“City of Stairs” by Robert Jackson Bennett

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The novel Robert Jackson Bennett belongs to the kind of fantasy, which can be safely recommended even to readers who are not fantasy of spirit. Perhaps this is precisely his property – belonging both to “high” and “genre” literature – left him out of the reader’s attention: “City of Stairs” is an excellent reading that combines the burning fascination of the plot with the widest range of affected issues – from terrorism to xenophobia.

Once the inhabitants of Saypuri were slaves to the inhabitants of the Continent, which lies beyond the South Seas. Powerful Deities who gave their admirers a non-illusory patronage and filled their lives with small and large wonders helped the Continents – puritans, conservatives and traditionalists -. However, several generations before the events described in the novel, the locals invented a weapon capable of physically destroying the Deities. Now the oppressors and the oppressed are reversed. The Saypur people rule the Continent with an iron hand, the Saypur troops trample the sacred land of Bulikov, the main city of the enslaved country, but most importantly, all continents are strictly forbidden to study their own history and mention Deities or use their symbols in any way.

There is no agreement among the inhabitants of the Continent. Some seek to break with the past, adopt a new reality, and begin a global modernization in order to build a competitive liberal economy according to the Saipur model. However, at the same time, the movement of “restorationists” is gaining momentum, reasonably convinced that the Deities have not died to the end, that miracles are possible, and the course of history can still be reversed. In this situation, the arrival in Bulikov of the Saypur historian Efrem Pangyui, who wants to familiarize himself with the monuments of continental antiquity, inevitably turns into tragedy. Pangyui was brutally murdered, and the most experienced secret service agent of Saipur, Shara Komayd, a deceptively inconspicuous goggle gray mouse, and her giant secretary from the barbarian North, were responsible for investigating his death.

Detective, spy novel and economic thriller on the surface, unbanal reflection on the themes of colonialism, otherness, corruption and collective memory inside – in short, a complicated book, relevant rather on the same shelf with “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro, than with endless volumes of traditional fantasy paper about orcs, dwarves and elves.


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