Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Book Rave: City of Stairs

December 28th, 2015

City-of-Stairs-Robert-Jackson-Bennett-2Best-of-the-year lists and award-nomination lists are fun to talk about and it’s awfully nice to have your work appear on them. But these lists are also valuable reminders that we have diverse tastes and that our reasons for reading — and for choosing what we read — are all very different. And I think it can be interesting to take note of what’s not on these lists.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, some of it 2015 books, and some books from earlier years. Several months ago I posted about Claire North’s 2014 novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which was one of the best novels I’ve read in recent times. Ignore the cover. Seriously. And read it. After I finished, I was amazed at how little I’d heard about this book, and that it had not put in an appearance on either the Hugo or Nebula ballots. (It did win the John W. Campbell Memorial award.)

I just finished another 2014 novel, City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, which is also a terrific book that, in retrospect, I am surprised I didn’t see on 2014 award ballots. (Yes, there were complications with the Hugos, but not with the Nebulas! And it may have been on best-of-the-year lists, last year, I don’t know.)

In contrast to Harry August, I did hear a lot of positive comments on City of Stairs, but I hesitated to read it because…well, because I’d read Robert’s American Elsewhere and I was afraid.

AmericanElsewhere_RobertJacksonBennettDon’t get me wrong. American Elsewhere is a terrific novel. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read and it’s a perfect subject for the age-old argument of “Is this science fiction or fantasy?” (So far as I’m concerned, it’s science fiction, so there.) But it’s also really, really long — a “hot mess novel of excess” — something I didn’t realize until I was well started, since I was reading the ebook. You know how it is…you think you’re just out on a reading date and suddenly you realize you’ve eloped with the book, you’re married now, and it’s going to take some time to get free. Or something. (Did I mention I’m a slow reader?)

Anyway. After hearing City of Stairs lauded a few more times, I decided I had to take a look. So I checked the length (not unreasonable) and then grabbed a sample. By the end of that sample, I was all in. The writing is terrific, the world building is fascinating, and the characters are sympathetic and interesting. And though it’s set in a secondary world, the story is still very much an exploration of issues in our own troubled world, handled with great skill. Highly recommended.

So why do books like American Elsewhere, Harry August, and City of Stairs fail to show up on some of the major award ballots? I don’t know! Maybe because people like me read them a year too late?

Oh, and City of Stairs is definitely fantasy.

The sequel City of Blades is out in January.

Posted on: Monday, December 28th, 2015 at 12:30 pm
Categories: Book Rave, Reading.
Tags: , ,

One Response to “Book Rave: City of Stairs

  1. Paul Says:

    Not a clue. I nominated City of Stairs for a Hugo, so I did my part…