Category Archives: Dark fantasy

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.

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.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of thorns

2 out of 5 stars.

I must admit that my mind is rather divided about this book. Usually I either like the book and finish it, or I don’t like the book and I abandon it. I finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence… but I am not sure I liked it.

The world-building is interesting. It is a medieval fantasy world in some aspects, but there are hints that this world survived on the ruins of our modern world. The castles the new kings and barons live in are built on the stumps of buildings that were made of reinforced concrete. There is a whole vault full of chemical weapons guarded by an artificial intelligence that has gone half-mad in the thousand or so so years of solitude. There are also hints that some horrible cataclysm took the life of so many people at once, that it tore the veil between life and death wide open, and now all kinds of undead stuff is bleeding back into our world. So all in all, the world is interesting, and I would have loved to discover more of it, but not enough to pick up the next book in the series. And the fault for my lack of enthusiasm lies square at the feet of the protagonist.

Prince Jorg is a psychopath, pure and simple. He is also a rapist, a torturer and a ruthless killer. And he doesn’t regret any of the horrible things he has done. Worse, he seems to enjoy them. And he is only 14 years old.  Yes, he has had to go through the horrible experience of watching his mother and younger brother getting slaughtered while he hung helpless and almost crucified in the hooks of a hook-briar bush. Yes, he survives only to see his father do nothing to avenge the murders. The author and the reader could find plenty of excuses for Jorg to have turned up the way he did. But do I want to follow the adventures of a murderous psychopath? Not really, no.

I would have stuck with the series if there had been any other characters to follow, even secondary ones. Unfortunately, all of them are unremarkable. They are only there to play second fiddle to Jorg. I mean, I still don’t understand why the captain of the Palace Guard sent to find the young prince would stick with him for four years and watch him and his merry band of bandits pillage, rape, murder, and burn his way up and down the highroad. Why would he still be loyal to the twisted monster his prince turned into? If you consider what little we see of this character’s believes, that makes no sense at all. The only logic for this is – the author wanted it this way.

So my conclusion is – this is an intriguing world, but I have no desire to watch young Jorg continue his glorious march from King to Emperor, probably leaving death and devastation in his wake, just because he felt like it.