I received this book through Young to Publishing Group’s “Word of Mouth” program for my honest review (Published by Broadway Books, September 9, 2014).
This book was excellent: political intrigue, dead gods, a crumbling city, and a female spy as the main character. Sign me up. Not only is our main character, Shara, a bad-ass woman, she’s also a person of color, specifically: “dark-skinned and petite…with thick glasses.” So imagine my surprise when I read the letter from Mr. Bennett that comes with my Advance Reader Copy, which tells me that he intentionally wrote a woman who is a person of color, only to find the cover has a white dude on it?!?
One of the reasons we started this blog is to bring attention to diverse books that are available. Publishers are not helping. If you put a woman on the cover, do you really think that it’s going to ruin sales? What if you put an inanimate object or just a weird smoke figure, is that more manly? Admittedly, the cover does look pretty cool (could use more color), but knowing what I know, I am very disappointed. Do you want to know who that guy is? Turn to the last 100 pages and you’ll figure it out [spoiler alert]! The UK version is pretty awesome and it does NOT feature a cloud man.
Rant over, back to why this book is amazing.
Shara comes to the ancient city of Bulikov, the City of Stairs, once the “divine seat of the world,” to investigate the murder of Prof. Efrem Pangyui, her spy protegee. Once she discovers what he was working on, her investigation unravels everything that the government has tried to keep secret. Everything that the world once was. A long time ago, there were Gods who ruled over the people and created happiness for the Continent. Then a man known as the Kaj created a weapon that could destroy divinities, and when he did, it destroyed most of the Continent. The Kaj, a member of the Saypur nation, allowed for the Saypur government to take over the Continent and create new World Regulations where divinities and any of their divine creations were to be outlawed and destroyed.
Tensions are high after 300 years of rule by the Saypur people. Shara is a Saypur, and a direct descendant of the Kaj, which is why she wants to keep her identity from being known by the public, who still harbor hate against him and the Saypur. Shara’s investigation leads her to discover corruption in the government, a resistance movement that has gained movement thanks to her old boyfriend, and the presence of divine materials that can still be used. She is smart and she knows it. She also has an intense, rough side-kick named Sigurd as her muscle.
This book reminds me about what I love about fantasy. Bennett has created a world within worlds in such vivid detail. Shara and the other characters are complex. For example, her ex-boyfriend is bisexual. And I love the idea of divinities working among the people, of those divinities being destroyed and being able to still use their miracles in everyday situations (like Shara is able to do because she studied it). The pacing is done well. Bennett is able to pack a lot of world building into a 452 page book. Highly recommended.
Check out more of the awesome art here.