From GoodReads: 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.
City of Stairs is the first book in a trilogy of cross-genre fantasy thriller/spy novels. I only heard about the series recently, from Michelle at That’s What She Read. The plot description was a maybe for me, so I went ahead and checked the book out from the library for further investigation. A few chapters in, and I went ahead and got the audiobook on Audible. The audiobook is 18 hours long – but once I began listening, I did so nearly nonstop for two days.
There is a lot packed into the book: slavery and revolt, the nature of divinity in relation to its believers, the importance of unedited history, discrimination against whole races of people, the motivations of humanity. You can read very deeply into the book for many philosophical discussions. Or you can read the book simply for the plot, which is full of action and twists and crazy things happening, both magical and not. The cross-genre aspect is fantastic, making the book part fantasy, part spy-thriller or detective novel, part literary philosophy. Since I enjoy all three of these, it was awesome to see them all working in tandem. I’d encourage people who like any of these genres to give the book a try, as it’s not too heavily laden on any particular genre, and can be read on multiple levels.
As for the writing, I was very impressed. The world-building and cultures and history are intricately planned and detailed (sometimes almost too much so, in places). The characters feel real and rounded and definitely not perfect, which you find too often in fantasy, but also not completely unlikable (too often found in thrillers). The pacing was very good, except in those few places where too much history/etc was given all at once. The conclusions to all the mini-stories within were satisfactory, and the book could definitely be read as a standalone if you don’t want to move to the next book. However, there’s enough setup for the next book to be lured in, and this combination of not-too-much-not-too-little is one I really appreciate. I don’t know if I’ll read on immediately – I might need some more brain time with Book 1 before moving to the second – but I will definitely be reading on.
Performance: The audiobook was read by Alma Cuervo, my first experience with her as a narrator. I loved the way she did all the voices. Each person was fairly unique in their speech and I could usually tell who was speaking even in long sets of dialogue with many speakers. My only complaint had to do with the recording, which seemed to pick up lots of swallowing and mouth-clicks. I don’t know if that’s due to the narrator, or something to do with the the edit of the recording. Either way, it made the performance a little less enjoyable, though I still plan to continue the series on audio because I liked the rest of the performance a lot.