I believe the question, then,” says Vasily Yaroslav, “is one of intent.
So I read City of Stairs in November but I have not had the head space to review it before now. Apparently my brain is all squashed most days when I come home from work and my weekends have been full of x-men… because OMG x-men. But I wanted to take time to review City of Stairs before I did my best of 2014 list because this has to be up there.
I have not read anything by Bennett before, but I don’t think this will be the last book by him I read. I will be very surprised if it does not show up on award lists next year. It is the setting and tone more than the story that sets this story apart. The book is really well written, the characters especially the protagonist is just wonderful.
Shara is very competent (and a tea lover) but is dropped into a situation that is spinning out of control and fast. She is a secret government agent but not of the James Bond verity – rather the type of spy that is actually effective by working behind the scenes. Towards the end I was more invested in the plot than the characters which I think was the only fault really.
Shara works in the colonies, not the British colonies mind you, but rather the country that her country rebelled against a few generations ago. It is quite an unusual situation the oppressed country is now the oppressors of the former oppressors. This is very much a spy thriller but one with tons of meat on. It is a story about religion, freedom, loyalty, duty and oppression. Somehow it still manages to be funny and fast paced. The questions this book raises about post-colonialism are really interesting and very much thought experiments which makes them easier to think about – in that way it is like really good science fiction more than your typical fantasy. It makes you think a lot about power dynamics between nations and between majority and minority.
The story also deals with a big theme of history and what history or the lack there of means to a nation. Can taking the history of a nation aways from them be justified? What does it do to that nation? How does that relate to extremism? The book also play a lot with the concepts of gods and religion and the role of both. This makes it sound really meaty and dull – it is really meaty, but it is not dull. It got some dry spots, but it was a very enjoyable read.
Not only is the world building is great but so are the characters. If you want to see a well-developed female character who break a lot of the current tropes for strong female characters when this is a read for you. Oh and the book got a good romantic subplot, but it is very much not a romance. The book is funny, entertaining and makes you think.
Published: 2014 by Broadway Books
Read: October 29 to November 09, 2014
Author: Male, white, USA
The protagonist: female, heterosexual, middle-aged, short, spy, able-bodied.