Book Review: City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Dammit, Robert Jackson Bennett. I was about ready to give up on fantasy, as a genre, after the last few highly-regarded novels put me to sleep. Given the length of the average fantasy book, that would save me, like, five days a year. I could have had five more days of life every year by ditching fantasy.

Then Robert Jackson Bennett comes along, demonstrating that fantasy doesn’t have to be boring-ass generic sword-and-sorcery Tolkien V. 99.0 bullshit. It can take place in a semi-modern world inspired by our own, but unique enough that even long passages of pure world-building are fascinating. It can have complex stories drawing from noir and spy thrillers but retaining the broad scale that often defines fantasy, then somehow pack in twist after twist without resorting to gimmicks. The story can be driven by characters that defy archetypes, each with flaws, complex personalities, and moments of badassery. And it can all be tied up in writing that is beautiful without being flowery, and is funny without dulling the story’s dark edges.

I could say more, but the main point is that this is a very good book, so I can’t give up on fantasy yet. Robert Jackson Bennett is solely responsible for taking up five days of my life every year, for the rest of my life. On my death bed, my family will ask: “why didn’t you spend more time with us?” And I will reply: “City of Stairs, man. City of Stairs.”




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