City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

Gods are complicated things. More so in Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs. Generations before the book opened, three of the Continent’s divinities were killed. The weather changed. Geography shifted. Plagues came and decimated the population. Then their conquerors classified their history and banned any expression of their religions. The plan to eradicate even the memories of the divinities has not worked. So when Shara Komayd and her “secretary” Sigurd arrive in Bulikov, the City of Stairs, they’re walking into a powder keg primed to blow.

Saypur has occupied the Continent for decades, but their policy is to only enforce the laws banning the old religions. Without their gods, Continentals have stagnated since the war with their former slave colony. They haven’t forgotten a thing, it seems. When a historian is given permission to investigate their history in Bulikov, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets angry enough to do something. He is murdered after only a few months in the city and Shara Komayd—a descendant of the man who killed the gods—takes on the investigation.

Shara dives right in. Not only was the victim a friend of hers, and an agent she ran, the case gives her the opportunity to learn more about her passion: the divinities and the miracles that still sometimes work. Before long, it’s clear that this is not a simple case of murder. Shara is frequently stymied and has to rely on her violent “secretary” to get results. This is not unusual for the intelligence officer, but even supposed allies seem to be working against her. A group of men who follow the divinity of punishment are conspiring to take revenge on Saypur. Parts of the city that were thought destroyed are still accessible with the right signs and symbols. And gods that everyone thought were dead turn out to be very much alive.

I adore fantasy novels that are set in worlds with rich histories. Bennett’s Continent and Bulikov are wonderfully real and unreal at the same time. As City of Stairs progresses, layers are peeled back to reveal just how complex the world is. Even though she prides herself on her education, Shara has to learn that much of what she was taught was a lie to preserve the status quo. She has to question everything in order to find the truth. Then comes the hard part: she has to act on it.

I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 9 September 2014.

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