I have recently finished reading both Gabriel Squailia’s Dead Boys and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs. They’re well-written. The characters are interesting and very relatable, the plots are complex without being confusing, and the settings are amazing. Worldbuilding without info-dumping — yay!
Okay, that’s all for the actual “reviews.”
Now for my additional comments and relevant ramblings:
The ending of Dead Boys was unexpected but satisfying — more satisfying than the expected conclusion to the characters’ quest would have been. The author could write another story that follows what happens next, because there’s a sense that they will continue to do interesting things past what is told in the book, but a sequel is not necessary; all the important threads are tied. That’s what a good story is, though, isn’t it? All the important threads tied, but still a feeling that the world goes on after the reader is no longer watching…
I think Dead Boys would make an excellent movie, although some details/story threads would need to be cut or compressed. (If a story fits into a single movie as-is, it’s either a short story or ought to be; novels are too big for a mere two hours on screen.) Not some animated thing by Tim Burton or whomever, though — it would lose something if not done as much live-action as possible.
I want to see fan art for City of Stairs. Lots and lots of fan art. Stairs leading nowhere: it was that imagery that got my attention and caused me to read City of Stairs in the first place. (Come for the surrealism, stay for the excellent story.) Too bad those stairs aren’t all that prominent in the book, but there’s a sequel… The very concept of the setting for this novel is fascinating, so I’m glad the author isn’t ready to leave it yet.
There’s a lot of philosophy in City of Stairs, but it isn’t ponderous or used as a brick to beat the reader with. There’s also a lot of social and political commentary, woven seamlessly into the story and setting. (If you’re a Christian and can’t handle criticism of how some of your co-religionists behave, you may want to give this novel a miss.) What’s really, really awesome about the novel, though, is that it doesn’t feel like “message fiction.” These things are in the story because they belong in the story. (I’m not saying the author doesn’t have things to say about various kinds of inequality and injustice, only that it doesn’t overpower the story, so if you prefer to avoid fiction with any kind of relevance to real life, you can still read this novel and not be too uncomfortable, as long as you’re not the kind of person who wants inequality and injustice.)
And… City of Stairs is written in present tense (third person present tense, mind you), which, as you may know, I really don’t like. The narration is so smooth and natural-sounding, however, that the present tense doesn’t detract at all. I can’t tell you how this was achieved because it’s so unobtrusive. At any rate, if you like fantasy fiction written in present tense, you’ll probably love City of Stairs. If you’re like me and don’t like present tense, this is one novel that you may enjoy a lot anyway. (If you write in present tense, you need to read this book. Maybe you can figure out how the author made something that’s usually annoying turn out so well, and imitate that in your own fiction.)