Category Archives: Fantasy

It Started with a Whisper by A. W. Hartoin.

It started with a whisper

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ernest “Puppy” McClarity has only one wish: that Miss Pritchett, his dreaded math teacher, leaves him alone on the last day of school, so he makes a wish to his great-granddad Ernest to take care of her for him. Only wishes are a powerful thing when you are a McClarity, and old Ernest always watches over his own, even if he is long dead.

I absolutely loved It Started with a Whisper. It has magic and paranormal elements in it, but they are presented in such a manner that a lot can be seen as coincidences or weird accidents. This book is not about the all-powerful witches that smite their enemies with deadly spells. It’s about a family that loves each other and their land, and would do anything to protect each other as well.

I loved all the characters in this book. The McClarity clan is big, colorful and full of crazy people. They biker, they fight with each other, but they also have fun and love each other unconditionally. And they are all fully fleshed and tridimensional characters. I felt like I was right there at Camp with them, just another member of the Pack.

And Great-grandpa’s Ernest old homestead, or the Camp as everyone calls it, is described with such love and attention to detail, that I could picture it perfectly in my head as well. That’s actually one of the reasons I loved this book so much – it reminded me of the summers I spent at my grandparents summerhouse when I was a child. It was in a remote village in Russia where everybody knew each other and nobody ever locked their doors. All the kids would play together from dawn till dusk, and nobody worried where we were. That long-forgotten feeling of freedom, of summer heat and lazy afternoons swimming in the pond or exploring the woods behind the village, I managed to recapture it again while I read this book. And for that, Mrs. Hartoin, I thank you.

This story is less about magic, and more about Puppy slowly leaving his childhood behind and realizing that actions have consequences, and that sometimes things are not what they seem, and neither are people. Nothing is black or white, and even the hated teacher who had been so awful to him all year long might do so because she is profoundly unhappy and just lashing out.

It’s a coming of age story and it’s executed perfectly. Puppy is a typical 14 year old boy who has just barely left childhood and suddenly discovered that girls might as well be aliens from Tau Centori, because they are just as puzzling. Like any other boys his age, he is awkward around them, unsure of himself and slightly embarrassed about his mother always dropping him at school at least 30 mins late. All he wants at the beginning of the book is spend a fun summer at Camp with his family and friends, and hope that Beatrice, the llama that seems to hate him for some reason, doesn’t spit on him too often.

But when real disaster strikes and some of his actions have grave consequences, he steps up and does what is right. By then end of the story, Puppy has turned into a good man, a man Grandpa Ernest would be proud of.

I thoroughly enjoyed It Started With a Whisper and my time spent at Camp with the McClarities. On this cold and dreary season it was a much needed breath of summer heat. I would definitely pick up the next book when it comes out in 2015, because I wouldn’t mind coming back for a visit… as long as I’m invited. Because bad things happen to people who step on Ernest’s land uninvited.

PS. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review through LibraryThing.

Hotter than Helltown by SM Reine

Hotter than Helltown

Stars: 3 out of 5

Hotter than Helltown is one of those books I find tough to review. On one hand, I liked it while I read it – there was an interesting plot and it kept moving along fast enough to make you want to turn the pages; the characters didn’t get on my nerves, and I didn’t mind following them. On the other hand, once I reached the end, closed the book and tried to summarize what I’d just read, I was left with a shrug and a “meh, it’s alright, but nothing stellar” assessment.

 

Yes, the story moves along at a fast pace, and it’s fun to follow Cesar along while he tries to investigate the gruesome murders and study for a big magical test that might cost him his life if he fails. 

 

The problem is, the story moves along too fast. It’s a relatively short book and a lot of events seemed crammed into the pages. This leaves no space for character development or world exploration. It’s a non-stop sprint from page 1 to THE END. I mean, sure, it keeps you entertained while you read it, but once you’re finished, it doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste.

 

I liked Cesar’s POV, but he is the only character in this book with any kind of background or development. Everybody else around him are just sidekicks with no dept. Oh, stuff is implied or mentioned in passing about them, but never truly explored. I would have loved to know a bit more about his partner or his boss, or even have a glimpse into Bella’s story. But all this was left by the wayside as the book raced through the plot. Which made it hard to empathize and care about the characters, at least for me.

 

The world building element was also rather none-existent. Now, this might be due to the fact that this is book 3 in the series and most of the world building had been done in the previous installments. But it felt at times like I was running with the protagonist through a movie set – normal looking houses on the outside with just cardboard and wooden poles in the back to prop them upright. I think each book in a series needs to add something to the world, but Hotter than Helltown didn’t seem to do any of that… 

 

So to summarize, it was a fun and quick read, but it was forgotten just as quickly once it was done. If you just want an easy book to spend your Saturday afternoon with, by all means pick it up.

 

PS. This review is for the advanced reader copy I received via NetGalley.

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews.

Magic Bites

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Did I mention that I love the “alsobought” section on the Amazon site? I discovered a lot of books I fell absolutely in love with through that. Magic Bites was one of them. I had just posted a review on one of October Daye’s books by Seanan McGuire, and I was browsing through that section for something similar to read when I saw Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews.

Well, I can say that I’m glad I bought it because I loved this book. It has several of the components that I look for in a paranormal romance series, and all of them are done just right. So you can say that Magic Bites was a feast for sore eyes.

First of all, the worldbuilding. I loved this world where magic and technology come in alternating waves. I also like that the author set her story a long time after those waves first started happening, so it’s not a post-apocalyptic  story at all. Society has adapted to the new world and takes the changes in stride: they have both electricity and magic lights which switch on automatically depending on the wave; every garage or stable in Atlanta has both cars and horses.

The different magical beings and factions are also well-integrated into the society. I mean, when a magical wave can strike at any time and last for days, nobody would be very surprised to see witches, necromancers or shifters in the streets anymore.

So even in the first book of a series, we are introduced into a complex world with several different layers, a past and even a distinctive mythology. And the introduction is done progressively, without the dreaded infodumps that usually make me skip ahead or just close the book and never pick it up again.

So just for that, I would have already been happy with Magic Bites. But the good surprises didn’t end there. Kate Daniels is a strong female protagonist how they all should be – strong, smart, not afraid to make tough decisions and used to relying only on herself. Yes, she can come across and stand-offish and over-confident sometimes, but I think it has more to do with her upbringing and backstory, which is hinted upon, but not entirely explained. Which is also good, because it makes me want to pick up the next book in the series to learn a bit more about her.

Kate is a loner. She had been brought up to think that she cannot trust anyone but herself and that getting attached to other people is a weakness. So she tries to act accordingly. But she was also brought up with an inane sense of justice, so she can’t help but intervene when she sees something as being wrong. Which has a tendency to land her in a world of trouble.

Since it’s a paranormal romance, I can’t write a review without mentioning the romantic interest as well. Those of you who had been following my blog for some time know that the romance has to be very well written and feel “natural” for me to like the book. So that’s another point in this book’s favor – the romantic component is there, there are hints, but I have a feeling that it will develop gradually through the course of several books.

I also liked the fact that the romance does not take the driver sit in the story. Both Kate and Curran feel attracted to each other, yes, but that attraction is in the background. I have read way too many novels where the romantic interest seems to exist only when the protagonist is around and has no life / goals / desires outside of that. I’m glad that Curran isn’t like that. You can feel that he has his own life, his responsibilities and passions that have nothing to do with Kate or the case they end up investigating together. In other words, he is a well-rounded character on his own.

So yes, I loved this book and I love this series. And I will strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an engaging story, wonderfully fleshed-out world and complex characters.

P.S. And I think that Kate’s first encounter with Curran is hilarious. I mean, “Here, kitty, kitty?”

Cold Hillside by Nancy Baker

Cold Hillside

Stars: 5 out of 5.

With Cold Hillside Nancy Baker managed to step away from the fae stereotype plaguing most of recent fantasy and paranormal books who depict a romanticized version of the fair folk: beautiful, mysterious, and a good romantic interest for the protagonist. Nancy Baker depicts a whole other version of the fae, which is much closer to the original legends and could be summarized by one sentence:

 With them, there are no happy endings.

 Yes, they are beautiful, but so is a coral snake or a poisonous flower, and both will kill you without pity or remorse. They are mysterious and alien and immortal, yes. They also consider us mortals as toys. Fascinating sometimes, but easily broken and discarded. I like this depiction of the fae better, maybe because that’s how they were portrayed in the fairy tales I grew up with.

 But the fae are not the only reason I gave this book five stars. A book would be nothing without engaging characters and an interesting story, and Cold Hillside has both in heaps. Because while the fae are present in the book and have an important influence on the events, this story is about the mortal people.

 I loved the depiction of Lushan, this big city clinging to the cold side of a mountain and whose inhabitants still manage to thrive in these unforgiving conditions. You can see that a lot of work had gone into creating this cold and unforgiving world and the culture of the people who live in it. But it’s masterfully inserted into the story itself, so that it never feels like an info dump. Lushan reminded me a little of Tibet, while Deshiniva where Teresine is from, would be more like India.

 Speaking of Teresine and the other protagonist in this book, her great-grandniece Lilith, it’s rare that we get truly strong women as protagonists, so this book was an absolute treat! Way too often, I have come across “strong” heroines that constantly needed rescued by their male love interests. Or who were totally rude and lacking basic social skills.

 Both Teresine and Lilith are strong and self-sufficient women the way I like them: they don’t rely on others to deal with their problems; they don’t waste time on bemoaning the unfairness of their condition; they accept the consequences of the often dire situations they find themselves in and manage to adapt and survive, and even carve a little bit of happiness and inner peace in the process.

It was refreshing to see them struggle and sometimes fail, but always get back up and keep on fighting. And it was refreshing to see the fae depicted not as good or bad, but just totally different.

 And I won’t say another word about the story of Cold Hillside, because I want to avoid spoilers, and because the unraveling of the story is part of the delightful experience that is this book. But I would say that it’s definitely worth picking up for your holiday reads.

 P.S. This review is for the advanced copy of the book I received from NetGalley.

The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood.

The Younger Gods

Stars: 4 out of 5

It’s been a while since I read a good urban fantasy book that didn’t center around fae or werewolves / vampires and didn’t include a romance. In fact, I had come to the sad belief that these were the only books the genre had to offer. So The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood was like a breath of fresh air.

Jacob Greene came to New York to escape the clutches of his very overbearing and secretive family and start a new life away from the cult. Jacob’s only worries now are to try and fit into this strange new world that is life at St. Mark’s University, keep his grades up to keep his scholarship, and stretch his meager allowance in order not to die of hunger before the end of each month. Then a crucified body is found in one of the New York parks, and Jacob realizes that his family has caught up with him…

I absolutely loved the main protagonist. Jacob is a smart and well educated boy, even though his knowledge mostly lies in the field of summoning monsters and performing human sacrifices.  He is completely lost in the intricacies of the normal college life, and his social skills are so bad that he can’t seem to make friends. The author did an excellent job showing the complete lack of common ground between Jacob and his classmates. They didn’t read the same books, didn’t hear the same stories, and Jacob just doesn’t understand any of the mass culture references we all take for granted. And his over-flowery and slightly archaic speech makes him seem even more alien. Jacob tries so hard to fit in, to put his less than normal childhood behind him, but when he hears about the murder on the news, he immediately recognizes his sister’s signature.

I like the fact that the idea to simply walk away and think “it’s not my problem” doesn’t even cross Jacob’s mind. It’s his family, so it’s his problem. If he has to stop the apocalypse all by himself, he will do it, or die trying. That shows a tremendous strength of character.

And the author also did a very good job showing the diversity of races and cultures in New York city. All of the secondary characters come from different ethnicities and cultural (and magical) backgrounds. Carter is an Indian (dot, not feather) Nephilim, Antoinette is a voodoo practitioner from Haitian descent, and Dorothea is a black ex-NYPD cop who became a Brooklyn Knight. And they are not just clichés put in the book just to act as a background to Jacob’s adventures. They are well fleshed out characters. Oh, and there are also Staten Island werewolves, Rakshasa from Queens and a multitude of other magical beings that call New York home.

The pacing of the book is fast and gripping. There isn’t a single dull moment. It’s even a bit too fast in places, and I caught myself wishing for the action to slow down and give myself and the characters a breather. But at least it’s never boring!

My only complaint is that there are still some errors in the copy I read. For example, Nate is described as a man when we first meet him, but halfway through the chapter, he is suddenly referred to as “she”, then he becomes a “he” again when we next meet him. But I think all those problems are due to the fact that I read the ARC of the book I got from NetGalley, and hopefully didn’t make it into the published version of the book.

So if you like strong characters and an interesting story, you should definitely pick up The Younger Gods. I will be looking forward to the next book in the series.

Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans

Of Bone and Thunder

Stars: 5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC of the book I have received courtesy of NetGalley.

I am in love with this book and I’m not afraid to admit it. Vietnam War meets a fantasy world? It could have crashed and burned if it had been poorly executed. Fortunately for me, Chris Evans pulled this off masterfully, and the end result is a book that I found very hard to put down.

The premise Of Bone and Thunder is quite simple: the Kingdom is waging war in Luitox, a strange tropical land full of “savages” that the brave army of the Kingdom came to liberate from the Forrest Collective. That’s the official story anyway, but to most of the characters in this book, that propaganda is irrelevant. What matters to them is whether they will live to see another day and whether their squad will make it out alive as well.

I loved the fact that the author didn’t go into rhetorics or political explanations of this war in the Lux. Instead, he chose to tell this story through the eyes of regular soldiers, those forced to fight and die for ideals they don’t understand in a land that is absolutely foreign to them, against an enemy that knows the terrain and can literally disappear at will.

There isn’t one single protagonist in this book. We follow several characters instead. There is  Carny, a young crossbowman and his fellow soldiers from the Red Shield. The young thaum Jawn, who arrives to the Lux full of ideals and dreams of glory which are soon shattered against the gory reality of war. Obsidian flock leader Vorly and his thaum Breeze who fly real fire-breathing dragons called rags. And several other unique characters.

We see the war through their eyes; we follow them from simple skirmish to battle to desperate fight for survival, and we see them change. And that’s the biggest strength of this book. All the characters we follow are flawed in their own way. Jawn is naïve but also arrogant; Carny is an addict who doesn’t care about anything and anyone but himself; and the only thing Vorly cares about is his rags. And the other members of the Red Shield squad were just as bad. I hated some of them at the beginning of the book…

Yet they change, they evolve, they grow on you, so much so that you start cheering for them, hoping that they will make it out of one desperate situation after another in one piece. And when some of them die, it really hurts, like you have just lost a good friend.

With subtle strokes of the brush, the author also showed us how a ragtag group of men transforms into brothers in arms. You can see the moment when concern or individual safety is overruled  by concern for the safety of fellow squad members. When the words “leave no man behind” suddenly become a moto to live by. And Carny gives up the drugs and assumes the mantle of Squad Leader because there is nobody else left to do it. Vorly risks his life and the life of his precious rag to help the troops on the ground he had transported so many times that he grew to consider his own. And Jawn risks both his life and his sanity to defeat enemy thaums  before they annihilate the small army surrounded by an enemy force twice its size in the valley of Bone and Thunder. And the words “Anything for the greater good” gain a truly sinister meaning.

 Of Bone and Thunder is the story of a big war described through a multitude of small, almost personal wars, and that’s what makes it so powerful. This book leaves a lasting impression long after you finished reading.

So my advice is read this book. Definitely and without reservation.

Memory Zero by Keri Arthur

Memory Zero

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

It’s usually hard to evaluate the first book in a series. After all, the author has to introduce a brand new world, set up the rules, introduce the characters, and tell a story that’s engaging enough to make the reader want to buy the next book. And all this without making the book read like a huge info-dump. Not an easy feat to pull off, by all accounts.

I think that Keri Arthur did a pretty decent job with Memory Zero on all accounts.

Sam Ryan accepts to meet with her partner, Jack, who has gone missing two weeks prior. She hopes that he will give her some answers as to why he has suddenly gone MIA. Instead, he tries to kill her, and she is forced to kill him in self-defense. Only the Jack she had known and worked with for five years was human, and the man she killed is a vampire. So is it really Jack she killed? And why is someone bound and determined to hunt her down? Does this have anything to do with her past that she can’t remember?

Keri Arthur manages to create an interesting world. I can see that it has depth and history, but this is conveyed without the dreaded info-dump. There are hints at a bigger conflict, but mostly we discover this along with Sam. So we only know what concerns her, nothing more. I kinda like that. It gave me enough information to know that it’s a potentially interesting world I wouldn’t mind reading more about, so in that respect Memory Zero did exactly what it was supposed to do – it hooked me.

Now let’s talk about our protagonists. I actually liked Samantha Ryan, even though she comes with the trope I absolutely hate – memory loss. Sam was dumped at an orphanage as a teenager and has no memory about anything that happened to her before that day. One of the reasons she joined the police is to discover any leads about her past. The fact that she found nothing, and that even the birth certificate that was found in her pocket by the orphanage staff is fake, indicates that someone very powerful is involved and they don’t want her digging any further.

She is a strong character, but without being pushy or rude, like too many “strong” female protagonists are nowadays. She has a head on her shoulders and she knows how to use it. I also love the fact that she faces her fears and fights them. She has a fear of dark small spaces, but she is stubborn enough to crawl through the fake ceiling to escape from imprisonment, even though the dark and tight space makes her want to hyperventilate and scream at the top of her lungs in cheer terror.

I am less impressed with Gabriel Stern. He is described as the second in command at SIU, but he spends the whole book one step behind the bad guys, trying to put out the fires that were smoldering for months without him noticing. Heck, he’s even too blind to notice a traitor in his own family!

I think the biggest problem with Gabriel is that the author didn’t bother looking much further than “love interest”, “man with mysterious and dramatic past that leaves him incapable of trust and love” tropes. So his behavior is sometimes illogical and bewildering. I really hope that the author gets a better grasp on his personality and motives in the next book, because right now he is rather frustrating to read about.

But my main problem in this book and the reason I only gave it 3.5 stars is the antagonist. Jack is such a stereotypical villain that almost everything about him is a trope. He is the right hand to the current big bad Sethanon (whom we don’t even see in this book, btw), but he wants to overthrow him and become the next big bad… Ok, whatever floats his boat I guess? He is also inexplicably fixated on Sam, whom she wants to either join his side, or kill, or just experiment on; it’s not every clear, even to the author, I think. Plus I find it hard to believe that Jack managed to play the role of a good partner and friend for 5 years without Sam suspecting anything because the Jack in this book has the acting capabilities of a doorknob.

My other problem with Jack is that he makes way too many stupid decisions. I seriously wanted to hand him the Evil Overlord’s Rulebook when I was reading. I mean who would lock both protagonists in the same room and not even bother to search their pockets? And after that he acts all surprised and asks Sam how she got out. I would have laughed in his face.

This is sad because if the antagonist was less of a caricature and more of a fleshed-out human being, the book would have had a lot more tension.

But despite all this, Memory Zero did what it was supposed to do. I will pick up Generation 18, the next book in the series. I want to know more about Sam’s past and who this Sethanon that everybody is afraid of is. But pretty please, give me a real villain, not a walking cliché next time.

Evernight by Kristen Callihan

Evernight

Stars: 2.5-3 out of 5.

This is a review of the ARC of Evernight that I got curtesy of NetGalley.

I admit that I find rating this book extremely difficult, and I think it has at least partly to do with the fact that I rarely read books with a romantic line as one of the driving forces of the plot. And of those that I read, the number that I really liked is very small.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? As far as the world-building and the plot itself goes, I would give Evernight between 3.5 and 4 stars.

This is the fifth book in The Darkest London series, so the readers are thrown into a world that had already been introduced and explained in the previous books. As such, there are no noticeable info-dumps. The world itself is interesting and well fleshed-out. It’s everything a steampunk lover would want: a Victorian London with steam engines and crazy contraptions; Ghosts in the Machine (GIMs), demons and other supernatural beings; an organization in charge of policing the supernaturals and another one fighting for their freedom.

Granted, it’s nothing particularly new or original, but it’s described well and it works. I enjoyed exploring this alternative London with Holly and William, and I wouldn’t mind discovering a bit more about it, so I might go back and read the other books in the series.

The main characters are also rather engaging. Both Holly Evernight and William Thorne are interesting protagonists, with their own backstories and personal demons. So empathizing with them wasn’t a problem for me.

By now you must be wondering why I gave this book such a low rating if I liked so much about it? Well, we reached the crux of my problems with Evernight – the romance between the protagonists. In order for a romance book to work, at least for me, the romance has to work, since it is such a big part of the story. No matter how good the plot is or how interesting the world, if the relationship between the characters rings false, it will put me off the book.

And this is precisely the problem here. Will and Holly are interesting characters… that have zero romantic chemistry between them. They work well as partners, maybe reluctant friends, but any time the author tries to introduce the romance, both start acting extremely out of character.

The whole romance between them feels forced, as if the author had decided that it was needed, since it was a romance book, and tried to make the characters dance to her own drum beat, instead of listening to what they really wanted to do.

As a result, I had to roll my eyes during some of the touchy-feely scenes. When I realized that I was skipping them altogether to get to the plot, that was indication enough that the romance simply wasn’t working for me.

So I would rate the romance component somewhere around 1.5 and 2 stars. But, once again, I need to emphasize that there are very few romance novels I liked; where the relationship between the main characters was so well written that it had me hooked and wanting more. When I find such a gem, I hoard it, I cherish it, and I re-read it quite often. And this is always a matter of personal taste. What I found forced and unbelievable might seem beautiful and romantic to somebody else.

So would I recommend this book? I would say – up to you, guys. The world is interesting, the plot is rather fun, if you don’t mind skipping all the romance parts.

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory.

We are all completely fine.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC I have received curtesy of NetGalley.

I must admit that I am rather frustrated with this book.

On one hand, I loved the premise of We Are All Completely Fine.

We’ve all read stories about that Lone Hero, or that Boy or Girl who survived his / her brush with the supernatural and often malevolent forces that lurk in the shadows.  But we never hear about how those people get to live after that. They cannot be normal again. All of them bear scars from their encounters, physical or emotional, or both. All of them know that the world isn’t a safe place; that powerful and cruel Beings lurk just on the other side of the veil, eager to swallow it whole. They are permanently altered by the ordeal they survived, and they feel lost in  this life, because how can you resume a normal life if you are not entirely normal anymore?

So imagine a support group organized explicitly for those souls so broken by their encounter with the supernatural that they are unable to heal on their own. This is a wonderful idea, and it’s brilliantly executed in this book. I loved the dynamics inside this group, and how Daryl Gregory slowly transformed those six broken and solitary people into a working group. How anger and distrust, and even contempt and outright hostility, slowly mutated into acceptance, mutual support and even respect.

And I loved the characters. They are all different and they bear their scars in different ways, but their reactions are believable. Stan is so scared of being ridiculed because of his infirmity that he  prefers to throw it into people’s faces as a pre-emptive strike and to be loud and obnoxious about it. And Gretta is on the opposite side of the spectrum – she is always covered from head to toe to hide the symbols carved into her flesh. And the other four characters also have fascinating stories that I would have loved to read more about.

So yes, the book has an intriguing premise and interesting characters, but I was left feeling cheated when I finished it. Like the author dropped the ball at the very end of a perfect story.

First of all, this book feels too short. It would have done much better as a full-blown novel instead of a novella. Right now, we have an excellent build-up, which takes about three quarters of the book, but the climax and the aftermath feel rushed. It’s like the author ran out of steam and tossed everything into the last 20 pages, just to get it over with.

Secondly, the frequent change of POV is somewhat confusing. Each chapter starts with a royal “we”, as in “we as the group” and so on. But then it promptly switches to third person and hops into the head of one of the characters. So I was left wondering who is really telling this story? Who is that “we”?

And my last complaint is that the ending brings to real resolution to any of the characters, except maybe Barbara. But even with her, the question of that final etching was left unanswered. The rest of the cast didn’t even get that.

It reads like a cliffhanger designed to make the reader purchase the next book in the series. If that is the case, then I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, because I want to know what happens to his rag tag bunch after the therapy. But if it’s a stand-alone, then I can’t help but feel cheated. Please tell me there is more to the story than that?

Those problems notwithstanding, I would still recommend We Are All Completely Fine. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and the characters are people that you want to stick around for. I just wish I could have stayed in their world for a little bit longer.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Stairs

Stars: 5 out of 5

I received an ARC of this book for free from NetGalley.

There are books that grip you and don’t let you go until you read the very last line on the very last page. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett is one such book. I finished it in three days, which is no small feat for me, considering that I have a full time job, a family and my own writing fighting for my time most of the days.

So what is City of Stairs about? Bulikov used to be called the Seat of the World, the city where all six Divinities governing the Continent resided. But the Divinities had been slain 80 years ago, and the Continent was invaded by the people who used to be their former slaves. The passing of the Divinities laid waste to the land, with whole cities disappearing, collapsing or shrinking in the blink of an eye. Even the climate has undergone a drastic change, and the whole land went from being a lush tropical paradise to a frozen wasteland.

The city of Bulikov suffered the most damage. Even 80 years later, it lies in shambles. Its citizens are the poorest on the Continent, the infrastructure is non-existent and the living conditions are atrocious. And the invaders intend to keep it that way, as punishment for everything they had to suffer at the hands of the citizen of Bulikov and their Divinities.

But the citizens of Bulikov remember their glory days. Hatered and discontent brews in the streets and the whole city is a powder keg ready to explode. Will the murder of Efrem Pangyui, celebrated Saypuri historian, be the spark that ignites the city and starts yet another war?

The world created by Robert Jackson Bennett is absolutely fascinating. Each of the six Divinities had their own creation myths and rules by which the world functioned, and those rules were absolute in the zone of their influence. But when they died, all those different view of reality clashed together and produced the Blink, when entire parts of the continent simply vanished; others got warped beyond recognition while those realities fought for dominance. It’s a broke and strange world that we get to explore along with the characters of this story.

Speaking of characters, I absolutely loved Shara and Sigurd, her secretary / bodyguard / enforcer. They are interesting characters with their own flaws and strengths, and I was genuinely engaged with their stories and problems. But the book doesn’t rely solely on its main protagonists. The secondary characters are also memorable and “alive”. You love them or you hate them, but they don’t leave you indifferent.

Most of all, I found the general ideas behind this story extremely compelling and thought-provoking: do the Divinities create their followers or are they created by them? Or is it a two-way relationship? Can they break free from each other without losing their identity? Can whole nations become obsolete along with their Divinity? Is change really such a bad thing? All those questions apply not only to the fictional world of City of Stairs, but to ours as well…

I am glad I found this story and go to read the ARC before the release. I also heard that the author is working on the second book, so I’m definitely placing it on my “books to watch for” list. My advice is – go buy City of Stairs, it’s a guaranteed good read.