The City of Brass
The City of Brass, book one in S. A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, has received quite a bit of buzz over the past few months. It’s been compared to such books as The Golem and the Jinni and The Grace of Kings, and since I’m always on the lookout for new fantasy novels, I jumped at the chance to review it, a decision I’m glad I made. It’s a wonderful blend of fantasy and romance, and although the story does have its flaws, I came away from it with a smile on my face and every intention of reading future installments in the series.
Nahri doesn’t believe in magic, a fact that would be a surprise to many who know her. She earns her living as a palm reader, a healer, and a sort of exorcist, but she’s the first to admit she’s conning her clients. She’s learned the tricks of her various trades well, and her results are generally positive which means no one has called her out as a fraud yet. Her dream is to one day study medicine, but she’s not even close to having the necessary funds to turn that dream into a reality, so she’s determined to continue earning money the only way she knows how. Then, one of her rituals – intended to banish the demon from the body of a young woman with a mysterious illness – backfires and brings Nahri to the attention of some very dangerous and magical beings. Suddenly, her very life is in the hands of a disillusioned djinn warrior with a surprising link to Nahri’s own past.
Dara, the djinn warrior summoned by Nahri’s ritual, doesn’t want to involve himself with this girl who knows nothing of his people and their complicated history, but as he and Nahri flee across the desert toward his home city of Daevabad, he comes to understand that there’s more to her than he at first thought. In fact, Nahri just might turn out to be the answer to his people’s prayers. But how can he convince her that the magic she’s always viewed as a farce is in truth a reality that impacts her heavily?
When I first started reading, I expected Dara to be the hero of the story, but in actuality, Nahri’s potential love interest is Prince Ali, the younger son of Daevabad’s king, who is something of a disappointment to his father. The politics of Daevabad are quite complex, with six factions fighting for supremacy, but the story focuses mainly on the discord between the pure-blooded djinn and the shaffits, a people of mixed blood. Ali secretly fights for a better life for the shaffits, but when his sympathies are discovered by his father, his cause is put in jeopardy. Ali is required to learn greater stealth and self-reliance than ever before as he struggles to work for equality while placating his father at the same time. It’s definitely quite the balancing act, but Ali manages it with more skill than I thought he would.
I loved the world Ms. Chakraborty creates here. I read in an interview that she was hoping to create a fantasy world based on the Islamic golden age, and although I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the subject, it felt authentic to me. She does a great job weaving small details into her story, and this helped bring the world to life. I felt like I had traveled back in time to a magical version of 18th-century Egypt.
Unfortunately, the author does fall prey to the dreaded info-dump a time or two. There are a couple really long passages detailing Daevabad’s history, and though I understand the need to include such information, I would have preferred the delivery to take another form. I want to understand the world the characters inhabit, but I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a textbook in the process.
The romance between Nahri and Ali can definitely be classified as slow-burn. It takes a really long time for these two to even meet, and, once the meeting occurs, I found myself wondering when they would realize they had feelings for one another. Granted, this is the first book in a trilogy, so there’s lots of time for the love story to develop, but I sometimes grew impatient with the lack of romantic progression in the story.
Ms. Chakraborty excels at creating three-dimensional characters who are capable of a great deal of growth. I didn’t always agree with their choices, but I was always able to see where each character was coming from in any given situation. Ali, for example, is very close-minded about certain things, and, while that’s a character trait I have trouble dealing with in real life, I was able to understand it in Ali. I loved that no one in the author’s world is all good or all bad. Instead, her characters are somewhere in the middle, just like real people.
The City of Brass is fast-paced and totally engrossing. It’s the kind of book you can really immerse yourself in, and I’m so glad I was able to spend some time in this richly-detailed world. There’s quite a twist at the end, and now I’m on tenterhooks waiting for book two to come out. I’m hoping Ms. Chakraborty won’t keep me waiting too long.