A Saypuri scholar, researching the creation, rule, and fall of the Divinities, is assassinated and his office in the Continental capital is ransacked. A Saypuri intelligence officer investigates his death and is drawn into a web of intrigue, uncovering a plot to restore the beleaguered Continent to its former glory atop the world stage.
City of Stairs is a triumph of world-building, especially given its manageable length. The Divinities have personalities and spheres of influence and Creation stories (can't say "creation myths" in this case because within the context of the book, they really happened). The various countries draw their cultures and histories from India, the Middle East, Scandinavia and eastern Europe, and there may have been other influences that I didn't recognize. The heroes are well-drawn, and in a couple cases even their lineages are relevant.
Plotwise I found CoS to be a bit simplistic. Many of the plot turns were telegraphed, and toward the end the Evil Mastermind literally monologued his entire Evil Plot--including his intentions for the captured heroes--like a '60s Bond villain. I'll be honest, there was a bit of eye-rolling.
The rampant social commentary was fun, if a little heavy-handed. Bennett's clearly not a fan of religion. While some few of the Continental devout were devoted to doing good and being constructive, most were hung up on archaic, arbitrary rules-observance, penitence and punishment, racial superiority, obsessing over the good old days when the Continent had its boot on the world's neck. The lone benevolent Divinity (who's female, natch) described at some length how people outgrew her and are just generally better off without gods anyway. Religion Makes You Bad, you see.
Saypur on the other hand was an Eden of sexual egalitarianism and general tolerance. The heroes include a butch, sexually voracious military woman, a gay civic leader, and a tiny, unattractive but highly intelligent brown woman. Yes, Liberalism and Tolerance Make You Good.
There's a great bit where the mousy little intelligence officer mentions offhand to a frothingly racist bad guy that EVERYONE used to be brown, and that pale people didn't come about until some populations relocated to sunless northern climes. He reacts...predictably.
Not better. Blarf.
I mean, I can see why it's respected. The dialogue is razor sharp, the fourth-wall-breaking asides are brilliant, and Gabriel Bá does absolutely fantastic work with what appear to be two shades of green and that's all. Fraction's intelligence and sense of humor shine throughout the book.
But Casanova suffers terribly from plot diarrhea. It makes no narrative sense.
-One minute Ruby Seychelle is an insipid little sex robot, the next she's running black ops for the world's foremost spy agency. Where the hell did that come from?
-Cass shoots his sister Zephyr for murky reasons; a few pages later she rapes him(!) And a few pages after that they're besties, like nothing ever happened.
-A 26th century civilization masquerading as a band of primitive savages comes to Cass's rescue and he absolves them of a debt that they never incurred.
-The agency's second-in-command is cloned into an army of rampaging rapists, and then...nothing. They're just out there somewhere rampaging and raping and none of the characters seem to care. Or remember.
It's an endless chain of WTFs. I don't feel the need to use plot spoiler tags because there is no plot.
Casanova strikes me as the Frisky Dingo to Sex Criminals' Archer. It's the clever failure that led to the creation of something wonderful.
A cyclops barfs on a baby. A planet uses a psychic parasite to add visitors to its ecosystem. Alana learns to fly. Slave Girl gets a name.
Fifty years later, Scotland Yard's last homicide detective is tapped to solve the first murder of a vampire in decades.
Disappointing. The art lacks depth; there's virtually nothing to suggest light or shadow. It's all flat-looking figures occupying monochromatic panels. The dialogue is stilted and obvious, and the author keeps re-explaining terms like the reader is an idiot. At least it was quick.
Wow, is McIntosh ever hard on his hero. His grandfather dies of age, his wife is killed by lightning right in front of him, his twin sister drowns (and it's partially his fault), his hometown loses 600,000 people--including his two best friends--to a terrorist attack, he dies for 10 minutes in a car accident, and then he comes down with a bad case of possession. I think that was all before page 40. Positively Jobian.
The good stuff was pretty good. McIntosh does a nice job plotting a series of disasters, government responses, social reaction and evolution. A shoe-oriented spontaneous memorial felt right, as did a self-deputized army of God who went around murdering afflicted innocents in order to "exorcise demons." They subscribe to a kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out philosophy, which I've no doubt is exactly what would happen. The afterlifey stuff is sufficiently bizarre and creepy, dipping lightly into the Eastern mysticism bunk that most of us roll our eyes at. Very believable.
The bad stuff...eh. I have no real complaints. It just didn't break any real ground or blow my mind with its perspicacity. Hitchers is simply a good fun read, and somehow light in spite of all the tension and tragedy.