“Time renders all things, and all people, silent.”
Make sure to check out this week’s podcast episode! (Special announcement this week!)
City of Stairs introduces you to a world many years after a war. The Continent was once ruled by beings known as the Divinities. When the enslaved Saypur revolted and killed the Divinities, the set up laws so that none of the citizens of the Continent could worship, research, or even talk about the history of their own world and culture. Our story jumps in 75 years later, when a professor from Saypur is murdered while researching these lost deities.
This author does many things well and that starts with some fantastic world building. This was mostly on the fantasy side of things but there was a pretty good dose of sci-fi too and a well-done blending of the two genres is pretty much automatically intriguing.
What starts out as a somewhat simple world of one culture suppressing another is expanded upon and made more complex with every reveal about the history of the Continent and the Divinities. The stories for all the different landscapes and countries are interesting and the Continent’s capital of Bulikov is described in such a way that it is remarkably vivid. This installment really revolved mostly around that one city but we were teased with just enough description around the founding of other cities and the history of other areas that exploring more of them in the next books is almost a necessity.
The characters were also another high point, if only slightly less so than the world-building. Our main character Shara Thivani, is not just a one dimensional super badass. While she definitely is a badass, she is also more. She has struggles, she has emotions that get in her way sometimes. There is also Sigrud, her “secretary.” He is this massive mountain of a man that is vicious and terrifying but at the same time he is intelligent and truly caring for the ones close to him. It is almost impossible to not like his character.
The mystery itself does go down some crazy paths; this is not your usual murder mystery. What starts as a simple “who is the killer” plot plot thickens and it turns into a huge, complex plot involving lies, cultists, and secrets. (Hint: go check our spoiler review podcast to hear all the spoiler-y things.) The only bad thing about all this was the initial question of who killed Efrem Pangyui gets set on the back-burner for most of the book. It is answered by the end of this installment but mostly is just a catalyst for Shara being in Bulikov and discovering the wider plots.
Really the only actual negative that can be said is that the pace slowed down quite a bit at times. This really only applied to maybe the first third of the book and being the first book in a series this can somewhat be forgiven as a good amount of setup is sort of expected and it by no means made the book unreadable. The world has to be established to get it off the ground. Hopefully the next book still holds true to the great world building while keeping the pace good
Overall, City of Stairs blends together spy thriller and murder mystery with some si-fi and fantasy. It does this so well that it almost makes a genre of its own. With such a great blend storytelling, great characters, and a mystery that keeps you wanting more, you should definitely check this one out.
Though before our podcast I did not finish this book, I will be because I want to. I am actively invested in this world and want to know more! Give me more! ( Thankfully the next 2 books are already released.)
I don’t know if I can give this book a perfect score. My only reasoning is I feel that when telling a story action should speak louder than words. I know you can’t completely get rid of exposition and I am not saying this completely ruins the book. But there were a few to many moments of characters standing around a table spewing info for us. Again this is not a huge negative, but it slowed the story down a little to often for my taste.
Greg and I agreed on this book so much that I really don’t have anything else to add. I saw so many good reviews for this book and series that I worried it would be a case of an over-hyped book that I ultimately would have the unpopular opinion on. But no, City of Stairs deserves all the praise it gets.