Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere was an interesting and complex novel that blended horror, science fiction, and the notion of the American Dream into a cohesive and entertaining whole. City of Stairs is Bennett’s first foray into more “traditional” second world fantasy. The city of Bulikov, the titular City of Stairs, was once not only infused with the magic of the gods but home to one as well. That was before the oppressed slaves from a distant land managed to find a way to kill gods and transformed themselves into a world spanning empire. With Bulikov’s patron diety dead the city’s magical nature is a thin spectre of what it once was. When a regional imperial judge is found suddenly dead the mousy, middle aged Shara Divani is sent to investigate.
Imagine, if you will, the perfect town; immaculately groomed lawns, quiet streets, perfect houses, smiling faces, and no crime to speak of. Wink, New Mexico is just such a town though as Mona Bright learns upon her arrival such perfection comes at a price. There are places in Wink that you just don’t go, things you just don’t do, and thoughts you aren’t aloud to think. There are secrets hidden behind the immaculate walls and picturesque homes and the Mesa it sits beneath, home to an abandoned research facility, casts a long and deep shadow on the denizens of Wink.
Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere has one of the most perfect premises to get me interested. The novel’s opening chapter provides a tantalizing glimpse that things aren’t quite what they seem offering a nice taste of things to come before slowing things down a bit. American Elsewhere is a delicately paced novel focusing on atmosphere over action. Mona Bright, an ex-cop, discovers during the reading of her father’s will that her mother once owned a house in a town called Wink. With the inheritance set to expire soon Mona sets off to find Wink which is a town that has become rather difficult to find in recent years. Arriving in Wink, Mona is met with a strange vision of a town seemingly right out of the 1950s where everybody knows everybody and nobody ever leaves.