Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

“The gods are cruel not because they make us work. They are cruel because they let us hope.”

– Anonymous Saypuri quote

City of Stairs is the definition of an amazing, fantastic, awesome, must read book. I can’t believe that I had never heard of it until a week ago. What you have here is fantasy at its best – very original, high concept, superb world building involving lots of history and some extremely fascinating characters who will be remembered for a long time.

The world here is composed of two main regions – Continent and Saypur. Continent ruled and oppressed Saypur for centuries with the help of six Divinities ( Yes!!!! Actual Gods šŸ˜±) until seventy five years ago, Saypur rose up in rebellion, killed the Gods and became the new oppressor. Bulikov, the capital of the Continent was left almost ruined with poor and destitute people who are now forbidden from even acknowledging their Divine history. But as everyone knows, just because you don’t want history to be remembered doesn’t mean people have forgotten. Into this city simmering with discontent comes Shara Thivani aka Komayd – best spy of Saypur masquerading as a junior diplomat trying to solve the murder case of her friend/mentor. What starts off as a murder mystery transforms into so much more – an epic fantasy worth the genre.

This book has it all – geopolitics, faith, religious fanaticism, oppression, persecution, slavery, racism, patriotism turned cynicism but also ultimately hope. Shara starts off as a spy trying to find a murderer but stumbles into a much larger conspiracy. She struggles with the realization that most of the history she has studied may be based on lies.

“History, after all, is a story, one that is sometimes wonderful. But one must remember it in full – as things really were – and avoid selective amnesia.”

But what she does next defines her as a good person, compassionate, able to place the greater good of the people above her personal well being. Her giant of a man secretary cum security Sigrud seems like a nonstop killing machine until his transformation towards the end. Knowing his history in the meantime makes it all the more heartening. Mulagesh, the polis governor of Bulikov is an amazingly kick ass military colonel who is fed up with the disastrous policies she is forced to implement and just wants to retire to an island but ultimately makes a choice in the best interest of the people. The remaining characters though appear infrequently are still very important to the narrative and are developed so. On the whole, this is a brilliantly written book that has all the elements I could have asked for. The best part about it though is that in spite of being rich in world building and history, it’s also a fast paced entertaining read which will fascinate and thrill any lover of books. All I need to do next is finish the series.

“Humans are strange. The value punishment because they think it means their actions are important – that they are important. You don’t get punished for doing something unimportant, after all. They think the whole world was set up to shame and humiliate and punish and tempt them…. It’s all about them, them, them, them! The world is full of bad things, hurtful things, but it’s still all about them.”

Rating : I don’t have enough stars to give this book!!!!!

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