Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…
I got my hands on a beautiful physical copy of The City of Brass several years ago and it’s been sitting on my TBR shelf ever since. Having finally read it, I really can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to. I absolutely loved the Middle Eastern worldbuilding and this spectacular cast of characters.
I’ll readily admit that I have read extremely few books set in or inspired by a Middle Eastern world, mythos, and culture. As such, I really can’t speak about portrayal or familiarity with the culture. However, what I did read I absolutely loved. The settings and backgrounds extremely lush and richly detailed, and the description when Nahri and Dara first arrive at Daevebad was absolutely beautiful.
I found the worldbuilding absolutely captivating. The crux of this story is a struggle for power between different races and factions within Daevebad, each with their own histories and cultures and prejudices against one another. As an epic fantasy novel following multiple characters, each from different perspectives, we get an extremely in-depth exploration into the cultures of these different groups and their rationales for disliking each other.
Much of the conflict and the motivations for several characters in this book revolves around the treatment of mixed-blooded Shaffit and pure-blooded Daeva. A secondary conflict focuses on the disagreement between practitioners of different religions and the discrimination against their ethnic groups. Chakraborty does a fantastic job building these conflicts around the world and the people she’s created, and it was fascinating as a reader to be able to see these different sides.
As a whole, I enjoyed the characters. We follow a tight set of three perspectives, Nahri, a human con artist and swindler, Dara, a djinn warrior, and Ali, an extremely religious prince. Surrounding them is large cast of supporting characters. These characters, especially the main three, are an extremely fleshed out, multi-faceted and complex set of characters. They each have their own agendas and may befriend or betray the others as needed to complete their own missions. There’s also no main villain (in my opinion), just characters going about their business and occasionally getting in each others’ way.
Of the three, I personally liked Dara the best. I loved his brashness and warrior bravo (rightly deserved) and I loved the slow unraveling of his backstory as the book went on. That being said, Dara and Nahri interacting were my least favorite parts, especially in the first half when they travel together. I don’t know what it is but something about the two of them makes both characters lose all braincells (looking at you Dara) and behave in the most annoying ways. Let it be said that I didn’t like their romance.
Nahri in general I found annoying, especially in the second half. She certainly has her moments where she’s pretty kickass, but I didn’t like how whiny she seemed in the second half. It was frustrating to see a character who had so much drive and agency and the balls to swindle extremely rich people in the opening scene get reduced to someone who’d throw fits at being asked to do things and basically being handed her dream job for her.
Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. While I have my disagreements with Nahri and Dara could really afford to keep his braincells with talking with Nahri, I absolutely loved the story and the world that Chakraborty has put together.
r/Fantasy 2020 Bingo
- Novel with a Color in the Title (hard mode)
- Any r/Fantasy Book Club Book of the Month or r/Fantasy Read-Along Book
- Novel Featuring Politics
Publisher: Harper Voyager