City of Thieves by David Benioff

At the risk of sounding trite, City of Thieves is a tale of two young Russian men with opposing personalities that are thrown together during World War II. Their city lay in ruins and they must count on each other for survival, which is a pipe dream at best. On top of all this, City is written as a memory of one of the men, who now lives in New York.

You may think you have heard this story before, but so what? City has at least two things going for it that make the reading worthwhile, great even.

First, for some reason, the horrible, horrible things – World War II in St. Petersburg type things – that happen in this story don’t seem bad at all. They’re awful, depressing, humanity-doubting things, but they serve only their purpose – to ground the story in wartime Russia. Sometimes these types of scenes are meant to evoke disgust or some such emotion, but if they’re meant to do that here, they don’t and the book is better off for it. Take them out, and the story will be just as good.

For example, “The rails veered away from the road, past stands of birch saplings too slender for firewood. Five white bodies lay facedown in the white snow. A family of winter dead, the dead father still clutching his wife’s hand, their dead children sprawled a short distance away. Two battered leather suitcases lay open beside the corpses, emptied of everything but a few cracked picture frames.”

Cover Design: Greg Mollica / Cover Art: Shout

OK, out of context, that’s kind of fucked up. But trust me, the deeper story in City is so good that you’ll breeze right through passages like those.

That leads me to the second great part about this novel – the novel part. City very much passes the page-turner test, which is really what novels have to do. Novels are meant to keep the reader enthralled and City does just that. The pace is perfect, with each chapter offering small story arcs that are both interesting on their own and that serve to advance the larger plot.

That’s the long and short of it. I highly recommend Benioff’s City of Thieves. It was so nice to read that I would certainly read more from Benioff.

Up Next: The Revenant by Michael Punke


Author: Joe McVeigh

I'm a linguist who researches email marketing. I also teach at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. I write about language and linguistics on my blog, ...And Read All Over, and I write about language and marketing on my other blog, Email and Linguistics.

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