City of Stairs
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A great example of its genre, but, unfortunately, not much more. My interest in this book peaked about a quarter of the way through, and peaked very high, but then it kind of tapered off as it became more and more predictable. I liked the reliance of female characters (the protagonist, her foil, and her enemy are all strong women), but I didn’t really feel like the characters were ultimately that fleshed out. Can I give a book high marks for its female characters if the female characters are stereotypes, but not female stereotypes? I’m not sure.

The magic in this book seemed very promising and interesting at first glance, but the further into the narrative we got, the more I realized it just wasn’t going to be fleshed out as much as I would have liked it to be either. I’m very picky about how “magic” is handled in fantasy, so maybe it was just me and an unrealistically high bar. It did have some strong parts to it, like its history, and how it fits into the world’s history, but it also had some pretty dumb, weak parts to it too.

Ultimately, this book wound up being a heavy-handed, preachy book about cultural differences, racism, and oppression. I felt kind of stupid and tricked when I realized this so late in the book, when it was too late to put it down. Hey, I like Le Guin, and Tepper and even some dystopia fiction – I don’t object to social commentary in my SF/Fantasy as a rule. But I do object to heavy-handedness, and being clobbered over the head with the author’s righteous indignation.

This book was so much fun and full of interesting surprises in its first half, I kept reading through the second half, though all signposts pointed toward disappointment. I kind of wish I hadn’t. I hope the author keeps at it and finds a better, more savvy editor. I really think if the author had been challenged more, he could have made the second half as solid as the second. Looking forward to seeing what he does in the future!

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