Jun 172014

Cover for City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. A grey, hooded figure looms in a cloudy sky. Below him is a city at night, full of skyscrapers and lighted windows.Publishers Weekly: Bennett (American Elsewhere) ventures into secondary-world fantasy in this action-packed, occasionally numinous, noir-like novel, which combines metaphysical and geopolitical observations. The city of Bulikov, once the sacred seat of a brutal, miracle-fueled empire, now stagnates under the administration of its former colony Saypur, which has become a technology-driven superpower. Exiled operative Ashara Komayd is the privileged great-granddaughter of the last Kaj of Saypur, the man who killed the Divinities, thereby both literally and politically destabilizing an entire continent. While investigating the politically inflammatory murder of a Saypuri professor who was studying Bulikov’s censored history, she finds disquieting evidence that some Divinities—and their legacy—may yet survive. Bennett largely sidesteps questions of colonialism and cultural appropriation in his tightly paced mystery, but supporting characters like Ashara’s indestructible aide, Sigrud, and conflicted ex-lover Vohannes Votrov flesh out the otherwise narrowly focused setting. The open ending promises a sequel.