The war between the Continent and the Saypuri ended when the Continent’s gods were assassinated. Not only did this bring an end to the fighting but the death of the gods also caused reality to fold. The city of Bulikov is now a twisted image of its former self where stairs lead to nowhere, buildings are twisted and people disappear into thin air.
City of Stairs is an unusual novel. Not least is the title; for a book entitled City of Stairs, there really aren’t that many stairs in it. The novel successfully plays with the reader’s expectations, providing a concept that is refreshingly original, however, with a world where nothing is as it seems. It starts off as a detective novel with the murder of a pre-eminent Saypuri scientist. Shara Thivani, apparent diplomat but obviously much more, is dispatched from the Saypuri authorities to investigate and begins to uncover a far deeper conspiracy. The novel proceeds at a leisurely pace throughout and the first 100 pages or so meander along as the setting and backstory are largely explained. Fortunately, the detective nature of the story is suddenly thrown a dash of mystery and this really enlivens the plot. City of Stairs never really moves at a speedy pace and if you want action, this isn’t the place to look. The intrigue and revelations are drip-fed at just the right pace to keep you turning the page and wanting to know what is really happening in the weird city of Bulikov. The final revelation isn’t particularly surprising but it doesn’t seem to be intended to be and oddly, this doesn’t detract from the ending. It may not be unexpected but that doesn’t stop it from being satisfying.
City of Stairs has some great characters. The main character, Shara, is fully-realised with a complex personality and background and easily carries the story along. Sigurd, her assistant, is brutal in an amusingly unflappable way and even the secondary characters are rich and varied. All the characters are flawed which makes them more believable; there are no squeaky-clean paragons of virtue in this novel and it’s all the better for it.
City of Stairs is an enjoyable book if you like detective novels and contains a very rounded story. It doesn’t feature action-packed scenes or startling revelations but it will keep you turning the page, just to see what happens.