City of Stairs

Title: City of Stairs

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

It was supposed to be nothing more than a murder investigation.

Shara Thivani, top intelligence officer of Saypur, has decided to assign herself to the case when fellow historian Dr. Efrem Pangyui turns up dead in the city of Bulikov. Bulikov—once the capital city of the world, in a way, for the people of the Continent were backed by six Divinities and soon conquered anything they set their minds upon. But Saypur’s founding father, the Kaj, murdered those Divinities and reduced the Continentals to mere men.

So it’s no simple investigation when practically the entire population of Bulikov would have been happy to see Dr. Pangyui dead for being allowed to investigate the history they themselves cannot know, for looking into the Divinities they no longer possess. But worse than that, Shara is finding disturbing signs that the Divine may not be quite as dead as Saypur would hope . . .

It’s a refreshing change to find Shara exactly what she appears to be: a historian and an intelligence officer, not some incredibly competent fighter. That’s what Sigrud is for. Sigrud has no fear of death or danger (he much prefers them to diplomatic parties). And he’s violently ferocious when the situation calls for it.

The current mystery doesn’t take long before it unravels to a fantasy much deeper. As expected of a historian, Shara delves deep into Bulikov’s history, trying to understand what Dr. Pangyui knew or learned that made him such a danger. Each chapter begins with a snippet from various holy books, diaries, or history books. Taken together, it’s a very well-drawn world. There’s a rich depth of culture for both Saypur and the Continent.

The only thing I didn’t care for was the sheer amount of sex. Nothing is on-screen, but there were a few details provided in places that was a bit more than I wanted to know. Vohannas sleeps with men and women, and waxes quite poetic about it near the end, but the whole speech (perhaps his whole life) just seems like a desperate cry to find someone who actually loved him without the sex, only he never made the connection. I also don’t buy that Saypur’s marriages being six-year renewable contracts has actually created stability, as it seems the logical reaction to being forced to rearrange your marriage on the whims of a bad master would be to encourage lifelong unions. Despite the contract saying it’s over at six years if either party wants it over, I can’t see that going over much better than a divorce where one person wants to stay married, especially if there’s kids who suddenly lose a parent.

Overall, though, it’s certainly an interesting read with some very memorable characters. There’s an impressive amount of worldbuilding, a solid mystery with a rather surprising conclusion, and a good dose of humor along the way. I rate this book Recommended.

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