed me this year.  City of Stairs is utter perfection!

I don’t even know where to start or how to write this review without spoiling everyone or bore you with my wax poetic. All I know is that City of Stairs is a mix of everything.  It can be considered as whodunit, mythopoeia, epic fantasy, thriller…you get the idea.  At the wrong hands, City of Stairs would have tremendously flopped considering that there’s an impression that the author was trying to cram a lot of things into the story.  But OMG, City of Stairs was gold! It’s a one stop shop for readers who are into detective stuff, mythology, fantasy, steampunk, and all that jazz.

The City Of Stairs started with a curious air as I was immediately thrown into a scene on what is clearly an ongoing case on a courtroom.  Then things got more interesting when the trial was suddenly disturbed by a shocking news. Efrem Pangyui, the famous Saypuri historian, was murdered.  The horrendous event immediately set things in motion.  Our main character, Shara Thivani, who is a close friend of Efrem immediately travelled to the capital city of the Continent, Bulikov.  Pretending to be a lowly Cultural Ambassador, Shara is actually one of the greatest spies of Saypuri, a nation that was once a slave to the Continent. Once Shara and her bodyguard started to unearth the mystery surrounding Efrem’s death, trouble—as big as the gods themselves—instantly ensued.

While reading the City of Stairs, I really expected that I will get bored at some point.  I mean, this book is about gods, history of Saypur and the Continent, etc., which for the average reader (like me) are already perfect ingredients for a certified boring book riddled with annoying infodumps. Gladly, Bennett was able to use the said ingredients with great mastery that the book is either or more than perfection.

We’ve got characters that are worth rooting for. Pardon if I will get some of their names misspelled as they are really weird. The main character, Shara, is such a brilliant detective.  How do I even describe her deduction skills? Maybe not as awesome as Sherlock Holmes’ but Robert Langdon’s perhaps. I love the way she processes her thoughts. And although she possesses the usual characteristics (no curves, small, bookworm, brilliant, straight A student) of the special snowflakes that littered our YA books today, she’s different in the sense that she doesn’t wallow on inferiority complex bullshit and if she has a task at hand, instead of moaning (i.e. I can’t do this! I am not powerful enough!)  she will see it through with total composure. Absolutely no backing down or even attempts of doing so despite the fact that some of the consequences of her actions were killing her inside.

Then of course, would I forget Sigrud? Okay, I don’t want to describe how awesome he is and make this review longer than it is but he really made me cry and laugh at the same time. Dear Lord, this is emotional puppetry at its best. The other characters, including the Gods, were memorable as well.  There’s Mulaghesh, Pitry, Votrov…blah blah blah.

The world building was mindblowing without the author resorting to infodump.  Everything about the world, the gods, the culture, the religion, the history unraveled in sufficient increments to give the reader enough time to appreciate the whats, wheres, whens, hows, and whys of the story.

The plot is also praiseworthy.  All throughout the book, my mind was not only busy deducting who killed Efrem but I was also busy thinking about the mysterious Kaj, how he killed the Gods, etc.  There was never a moment that I got bored with City of Stairs and I would have finished it one sitting if I wasn’t so busy with work and school.

I don’t know if this is still worth mentioning but the romance or a hint of it was heartwrenching. I really hoped to the gods that Shara and her romantic interest (despite his true self) would have at least some sort of an HEA.

Okay, I need to end this now.  Summing it up, City of Stairs, despite being a standalone and only told in 300+ pages, managed to tell a story with tremendous character development, tightly woven plot, and magnificent world building.  It is a masterpiece worthy of standing ovation. BOW!

 

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