City of Stairs is the latest release by Mr Bennett. This latest release makes me feel that in spite of enjoying all his previous books (or more to the point loving them) he was simply getting warmed up. This book is just the business. I loved it. It was riveting and displays again the talent of this incredibly gifted writer.
Set in a world with a long history between Bulikov and Saypur. A history that has seen wars and invasions and where the now defeated Bulikov is in a state of repression. Bulikov became the land of Gods. To be precise six different Gods that came together and formed the Seat of the World. These Gods sat in judgement on all their subjects and their edicts and punishments could be harsh. On the other hand the Saypuris were shunned, for some reason, by the Gods. Spurned or simply ignored they were the underdogs until they eventually turned and fought back, conquering Belikov and vanquishing their Gods. Since then the citizens of Belikov have been forbidden to practice their faith. Religion is no longer recognised by the rulers from Saypur. Any infringement will result in punishment by the courts. Of course, as we all know there is nothing quite as sweet as forbidden fruit and denial usually simply drives something underground. Also, the years (and years) of Saypuri control have served to eradicate the memory of the Gods from people’s memories until they have become, for some, little more than myth.
Now. The start of the story sees the inside of a courtroom where one of Bulikov’ s residents is being prosecuted for displaying a sign that appears to contain a religious symbol. Is he innocent, did he truly not know the meaning, well, your guess is as good as mine because the court proceedings are abruptly brought to a halt by the news of the death of one of Saypuri’s chief historians. Greatly resented for his ability to study the Gods that the residents of Bulikov are themselves forbidden to speak of, he seems to have been murdered.
Now enter Shara and her (ahem) secretary Sigrud who have come to investigate this death and this is where the plot starts to thicken. Immediately. The city of Bulikov is more than it at first appears. You see, much of the city was created by the deities who ruled it and therefore upon their demise entire buildings and sections of the city ceased to exist. Of course this was a major catastrophe causing the death of many people as entire structures collapsed or disappeared. The city now has streets that lead nowhere and staircases that apparently lead to nothing.
As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that Shara is almost like an undercover agent herself however she seems to be banished from her beloved Saypur. Working constantly at a disadvantage she strives to uncover the murderer of her operative whilst keeping her own identity a secret.
There are so many secrets and hidden revelations in this book that are staggering and best left to you to reveal by yourselves. Therefore I will avoid further elaboration on the plot. It would be folly to give away more and spoil the uncovering of truth, deception, belief and betrayal contained in this story. Therefore go and pick up a copy and check it out yourself. Seriously you will not be disappointed. This book is just so full of depth and meaning and yet conversely so easy to read.
Moving swiftly on to characters and world building.
The world building is frankly epic. Bennett leaves little, or nothing, out. There is history, there is belief, there is superstition, there is background, there are artefacts and even miracle like objects. All of this is woven into the story to seamlessly provide you with a picture perfect image in your mind’s eye. There is no info dumping or huge narrative pieces, no plot devices where one character speaks to another about their history thereby allowing the author to impart big chunks of background. Instead the background and history to the places and characters are gradually revealed to the reader during the course of the story.
In terms of characters I tend to think of myself as these days being character centric and in that respect this book doesn’t disappoint. Shara is a wonderful example of dry, intelligent analysis in action. She certainly will not rush into the fray screaming ‘aaagghhh’ at the top of her lungs. She has Sigrud at hand to provide all of the drama possibly needed. Instead, she calmly and collectedly analyses the situation, sifts through her knowledge and comes up with a, whilst not always perfect but sometimes possible, solution. She makes 007 look agitated with her calm demeanour.
Sigrud is more like a protector or bodyguard although to be honest both of them can operate completely autonomously of each other. He is a completely devil may care bloke. A killing machine to a certain extent. Certainly a guy that you want on your side and one with a dark past that lends him a certain death wish. His past will be revealed during the course of the story and will reveal a lot about both characters.
Without a doubt these two are my favourite characters and it would be difficult to choose between the two but in case you’re wondering there are other very well drawn supporting characters that support the story admirably well.
In terms of fantasy. Well this is tricky. There is a city that isn’t really revealed. There is magic and magic artefacts that aren’t really magic and there are monsters that aren’t really monsters. Didn’t I say you needed to read this already?
There is such a lot going on here that it would be ridiculous to write more. This is already turning into an essay for goodness sakes. In a nutshell. Undercover agents. Mystery. Monsters. Magic. Artefacts. Excellent characters who you will love. A compelling plot that make an epic story feel like a snippet. Depth and epicness. Really, what’s not to love? Did I even mention that I love thus book? No? Well, part of me is surprised that I liked this book so much because statistically how many books by one author can you consistently enjoy/love? And part of me is surprised that Bennett keeps on upping the ante and yet he does.
I have no hesitation in recommending this novel in case you hadn’t guessed!
I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks are extended. The above is my own opinion. Apologies for not posting sooner due to holidays and unreliable wifi connections. Also apologies for any misspellings or typos but my usual gadgets are not to hand so basically ‘it’ happens”
Now, get out of here and go and pick up a copy so we can discuss it.
For the next two weeks my blogging and blog chatting will be sporadic. I’m travelling around Sicily and so not always wifi accessible.
So far. We’ve spent a couple of days in Palermo which I loved. It’s a city with character. Oodles of character. Then we’ve driven into the mountains for a most spectacular view of the City followed by brief visits to Monreale (which was beautiful), next Corleone and then winding up in Sciaccia. So far absolutely brilliant. Amazing landscape. And. Lots of adventure I’m practically a hobbit!
I will catch up with all your posts (because I wouldn’t want to miss any potential new goodies!) as and when possible. Ciao
Fan Art Up is a weekly feature hosted by Tabitha at Not Yet Read. Details here. Stop over and check out the other’s taking part. Each week I see if I have a book doodle or just a random doodle to place here. This week I’ve read an anthology of fantasy stories called Beyond the Pale and am currently reading City of Stairs by Robert Bennett.
So, my rather poor sketches are taken from two tales from Beyond the Pale:
This week over at The Fantasy Review Barn Nathan takes us travelling through the tropes of turncoats:
‘TURNCOATS are people who change to the side of the DARK LORD in mid-tour.’
Just a little spoiler alert – the following are turncoats, treacherous sorts so, basically speaking, if you haven’t read these books then spoilers be contained herein! You have been warned.
Mr Tumnus from the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis. I love Mr Tumnus and I forgive him – but he was a little turncoat there momentarily! He went to the wicked snow queen – he did. However, he kind of paid for it and he felt duly sorry!
The start of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings – the Breaking of the Oathpact – ten heralds in a pact together, vowing never to leave one behind after the furious battles they fought – went and left one trapped in hell! Now, I confess, if I was the one left behind, in hell, whilst the other nine walked away to lead whatever blissful lives followed – no, there would be no forgiveness for them. There’s a saying about hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, well, times that by 10 and you about have the strength of feeling that I’d have for the other nine heralds. Call me old fashioned but I’d be seriously annoyed. Livid even!!!!!
Seth McGregor from Bloodstone (No.2 of the Rebel Angel series) by Gillian Philip. I can’t really say too much about this – but, he did have a moment there. However, he’s so very easy on the brain, total mind candy and, well, just… you know. I forgive him. And, he was pretty severely punished!
J K Rowling’s Harry Potter – Peter Pettigrew. What a rat (sorry, bad pun intended). Betrayed his friends and became a little snitch and dirty double crosser for he who shall not be named. I mean, he was one of the Marauders, best buddies with Sirius. He helped to create the Marauders map and was the keeper of the Potters secret hideout – and we all know how that ended. How could you Peter!
Lord of the Rings – if I didn’t give it a mention it would just feel weird. Who to name though. Grima betrayed his own people? Smeagol betrayed his own people? – the Ring – it betrayed Gollum and went to Bilbo.
Mustapha – from The Lion King. His own brother, Scar, betrayed him and also nearly killed his own nephew. And, on top of that he gave his pack over to the hyenas. A cad of the first order
Cypher – from the Matrix – he just wanted to taste some steak (well, he was probably a bit pissed off at being thwarted by Trinity but….
I was given an opportunity to take part in a book tour for Beyond the Pale and given the authors involved in this piece of work jumped at the chance. I love the way the book starts out with a definition of what the phrase ‘beyond the pale’ actually means – long story short it actually means to go beyond the boundaries of safety!! I like that. In fact the introduction got me off to a great start. Not to mention that cover. Just feast your eyes on it. It’s simply gorgeous.
The line up is as follows:
Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela by Saladin Ahmed
The Children of the Shark God by Peter S. Beagle
Misery by Heather Brewer
Shadow Children by Heather Brewer
Even Hand by Jim Butcher
Red Run by Kami Garcia
Pale Rider By Nancy Holder
Frost Child by Gillian Philip
South by Gillian Philip
A Knot of Toads by Jane Yolen
The Adventures of Lightning Merriemouse-Jones
by Nancy & Belle Holder
There is undoubtedly much to choose from here and frankly I enjoyed all the stories for very different reasons.
The opening story is a great start involving a hermit and his wife and the man who they seek help from in order to achieve their dream. An unusual tale – prepare yourself for demons!
Then move from demons to Gods and encounter the Shark God and the results of his love affair with a mortal woman.
Misery was completely intriguing. A compelling little number about a strange town where each year the residents are given a gift – unfortunately this doesn’t always result in happiness as Alek is about to discover – he has a bad feeling this year!
Then be prepared to cast back in time as the Shadow Children recall your childhood fears. What does lurk in the shadows? Are there monsters under the bed or hiding in the closet. Maybe! Will you check it out or are you trembling under the covers!
Even Hand is Jim Butcher’s contribution and contains a story showing a completely different side to Dresden’s nemesis Marcone. We see something of a softer underbelly in this story although it ultimately doesn’t bode well for Harry. Fans of the Dresden series will love this story. I certainly did.
We then move to a story called Red Run. This is an excellent and creepy little addition where a young girl sets out on a mission of revenge. To avenge the death of her brother who died out on Red Run – a route that most people, sensible people, never use after sunset! There’s always one!!!
Pale Rider is an unusual tale about tortured souls and a strange world infected and blighted by Goblin and Fae magic leaking between two worlds.
Frost Child and South are Gillian Philip’s additions to the book. The first a prequel to the absolutely fantastic Rebel Angel series which gives a little bit more background into Lilith and Griogair and their first deathly encounter. The second a tale of selkies. Can Philips write? Oh yes. Totally evocative. I adore her writing. It’s dark and powerful and she can make you see the beauty of the landscape in one sentence and totally give you the chills about a character in the next. Fans of Firebrand simply must read Frost Child and for that matter South – after all there aren’t enough stories about selkies!
I also really enjoyed A Knot of Toads by Jane Yolen which is full of superstition, people willingly refusing to see what is in front of them and witches. I love stories of witches so this one definitely caught my fancy. Plus the toad shadows dancing on the walls – just read it and you’ll understand!
Finally we conclude with a rather cheeky little take on Stoker’s Dracula.
All in all – an excellent collection of stories with magic, demons, gods, ghosts, witches, – and, well frankly, a pretty comprehensive grouping of the supernatural.
Now, reading this was a bit of an eye opener for me. I’ve read a number of anthologies and readily admit that short stories are not always my thing. I want something to sink my teeth into as a rule. I want character development, history, world building and plot and it’s pretty difficult to attempt this in just a few pages. So, what was the difference with Beyond the Pale. I think two things – firstly, this is a really good collection of stories from some awesome authors. It almost puts me in mind of bedtime tales or tales that you sit and talk about round a camp fire! They feel like real tales that people would tell, Urban myths! I think the second thing, and a bit of a revelation for me, was to take my time with this story and read the stories individually over time instead of attempting to gobble them all down in one sitting. It made me feel nostalgic reading them in that way, not because they’re anything like Red Riding Hood or Rapunzel – but more because they put me back in time to when I used to love tales being told. Strangely, I always preferred the creepy little numbers that my gran told as opposed to the more conventional stories! Go figure.
This is my first contribution to RIP - an event hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. Does this artwork look familiar *wiggles eyebrows* suggestively! (The amazingly talented Abigail Larson who is responsible for the artwork for Beyond the Pale – strange coincidence hey!!!!)