THE CITY OF BRASS
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Back Cover Blurb
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, and healing—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.
What I Thought
Nahri is a young woman living by her wits on the streets of Cairo, running lucrative cons and healing rituals and staying one step ahead of being caught. She knows nothing about who she is or where she came from, but knows she has a gift for languages, and can heal herself from just about anything.
It’s while she’s conducting an elaborate con of a young woman possessed by a daemon spirit, that Nahri’s story takes a turn when she accidentally summons a fiery, good looking djinn warrior. Furious at being summoned by a mere mortal, Dara soon realizes that the young woman who summoned him is being chased by flesh-eating ghouls, who in turn are being controlled by an ancient foe: the Ifrit.
Fleeing the Ifrit and ghouls on an enchanted carpet, Dara kidnaps Nahri wondering why the Ifrit are so interested in this nondescript human. He soon realizes there is more to Nahri than meets the eye, and takes her out in the deep desert, to meet a friend he thinks might have the answers. But Dara has little time to find out more as the Ifrit—hellbent on capturing not only Nahri, but also in killing him—chase them further and further into the unforgiving desert.
Knowing what it might cost him and, as a result, Nahri, Dara decides the only safe place for them both is the legendary city of brass: Daevabad. A city hidden behind a magical veil, ruled by the Djinn or, to be exact, the Daeva. But there’s no guarantees they will be welcomed, even if they do live long enough to outrun the Ifrit. There are warring factions and mistrust raging through the city, where the six tribes of djinn live side by side with the Shafit—the mixed-blood human underclass—who are viciously mistreated by the magical Daeva.
The first third of The City of Brass is taken up with Nahri and Dara fleeing through the desert, a fast-paced beginning that I read on one sitting, I was that captivated from the get go. Not only do we get to know more about both Nahri and Dara, and his tragic history (seen in clever moments of flashback) but the snappy banter between the two characters flips between sarky jibes and irritation, but also shows a grudging friendship begin to form between them.
It’s when they finally reach Daevabad that the story takes a slower pace, but, nonetheless, an interesting one as new characters and situations present themselves. Where the initial conflict, such as it was, was between Dara and Nahri, now Nahri is thrown in the deep end of Daeva politics and the machinations of the ruling Qahtani family. And more specifically, we find out more about Prince Alizayd, the youngest son of the Qahtani ruler.
This second third and more of the story, is more politics and conflict, as each character struggles with their own personal plight. Dara, whose violent past still haunts him, might also be his undoing and the death of him. While Nahri finds she is less of a guest of the King, and more of a pawn and prisoner. As she slowly learns more about the city, its inhabitants, politics, and life of the Shafit. Everyone around her seems to have an agenda and hidden motives, as Nahri finds to her cost, when she is befriended by Ali. He may be a second son, and a prince and warrior, but he too has his own agenda and hidden secrets.
All of which makes for a lot of palace intrigue and political turmoil. And, while you think this all sounds rather dull and boring, I found it quite the opposite. Chakraborty has, through a lot of research, added a great deal of depth, as well as many layers to the story itself, never mind the characters. Each of whom are imbued with faults and flaws, and personal tics that really bring them all to life. This really is a conflict-driven plot with plenty of physical and more subtle violence, that never overwhelms the emotional side and turmoil of the character’s stories. All of which are richly detailed.
The City of Brass is like nothing I’ve read in a very long time. The world building is exceptional, helped in part by a very long history to the Middle East and beyond. A history and its myths Chakraborty happily mines to its depths, and adds so much more to this story with her own vivid imagination. She leaves no stone unturned to create a world which lives and breathes, and whose pulse you feel as you turn and read each and every page.
Death, loss, betrayal, and yes, love, The City of Brass has its fair share of emotion amid the confusion and turbulence of a city on the verge of exploding: Daevabad and the Daeva are about to take sides … as the limits to truth, trust, and loyalties are pushed to the extreme. The explosive ending resonates long after the last page is read.
If you haven’t read this one yet, you’re missing out on one of the best epic fantasies written in decades.