Monday, September 7, 2015

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Looks like the World Fantasy Award is going to have the really interesting books this year.  City of Stairs was my next read on this list, and it's a very good one.

City of Stairs' surface plot is a murder mystery, set in a world where the gods are very present.  They are pretty much high-powered versions of humans (the truth of this slowly unfolds throughout the book).  For a thousand years they played favorites with the Continent, leaving the rest of the world in their shadow.  Then the Saypuris, slaves to the Continent, received one last humiliation they could not tolerate.  Their Kaj found a way to kill the gods, and the ragtag Saypuris turned the tables on the Continentals.

Seventy-five years later the Saypuris are trying to maintain control of this firekeg.  The gods are gone, but their miracles and the damage from the struggles as they passed are still all over the Continent and its most prominent city, Bulikov.  The protagonist, Shara Komayd, comes in to investigate the mystery of the murder of a prominent Saypuri scholar.

Bennett has a lot of interesting things to say about the relationship between the human and the Divine.  They are not new things, at least not to me, but they are true and powerful nonetheless, and this is a pretty good introduction.  They aren't highbrow things, either--this is a novel of action, not a theology exposition.  Shara and her powerful secretary, Sigrud, make a good superhero team.  Much gets torn up and blown up along the way to the explanations. 

This is the first of a series, The Divine Cities, and I am finding it reminds me of N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy (Example here) in that the gods are very present and accessible to at least some of the people, and have apparent limitations.  Maybe what we have here is an interest in how highly powerful beings discharge their responsibilities? Sounds reasonable to me.  Kings, gods, the fabulously wealthy, the once humble but suddenly empowered--in some way it's a central narrative, that burden, potentially terrifying, of being able to actually do something to save everything,

Highly entertaining, I give this one four stars.

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