Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mini-Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

“In what can only be described as a horrific perversion of a vaginal birth, there is a spurt of viscera, a flood of putrid entrails, and then the fat- and blood-drenched form of Sigrud slips out of the gash in the dying monster to lie on the ground and stare up at the sky, before rolling over, getting onto his hands and knees, and vomiting prolifically.”

In all honesty, I really would love it if my review of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) could only be the quote above. I think it captures his writing very well – exquisite prose, metaphorical or even allegorical at times, overprinted with a slightly off sense of humor, and a bit run-on-ish. Which is to say that I love it.

Of course the quote doesn't stand in well for the book however much I love it and however great of an example of Bennett’s writing it is. One would probably not, from this quote alone, consider that Sigrud is the only traditionally ‘white’ character in the book and the one of few that would fit into a ‘traditional’ fantasy role – the barbarian from the north. One would probably not consider that this book is not set in a ‘traditional’ pseudo-European analog or that the main protagonist is a woman. One would also probably not consider that the technology in this secondary world spans that point in time between pre-industrial and industrial, though forcing this book into such a place may not be a worthwhile exercise. So, as much as I love that quote and want it to stand in for a full review of the book, it simply isn't appropriate.

Somewhere near enough to this point seems to be where my review should dive into how where to place City of Stairs in the great pantheon of genre, because there seems to be some great debate about that. I suppose for those that must have a defined genre or sub-genre to place a book into in order to properly assess it against established bookmarks, City of Stairs provides a challenge. Thankfully, I did not have this trouble and I found great enjoyment in the book on its own terms. City of Stairs is set in a secondary world, there is ‘magic’ of sorts, certainly very real gods, and its story is told in more of a ‘thriller’ format. I’m good with that as fantasy, or simply, speculative fiction (a term that I don’t see much anymore, but I think is still quite appropriate).

City of Stairs was a fun, easy read for me. Though that’s not to call it shallow in any sense – there is plenty of depth in the way it deals with such issues as colonialism and free will (at a personal, political, and religious level). There’s more than that, but it doesn't need to be gotten into here, as by now I hope that you've figured out that I found this to be a rather extraordinary book that I think fans of speculative fiction should read. Of course, that’s pretty much what every other review of this book says in one way or another, leaving the question was I destined to make this choice, or did I come to my beliefs through a truly independent course of action? Perhaps it was horrific perversion of what can only be described as …

1 comment:

Bob said...

The first half was very much in the vein of a thriller but, around the halfway mark, it suddenly showed its fantasy roots. Regardless of genre, just a great read with a climax that really pays off.


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