City of Stairs is a masterpiece of world-building. Mr Bennett is clearly a gifted writer and his greatest talents lie in creating a vibrant, rich, detailed world. It's also a masterclass on how the dogmatic, blind following of religious doctrines can lead to very real problems.
In City of Stairs the Gods are not only real, but have a tangiable effect on the world at large. Six Gods in a pantheon that made the world. Each God however tells a different story on eactly how it was created. As such there are six different realities. The people known as the Saypuris were spurned by these Gods and fought back, conquering the city of Belikov and creating a new reality following the destruction of the Gods. Citizens of Belikov are forbidden to even think about Religion, punished by the courts. This is made easier as time errodes memories of what once was and much of a time before falls into myth and legend.
The story begins with the death of one of Saypuriâ€™s formost historians, a figure who is envied by many for his freedom to study Gods the citizens cannot even speak of. Shara, a Saypuri official is sent to investigate the murder - accompanied by her rather large and brutish "assistant" Sigrud. There is a lot more to Shara than meets the eye and it soon becomes clear that she is no simple detective.
As is ineviatble with such an emphasis put on world-building, the novel does at times feel turgid, I prefer a faster pace and at times I felt a little like skipping through to get back to the faster parts. Those who like such an emphasis placed on building such a detailed world will love this book though. The level of detail is quite astonishing. Thankfully it's also incredibly well written and very easy to read.
The characters of Shara and Sigrud are intriguing, Shara an intelligent and thoughtful strong woman, cool and collected she analyses a situation as well as any detective I have read. Sigrud is equally impressive as a big lumbering fighter who is unmatched in the casual manner in which he deals violence. The plot is suitably twisted with some impressive turns to the story and the whole thing feels entirely epic. The way that religion is depicted here is a work of genius, the fact that different realities can exist and then a new reality emerges from the fall of a god has never been explored in quite the way the author does here.
City of Stairs is a lot more than it first appears, its vast in scope with a world as well realised and more detailed than any other out there. On top of that its an easy read, is full of big ideas and colourful characters. Compulsive, clever, creative and capacious - highly recommended.
Written on Tuesday 14th October 2014 by Antony.
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