The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.City of Stairs by Bennett was my favorite December 2014 read. The book has much to recommend it. It begins slowly with an investigation into a murder that has political ramifications affecting two continents -- truthfully for a while I thought the story was going to evolve like other sff/mysteries I read last year. That was not the case.
Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov's cruel reign may not yet be over.
Instead what develops is rather unique. There are layers and layers to the story -- history of war, the consequences of slavery, censorship and forced acculturation by conquerors, secrets that shatter the characters' views of themselves as well as their homeland's actions, and the hidden secrets of Bulikov, City of Walls. Most Holy Mount. Seat of the World. The City of Stairs. Nothing is as it seems and everything is revealed at the right moment. Bennett digs into some of these layers while only touching on others.
The characters are fantastic, from Shara to Sigrud, Vohannes, and Mulaghesh. This is a conflagration of genres and tropes: dark fantasy with magic, technology, gods and goddesses thrown in for good measure and a fantastic crime mystery at the center of it all. City of Stairs was my last read of 2014 and I don't want to go on without giving it a high recommendation. It was the perfect way to end the year. (September 2014, Broadway Books)