book blogger · book review · Contemporary fiction · fantasy · historical fiction

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt.

My thoughts:

*I was sent an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you so much to Harper Voyager*

This is probably the hardest review I’ve had to write and it’s taken me so long to actually sit down to write it. I always find endings so hard to deal with, especially when it comes to a series I love as much as this one. I can’t imagine a more beautiful or fitting conclusion to such an epic trilogy. I’ll try my best to make this review a decent length because trust me I could write an entire essay if I was given the chance!

Much like the first instalment in the trilogy City of Brass, the sequel, Kingdom of Copper ended on such a cliffhanger and leaves all of the characters in dire straits. The novel is split into two distinct sections of sorts; one thread following Ali and Nahri and the other thread following Dara and Manizheh as they deal with a Daevabad in ashes. I enjoyed the fact that as always we got multiple pov chapters and get to check in and out with the different characters and settings.

I liked that Empire of Gold picks up just after with Ali and Nahri finding their feet in Cairo, and both having to consider whether to return to Daevabad at all. Their desire for a simple life, with it’s everyday joys and challenges calling to them, contrasting sharply against the complexities of life in Daevabad and the difficulties of the situation they fled. I liked these parts a lot as it forced Nahri to return to the place she grew up – a place which was so formative for her and shaped her in so many ways and make some realisations about who she is and where she really belongs. I think what struck me here was that we get to see who Ali and Nahri might have been had they been dealt a different hand and it was kind of sad and wistful.

One thing I maintained right from the start though, was that I wanted Ali and Nahri to remain just friends throughout the series. It’s not too often that we see a depiction of characters – especially male and female characters, remain strictly platonic, yet still have a loving friendship so I was a bit disappointed that the story took the more romantic route with these two here. I loved Ali and Nahri’s friendship in the previous books so much and while it was clear that Ali has feelings for her, Nahri never appeared to reciprocate so it felt a bit rushed and underdeveloped to me. I read an excellent post over on Fadwa’s blog – here – which sums up my exact thoughts on this, suggesting that they have more of a trauma bond and physical attraction than something inherently romantic or based in wanting to pursue a real relationship. (At least on Nahri’s part). The ‘ships’ in this trilogy have never been a real priority for me, I wasn’t concerned with the romance, I just want it to make sense as a whole.

As much as I love Ali, I did think that the chapters in his perspective dragged…a lot. I was interested to see how his connection with the marid would play out and what this meant for him, but there was just SO MUCH TIME spent on this and it got a bit tedious for me, especially the bits where he’s actually underwater and negotiating with certain forces down there. I liked that we got some answers and how this tied in to his mothers side of the family, that was well thought out for sure but I feel this could have been more concise and less drawn out.

Dara. Oh Dara. What can I even say? Dara is a character who I loved almost immediately from the very first book and his character arc has caused me so much pain, like on a real level. Having been shaped and treated as nothing but a mindless weapon for literal centuries, his sense of duty and morals are skewed based on what his masters, the Nahids wanted. Did I want him to come to the realisation that he’s so much more than a weapon and get the redemption arc he so clearly deserves way quicker? Yeah I did, but I honestly cannot fault the way Chakraborty made it happen. It wasn’t easy and he had to work for it, and this made it feel so much more realistic and well earned to me. I loved how this played out so much, it was well written, in character and just felt so true to what this trilogy is all about.

What’s also important to note here, is that all the wrong that Dara has done isn’t just magically absolved in this book or the ending. While you can understand his motivations – to a certain extent anyway, he isn’t just given a free pass and you see this both in his internal struggle as well as how other characters respond to him. I liked where we leave off, he has redeemed himself but there’s still more he needs to do, and so he sets off to do that, no matter how long it takes and I loved this. It is kind of heartbreaking in many ways but it also feels right.

Chakraborty has spoken many times about how she’s interested in exploring how otherwise good people can do terrible things and how this can be justified, and this is so accurate with characters like Manizheh and Kaveh, her lifelong love. It’s tragic seeing her spiral and become the antithesis of everything she could have been, due to her own trauma and tremendous loss. Of course, this doesn’t justify any of what she does, but it does add more complexity to her character than her just being a cartoon, evil villain with one dimensional motivations. This trilogy also speaks to how much we’re willing to overlook and excuse someone’s actions, just because we love them *shoots daggers at Kaveh here* There has to be a line and sadly, many of the characters only realise this when they’re too far beyond it to rectify their terrible lapses in judgement.

I liked that once more, we got some more insight into the side characters; Zaynab, Muntadhir and Jamshid, and got to see their stories wrap up and even coincide with other characters from the series. I need a Zaynab and Aqisa spin off in my life and a Muntadhir and Jamshid one, or even a short story about them would suffice.

I think one of my favourite things about this book, if not my absolute favourite, was how it all ended. I felt like every character was taken care of and it wasn’t cheap in anyway, it felt so true to each of them and I liked where we left off. I felt like they had all developed so much from when we first meet them in City of Brass and it felt like a genuine reflection of character growth and satisfying arcs, this is no easy feat in such a complex trilogy so I really appreciated how Chakraborty drew this all together. Certain things were bittersweet but this fit with the tone of the book/s and I love an ending which gives you a little bit of a gut punch one moment but then soothes the ache in the next. It felt like an end befitting the journey and I was satisfied, sad for sure but satisfied.

Overall, I thought this was such a great end to this trilogy and I can see a lot of people being satisfied with it for the most part. There were a few things I would have liked to see go differently and a few elements which just didn’t gel with me as much but I still really loved this book. I miss these characters and this world so much already but I’m so excited that it will live on in the hearts and minds of readers and we’ll also be getting an opportunity to see it on screen via the Netflix adaption, which I’m equal parts excited and nervous for.

Until next time,

Rumaanah x

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