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’s history has been censored and erased, its citizens subjugated. But the surreal landscape of the city itself, forever altered by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it, stands as a haunting reminder of its former supremacy.
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 — along with her terrifying “secretary”, Sigrud — to solve a murder.
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.
A tale of vast conspiracies, dead gods, and buried histories, City of Stairs is at once a gripping spy novel and a stunningly original work of fantasy.
“History will not let us forget: it wears disguises, reintroduces itself to us, claims it is someone new and wonderful. But let us not forget.”
City of Stairs was an instant favourite. It was so good, so awesome. So utterly and completely perfect for me. This book was something that I have been looking for for a long time now. It is almost genre defying, yet it is still urban fantasy. Amazing urban fantasy. It is like my favourite series, Kate Daniels, all grown up. I adored it, the story, the worldbuilding, and the characters. Everything combined to make me love this perfectly.
In the beginning, City of Stairs presents itself as just another murder mystery story. But it becomes so, so much more than that. In fact, the murder is almost not worth talking about, except for how it started the ball rolling. This isn’t just some investigation with no consequences – it is about politics and a secret plot, and the gods themselves.
The best part of City of Stairs was the worldbuilding. I’ve rarely seen an author go so far out of their way to create something with so much history as this book manages to have. Even rarer have I seen that history have a direct and complete consequence to the events and people in the book that the author has written. This play between history and present time is entirely unforgettable and completely amazing.
The drawback is that at times this book felt like one massive infodump. Only, it doesn’t scream infodump at you. It is well handled and well presented. For instance, the book opens up in a courtroom, presenting a ton of information speeding by you very quickly. Yet all of that courtroom drama is setup for the world: the history, where we are today, the laws of the land, and even an introduction into the magic of the gods themselves! Once I was out of the courtroom, I appreciated what it did.
Then the book introduces the main character: Shara Thivani, who is actually the descendent of a very powerful person in her history. Shara is ridiculously smart, and she is completely and totally obsessed with the gods of the Divine Cities. She wants to know everything about them, despite being part of the conquerors. And indeed, she knows more than most people ever will, because of her place in society.
I also want Shara to be my best friend. She is so strong and capable. She gets so, so excited when she learns new things. She is an amazing person to get to know. And the side characters are just as awesome. Sigrud. Oh, how to describe Sigrud? Awesome? Yes. Broken? That, too. But also one of the best people you will ever get to know. He has been through hell and survived. There is also Mulaghesh who yearns to be done with the politics, but is cursed with being one of the competent people you’ll ever know. I love everyone in this series.
This book is so rich with information. It is a marvelously told tell of what the conquerors can do to the conquered. The way everything unfolds and clicks together is a masterpiece. I want to read this again, just to witness it unfold again. And the buildup! Oh, the buildup to the end! This ending is such a jewel. You know something important is going on, there are so many things happening. And even still, that ending hits you like a ton of bricks and you’re just left sitting there with your mouth hanging open.
I am in love with this book. I am in love with this world, and these people, and this story. I couldn’t be happier.
To read more reviews for this series, check out the The Divine Cities series page!