City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett has been getting lots of buzz lately, including praise for its layered, intense worldbuilding. This is a novel about a society that's forbidden to speak of the dead old gods... who might not be dead after all. We've got an exclusive exerpt, so you can check it out for yourself!
Here's the synopsis of City of Stairs:
The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.
Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov's cruel reign may not yet be over.
And here's an exclusive excerpt, in which Thivani approaches the local government official, Turyin Mulaghesh, about her investigation:
"They showed it to me in my first week as governor," says Mulaghesh. "Years ago. Drove me out in the countryside. Wouldn't tell me where we were going. And then we came across this huge section of bunkers. Dozens of them. I asked what was in them. They shrugged. 'Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary.' Grain, tires, wire, things like that. Except in one. One was different, but it looked just like all the others. Camouflage, you see. Hiding it in plain sight. Very clever people, us Saypuris. They didn't open the doors, though. They just said, 'Here it is. It's real. And the safest thing you can do about this is never talk about it or think about it again.' Which I did. Until the professor came, of course."
Shara gapes at her. "And . . . this is where Dr. Pangyui was going?"
"He was here to study history," says Mulaghesh with a shrug. "Where is there more history than in the Unmentionable? That's, well . . . That's why it's so dangerous."
Shara sits in stunned silence. The Unmentionable Warehouses have always been a somewhat ridiculous fairytale to everyone in the Ministry. The only suggestion of their existence lies in a line in a tiny subsection of the Worldly Regulations:
Any and all items, art, artifacts, or devices treasured by the peoples of the Continent shall not be removed from the territory of the Continent, but they shall be protected and restricted should the nature of these items, art, artifacts, or devices directly violate these Regulations.
And as Shara and any other student of the history before the Great War knows, the Continent was practically swimming in such things. Before the Kaj invaded, the daily life of people on the Continent was propelled, maintained, and supported by countless miraculous items: teapots that never went empty, locks that responded only to a drop of a certain person's blood, blankets that provided warmth and protection regardless of the weather. . . . Dozens upon dozens were cited in the texts recovered by Saypur after the Great War. And some miraculous items, of course, were not so benign.
Which begged the question: where are such items now? If the Divinities had created so many, and if the WR did not allow Saypur (in what many felt was an unusual and unwisely diplomatic decision) to remove them from the Continent altogether or destroy them, then where could they be?
And some felt the only answer could be—well, they're all still there. Somewhere on the Continent, but hidden. Stored somewhere safely, in warehouses so secret they were unmentionable.
But this had to be impossible. In the Ministry, where everyone was tangled up in everyone else's work, how could they hide storage structures of such size, of such importance? Shara herself had never seen anything indicating they existed in her career, and Shara saw quite a lot.
"How is that . . . ? How could that be?" asks Shara. "How could something that huge be kept secret?"
"I think," says Mulaghesh, "because it's so old. People think there's a lot of them, but there's only the one, really. It predates all intelligence networks in operation today. Hells, it's older than the Continental Governances for sure, way before we started communicating so closely with the Continent. The Ministry lets you know if you need to know, and you never did."
"But here? In Bulikov?"
"Not in Bulikov, no. Nearby. After the Kaj died, his lieutenants took all the miraculous things he found and locked them up. They locked up so many that no one could ever move them without anyone on the Continent finding out where they were. So they had to keep them here, and build around them."
"Thousands. I think."
"Well, I sure never wanted to go inside it. Who knows what's in there? It's all filed, organized, locked away, sure, but . . . I never wanted to know. Things like that are supposed to be dead. I wanted them to stay that way."
Shara, with a great deal of effort, manages to return to the issue at hand. "But Pangyui didn't?"
"He was here to study the past in a way no one ever had before," says Mulaghesh. "I'm willing to bet that the Warehouse is probably the real reason he came. We've been sitting on top of a stockpile of history, and I guess someone at the Ministry got impatient. They wanted to open the box."
Shara feels more than a little betrayed to hear this news. Efrem never mentioned anything like this. No wonder he was such an apt student in tradecraft, she thinks. He had already been hiding many secrets of his own.
It feels quite impossible that Vinya would have no knowledge of any of this. Do I really want, Shara wonders, to keep turning over these rocks? This is not the first time she's gotten accidentally involved in one of her aunt's projects—and each time she's done so, it's been a wise career move to turn a blind eye.
But she remembers how Efrem lay on the cot in the embassy vault, his skull wearing the crude mask of his small, delicate face. . . .
Something cold blooms in Shara's belly. Efrem . . . did Auntie Vinya get you killed?
Excerpted from City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. Copyright © 2014 by Robert Jackson Bennett. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.