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Don't Be Afraid of the Dork

Covered in dog hair, Obsessed with books, Wondering what it's all about. I suspect the answer is ice cream and the ocean.

City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett

Original Publication Year: 2014 (September 9th)

Genre: Fantasy

Series:?, I hope it’s the first in a series!

Awards: None

Format: e-Advanced Reader Copy through Netgalley.  Provided to me for free in exchange for a fair review.

Narrated by: NA



For some reason, I had it in my head that this was going to be a serious and melancholy book. Maybe it's the cover? Or the blurb? I don’t know where the impression came from but I was pleasantly surprised by what I got. It is not a book without weight but it is decidedly more fun than melancholy.


Shara is an intelligence agent from Saypur, the current ruling power on her world, and she is called to the former ruling city of Bulikov, now occupied by Saypur, to investigate the death of a Saypuri historian. This historian is an authority on the Gods that used to play large roles on the continent, with Bulikov at its heart, and who had allowed the continent to oppress Saypuri for many years. The Saypuris had rebelled and developed a weapon that killed the Gods…or did they? I am doing a horrible job at explaining the plot but essentially it’s a mystery with a goodly dose of political intrigue. It's involved and complex but not confusing - just hard to explain adequately. The setting is fantastical but not completely unrecognizable and Bennett has created a rich and fascinating mythology and history for his world. There was lots of plot to get immersed in!


The biggest complaint I’ve seen in many places is that the book is too slowly paced. This leaves me agog as I thought nothing of the sort. However, I also really enjoy Jane Austen and novels about the everyday mundanities of people, particularly in a past or otherwise unfamiliar setting. So perhaps this is fantasy for Austenites? Regardless, I thought the pace was perfect and at no point was bored though I guess if you’re looking for non-stop action and adventure you may be disappointed. Lots happens it's just not all jumping, shooting and shouting.


One thing that really kept me reading were the fantastic characters. Shara is a great heroine and narrator. In fact, while it is very different narratively this book's general tone reminded me of The Rook(by Daniel O’Malley), mostly because Shara from this book and Myfanwy of The Rook were similar character types – career driven, ordinary in appearance, extremely clever and quite snarky and the reader is almost entirely in their head. Shara is backed up by some really great supporting characters, as well, especially her violent factotum Sigrud and the colonial governor of Bulikov, Mulaghesh. Bennett takes the time to give all the characters, even those of the secondary variety, some back story and depth. I LOVED this.


It’s fair to say that I’m a fan and really enjoyed the book. I’d describe it as a drily humorous multi-faceted mystery set in a richly drawn fictional universe and told with characters that I loved learning about and spending time with. It also contradicted my expectations at times, particularly with an ex-boyfriend that appears and in its portrayal of the two featured countries - both Bulikov and Saypur seem equally corrupt and damaged, i.e. the oppressors are not universally bad nor the oppressed all good. Plus I always enjoy a mythology where the Gods physically interact with their followers. In the end, it ticked all the boxes that I wish to be ticked!


Final Verdict: I loved it and I really hope this is not the last book that will be set in this universe!