City of Stairs

by: Robert Jackson Bennett

The bury your gay trope is a great way to make a great read intolerable. The book focuses on a spy named Shara who is sent to the continent to uncover the murder of one of her country’s men who sits on the governing body in order to help keep peace on the Continent. His appointment was met with no small amount of discontent. Throughout the book, she is thrown around twists and turns and always at least two steps behind the people she’s trying to find. Even her aunt is untrustworthy—and her handler.

We are introduced to Shara’s former lover from when they were in university together. A man named Vohannes Voltrov. He is gay. Throughout the book, you learn Vo—the nickname by which Shara calls him—is shown to have had a painful life due to his sexuality. He has a broken hip due to a police raid that left him and many other men beaten. Shara walked in on him and another bed together in university and it was what killed their relationship.

He’s shown to be rich, a party boy who hasn’t had any long-lasting relationships but is engaged to a woman who it seems loves him. He may be bi but he’s written more as a gay man. After two meetings, one at a party and one after Vo and Shara have had a meeting, the fiancé vanishes from the story. Whenever Vo is in the story after that he seems sick, tired and says a few times that he’s split, confused, sick and it gets tied to his life and sexuality subtly.

His thought to be dead older brother runs through the usual hate speech directed at gay men, ending with asking him if he’s slept with children. In order to allow Shara to escape, Vo confesses his sins to the deity; self-hatred being among them because it caused him to push people away. He’s abused throughout the entire book you learn of more and more abuses he’s suffered and it culminates in him dying off the page. Shara runs to find a way to stop the deity and because it’s so focused on torturing Vo that she’s able to escape.

On the last few pages of the book, Shara has an urn of Vo’s ashes and dumps them in the ocean. No one was with him when he died. There’s no explanation of how she got his ashes and the urn. It took what initially seemed to a well-rounded character and added him to the ever-growing list of gay characters denied not only a happy ending but a happy life, written it seems just to suffer.

I initially picked this up after reading a newer work of the authors, the stars are for writing style and storytelling. But that doesn’t save it for me.


Author. Reader. Reviewer. Interested in Sci-fi, Fantasy, and everything in between. Ya, and Adult. Looking for representaion where it matters! BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, everything! We all deserve stories!

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