★★★★★—City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

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"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 Thivani. 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." (Goodreads)

My Review

★★★★★

This book was fantastic. Fantastic. It's hard to put my feelings into words, but this book was fantastic. First off, the main character, Shara 'Thivani'. She is wonderful. She's not described as "womanly". She is an academic and an excellent spy. She wears glasses, and has darker skin. She is a refreshing change to the women of fiction, and at times I forgot this book was written by a man. Shara is fierce and proud, but not too proud to ask for help. It's a good trait that occasionally gets her in trouble—she trusts people nearly to a fault. She is overcurious. I love Shara. She is truly the hero of this book. However, Sigrud. SIGRUD. Sigrud is just... I want a "secretary" like Sigrud. I love his snarky one-liners and his attitude, and his unabashedness. In this case, his backstory wasn't shoved down my throat to make me pity him. His backstory made me appreciate who he is more. He refuses to die and astounds and infuriates the doctors. (And I predicted something about him too.) Just... Sigrud. Sigrud. And Vo. Vohannes. (I'm pronouncing it like Vo-Hahn in my head, not Vo-Han-Nez, because I was thinking Johannes Gutenberg—whatever) I liked Vo. He's a bit of a slut, but you know what, that's okay. His heart is clearly in the right place. He couldn't have betrayed Shara in Bulikov. Never. And I haven't been in disbelief about a character's fate before Vo's. I had hope for the man. Fuck you, Vinya. And you go, Mulaghesh. Four for you, Mulaghesh. All in all, this book was very well written. Admittedly, it took me a little while to get into the story because I was thrown into the world without a clue as to who the Divinities were and how the Continent and Saypur were split up. But I figured it out as I went, which I feel was advantageous to telling the story of the City of Stairs. I loved the mythology once I figured out who was who and what was what and who killed whom. I loved that the conflicts felt so... so human. I also was a fan of the religious aspects. The followers of Kolkan, I (sort of) hate to say it, remind me a lot of religious extremists—my first thought was Christians, if I'm going to be completely honest. And Bennett's tone in the book seemed disdainful of religion. He encourages questioning it, something that I have always been taught. "Did god(s) create man, or did man create god(s)?" Bennett's answer is that both are true. Man needs god(s), and god(s) need man. It is a neverending circle. I believe this climbed the list to be my favorite book. I mean it. It's a fantastic read and anyone who picks it up and is a fan of this genre crisscrossing (sic-fi, fantasy, spy, mystery) will enjoy it. Maybe not as much as I did, but they'll definitely like it.

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