City Of Stairs

After the epic

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420 pages | £ 20 ( hard­back)/£ 6.17 ( ebook) Au­thor: Robert Jack­son Ben­nett Pub­lisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Epic fan­tasy deals in

the big can­vas: huge, fate- of- the­world tales after which noth­ing will ever be the same again. It’s rarer for the genre to ex­plore what hap­pens next.

Robert Jack­son Ben­nett’s swords- and- sor­cery novel does just that, open­ing a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions on from a great war in which the once en­slaved Say­puri con­quered the Con­ti­nent and over­threw their for­mer masters’ gods. But when the epic is done and all that’s left is the slow and messy task of re­build­ing, who wins and who loses? What’s re­mem­bered, and what’s for­got­ten?

It’s in­vig­o­rat­ingly am­bi­tious, and Ben­nett’s imag­i­na­tion is up to the chal­lenge. The dif­fi­culty of forg­ing a brave new world is bril­liantly in­voked in the idea of the “Blink”, a desta­bil­i­sa­tion of re­al­ity caused by the gods’ de­feat. Across the Con­ti­nent, land­scapes have been vi­o­lently rewrit­ten; Bu­likov, the tit­u­lar “city of stairs”, is full of half- build­ings and van­ished streets and stair­cases that lead nowhere. Yet lit­tle pock­ets of the past bleed through, both lit­er­ally and in the hopes of a frus­trated pop­u­la­tion.

The book’s me­chan­ics don’t al­ways keep pace with its imag­i­na­tion: the di­a­logue creaks un­der the strain of in­fo­dump­ing and the plot­ting some­times re­lies upon a very clever pro­tag­o­nist be­ing too slow on the up­take. But this is an ab­sorb­ing and ma­ture work, with some fan­tas­ti­cally creepy monsters. Nic Clarke

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