The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

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…

The City of Brass was enchanting. Often darkly enchanting, because despite the rags-to-riches theme of the story, it’s hardly a fairy tale.

There are quite a few elements that made me fall head over heels for this book. The first one might sound a bit silly to some, but I was just so happy to have Arabic and Muslim lore in a fantasy universe. Not only is it a change of scenery from the more “traditional” settings the genre can offer, but it resonated with me as I was excited to feel a sort of familiarity about the world.

Chakraborty is a talented storyteller. She weaves a world of wonders, but also of old and still-festering grievances and new political schemes. In a vibrant yet dangerous setting, her characters are pawns in games they don’t fully understand.

Speaking of characters…the story is told from two points of view, Nahri’s and Prince Ali’s, Daevabad’s king’s second son. It took me a while to warm upf to Ali, and longer to understand why I disliked him so much at first. The young man is a rigid believer, certain of his faith and the legitimacy of his actions. I have known a few Alis growing up, and we never got along well. He became more interesting when the belief in the rightfulness of what he’s doing was shaken. Ali is a character with much room to grow and evolve and it was interesting to see the beginning of his journey.

Nahri suffered a bit from a common syndrome in portal fantasy books, when characters are faced with a world they don’t understand and therefore lose part of their agency. She was nevertheless a compelling character with a strong personality – never hesitating to express exactly what she wants and to use her conwoman savviness to navigate the treacherous court politics.

The Daeva she summoned, Dara, was also a fascinating part of the character cast. He and Nahri have a great dynamic, and I loved how organic the development of their relationship was. The funniest scenes in the book are when they spar with words. He’s also a complex character with a troubled past, and his personal journey was another highlight of the story.

I was told to expect a Grande Finale as the book came to an end and I wasn’t disappointed. I lost count of the number of times I muttered “wtf” while reading the final pages. The events pushed the sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, as one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. Luckily, I won’t have to wait long, since it’s out on January the 22nd.

I’d recommend The City of Brass if you like:

  • A rich lore and elaborate worldbuilding
  • Djinn politics and palace games
  • Portal fantasy with a different type of setting
  • Superbly written character development

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