Monday, September 8, 2014
Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Epic fantasy is more or less defined by either Brandon Sanderson or George RR Martin these days, and I've been looking for that Next Great Series for a while. When I saw this book get previewed in a few places a while back, I made sure to check it out when I could. I figured I'd like it, but what I didn't expect was for the book to be one of the best things I've read this year.
The story takes place in a land where the gods are all dead and much of the history of them and their society has gone missing or is lost. In some ways, the city this story takes place in has some modernish flair, but is still very rooted in the basic fantasy ideals. The issue is when our diplomat/officer of sorts enters the city on one task and quickly gets involved in a conspiracy of sorts, one that is equally magical and deadly at the same time.
The appeal for this book is twofold. For one, the setting is outstanding. The city of Bulikov, which is where this book takes place, feels fully formed and immersive. I wanted the book to spend just as much time on this as it did on the rest of the tale, and the little nooks, crannies, architecture, everything about it feels rich and alive in a way that many other places do not. Unlike any other book I've read in recent memory, the city itself is almost completely essential even if it's not at the root of the story.
The better part, though, is the tale itself. It has Lovecraftian elements, some humor, plenty of fantasy tropes, the whole nine yards. There's a warehouse of sorts in particular that was easily my favorite part, and one specific result of that ends up being one of the highlights of the book. Without giving much away, those who like their fantasy a little darker will find plenty to like here, but those who prefer some lighter fare won't be left behind or turned off. It's a pretty perfect mix.
Overall, knowing that the sequel is in the works is good to know, but I'm going to be impatient for the next volume for a while. This is absolutely one of my favorite reads of this year, and should really start being discussed as one of the best releases in the genre as of late. You must read this book. Highly, highly recommended.