Thinking Aloud: “City of Stairs”

Jan. 3, 2015 by Darius

I just finished reading City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.  Though an entertaining fantasy/scifi novel, City of Stairs is hard to describe without spoilers; it was very different from other things I’ve read, even in the same genre.  At its core, though, City of Stairs is about dealing with history, no matter how unpleasant that history may be.

City of Stairs takes place in an alternate world.  The city of Bulikov was once the seat of a massive empire that stretched across the landmass known as the Continent and enslaved the islands of Saypur.  Bulikov’s dominance was created and maintained by six living deities, known as Divinities, who created miracles to be used in daily life.  However, about 75 years before the events of City of Stairs, a Saypuri discovered a weapon that could kill the Divinities themselves.  In an ensuing rebellion, the Divinities were killed, and with them went their miracles.  Bulikov and the entire Continent fell into poverty and anarchy, and Saypur became the world’s superpower.  All knowledge of the Divinities, their works, and the history of Bulikov and the Continent is strictly classified by Saypur.

The event driving the plot of City of Stairs is the murder of a Saypurian history professor who was in Bulikov to study historical artifacts.  One of Saypur’s top spies is dispatched to solve the murder.  Along the way, she must deal with family issues past and present and uncovers evidence that changes everything about officially acknowledged history throughout the world.

Although Robert Jackson Bennett created a wonderful world and compelling characters for City of Stairs, his writing style (the book is narrated in the present tense) takes some getting used to and may annoy some readers.  And if the first 50 pages or so don’t make a lot of sense, that’s normal.  Nonetheless, I would recommend City of Stairs to anyone who enjoys fantasy or science fiction.

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