Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty—an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and One Thousand and One Nights, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts
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…
How to begin this review? I’ll just start off by saying how excited I’ve been to read this book so imagine my excitement when I won a giveaway recently and got a stunning hardback copy. I couldn’t believe my luck! When so much of the traditional fantasy genre lacks diversity and representation, the increase in own voices fantasy novels being published over the past few years is so encouraging and necessary. The City of Brass is a Middle Eastern inspired fantasy novel, drawing inspiration from folklore such as One Thousand and One Nights and other well known stories.
I was immediately drawn in by the rich and vibrant world that Chakraborty has created, from the busy streets of 18th century Cairo to the beautiful gates and palaces of Daevabad. I loved learning about the different races of djinn – Daevas, Ayaanle, Geziri, Sahrayn, Agnivanshi and Tukharistanis. Each tribe has a distinct culture with it’s own traditions, clothing and religious beliefs and rites which was fascinating and so well thought out. I really liked the link to the prophet Suleiman and how the legends tied in with the fiction. While all the different names and terms was overwhelming at first, I quickly grew accustomed to them. There’s also a glossary at the end of the novel which proves helpful if you get confused! I just want to say how amazing it feels to read a book and just get the terms and understand the religious themes and feel connected to the narrative, as sometimes I find it hard to have this personal connection. Also this is the first time I’ve ever seen my language; Gujarati mentioned in a novel which was super cool. Representation matters folks!
The novel is told through the perspectives of two very different characters; Nahri, a quick witted young woman who has a gift for healing and Alizayd Al Qahtani, a warrior prince. In order to get by and make a living, Nahri often resorts to cons and tricks, one such being performing Zars for people who believe a loved one to be possessed by a djinn. While Nahri is entirely sceptical, at one Zar she sings as she usually does but this time it feels different. She is on edge and finds that she summoned a djinn / Daeva named Dara Al Alfshin. By summoning Dara, Nahri has also brought the attention of the evil Ifrit forcing her to flee Cairo and make her way to Daevabad with her brooding companion. Through the course of the story she finds out about the mysteries of her past and who she really is…
While Nahri makes for a great narrator, I also really enjoyed reading through Ali’s perspective. Ali is a djinn prince, and part of the ruling family; The Qahtanis. Despite his esteemed position and his pureblood privilege, he can’t help but feel for the Shafits, the mixed blood population of Daevabad who are subject to discrimination and live in poverty. It was interesting to read how he navigates his loyalty to his family, keeping his political alliances hidden and doing what he knows is right by helping fund Shafit causes. This inner conflict is made worse because Ali truly loves his family deeply and has been training his whole life thus far to protect his brother, Muntadhir whenever he takes the throne. Ali is an intelligent, sensitive and moral character and I couldn’t help but enjoy his perspective. I also found it refreshing to read about a character who practices his faith unapologetically and is devout despite the consternation of those around him.
While romance is definitely featured in the novel, it’s not the central focus by any means. You could see the romantic and sexual tension between Nahri and Dara miles off and I was rooting for them, despite the fact that there are so many reasons they shouldn’t be together. I’m a sucker for angst so this was right up my street. I also liked that there wasn’t a typical love triangle situation going on, given that it’s a trilogy though, perhaps this will happen at some point, though I really hope not. I think Nahri and Ali’s friendship was super sweet and it would be nice to see them just stay close friends or allies rather than being romantically involved.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The City of Brass and I can’t wait to read The Kingdom of Copper next! The City of Brass is the first in a trilogy so I believe it does a good job of being a compelling novel in its own right as well as setting up storylines and character arcs for the sequel. I’m eagerly awaiting my next payday so I can splurge on a beautiful hardback copy. I can’t recommend this book enough and I know so many readers will love this story and the characters and also feel represented by it which is so great.
Until next time,