…a memorably surreal urbanscape…is the best part of this essentially set-piece novel, and it's what makes the whole thing worth reading. The book is labeled epic fantasy, but there's no hint of staid European medievalism in its pages, and its root cultures are (refreshingly) secondary-world variants of czarist Russia and Mughal India. Bulikov is an ancient city trying to reinvent itself amid the ruins of its past, and it is very much a character in its own right. The city teems with leftover magic, warped and decaying from its heyday: walls that aren't quite real, endless twisting stairways to nowhere, shifting monuments to forgotten heroes…readers seeking a truly refreshing fantasy milieu should travel to Bulikov, and welcome its conquest.
The New York Times Book Review - N. K. Jemisin
Bennett (American Elsewhere) ventures into secondary-world fantasy in this action-packed, occasionally numinous, noir-like novel, which combines metaphysical and geopolitical observations. The city of Bulikov, once the sacred seat of a brutal, miracle-fueled empire, now stagnates under the administration of its former colony Saypur, which has become a technology-driven superpower. Exiled operative Ashara Komayd is the privileged great-granddaughter of the last Kaj of Saypur, the man who killed the Divinities, thereby both literally and politically destabilizing an entire continent. While investigating the politically inflammatory murder of a Saypuri professor who was studying Bulikov’s censored history, she finds disquieting evidence that some Divinities—and their legacy—may yet survive. Bennett largely sidesteps questions of colonialism and cultural appropriation in his tightly paced mystery, but supporting characters like Ashara’s indestructible aide, Sigrud, and conflicted ex-lover Vohannes Votrov flesh out the otherwise narrowly focused setting. The open ending promises a sequel. Agent: Cameron McClure, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (Sept.)
"A memorably surreal urbanscape...readers seeking a truly refreshing fantasy milieu should travel to Bulikov, and welcome its conquest.”
New York Times Book Review "A delightful urban fantasy that travels through a city full of Escher-like staircases and alternate realities...A diverse and entertaining cast of old gods fleshes out the ruins of this mysterious city, and Shara’s hit-man secretary delivers nonstop action." Washington Post "Entertaining yet thought-provoking...Entrancing characters, exciting descriptions and piercingly clear action keep the story moving swiftly and surely to a satisfying conclusion.” Seattle Times [An] incredible journey through a wondrously weird and surprising world...I found myself both delighted and fascinated as every layer was slowly unpacked. Just the right mix of awesome." Tor.com “Suddenly, the pages are whipping by, 50 at a clip as mysteries are uncovered, miracles happen and assassins begin scaling the walls. … Bennett is plainly a writer in love with the world he has built — and with good cause. It's a great world, original and unique, with a scent and a texture, a sense of deep, bloody history, and a naturally-blended magic living in the stones.” NPR.org "Robert Jackson Bennett deserves a huge audience. This is the book that will earn it for him. A story that draws you in, brilliant world building, and oh my God, Sigrud. You guys are going to love Sigrud." Brent Weeks, New York Times bestselling author of The Way of Shadows "Smart and sardonic, with wry echoes from classic tales mixed up in an inventive, winning narrative. [Bennett is] a master of the genre." Kirkus "An excellent spy story wrapped in a vivid imaginary world." Library Journal (starred) A rich, layered, thoughtful story, full of gods and magic and characters that feel unflinchingly true…every once in a while I read a book that’s so well done, I find myself wanting to punch the author in the face out of pure envy. Congratulations, Mr. Bennett – you just made the face-punching list! Jim C. Hines, Hugo Award winning author of Libriomancer "Alien and human at the same time, Bennett's world is engrossing and fascinating. The pacing kept me reading far later than was healthy." Mur Lafferty, Campbell Award winning author of Playing for Keeps
In the city of Bulikov, the gods are dead and the conquered populace forbidden from talking or writing about their past. Saypuri master spy Shara Thivani comes to Bulikov to investigate the death of a historian and discovers the city's god might not be as dead as everyone thinks. Complex politics and characters—as well a great puzzler of a mystery—make this an amazing series opener. (LJ 8/14)
Another dark fantasy by master of the genre Bennett (American Elsewhere, 2013, etc.), a literate swirl of religion, politics, finance and other sources of misery. "You know you are my foremost Continental operative." Thus a suit to our protagonist, a divinologist who just happens to know her way around a conspiracy theory. Is Bennett's latest merely an elaborate excuse to make a pun on Dashiell Hammett's The Continental Op? Probably not, but Shara Thivani, mutatis mutandis, wouldn't be entirely out of place in an old issue of Black Mask—if, that is, that century-old mystery mag had a soft spot for vaguely Central Asian locales in some not-quite-defined version of the future, along with a little genre-crossing into the horror realm. Shara, an agent of the island state of Saypur, is posted to the vast mainland city of Bulikov after having been abroad for 16 years. Continental Bulikov—a city of ups and downs indeed—once ruled Saypur, but the tables were turned thanks to a conspiracy that involves some considerable theological twists and turns; suffice it to say that Black Mask founder H.L. Mencken would have enjoyed the iconoclasm attendant in Bennett's account of that tumultuous history. Will the tables be turned once again? That's what Shara and her sidekick, the monkish but menacing Sigrud, "a hammer in a world of nails," are there to forestall. The story is winding, the cast of characters sizable but not so sprawling as in many a fantasy; it's all well and neatly told. Bennett's invented geography isn't quite as beguiling as, say, Borges' library, but he does a thoroughly credible job of worldbuilding; readers will find themselves huffing and puffing their ways across the city and its namesake stairs, which "do not end: they stretch on and on, soft and moist, formed of dark, black clay and loam" and lead to all kinds of odd places. Smart and sardonic, with wry echoes from classic tales (a little "Telltale Heart," anyone?) mixed up in an inventive, winning narrative.