Robyn Reviews: The City of Brass

‘The City of Brass’ is a fascinating Islamic-inspired fantasy packed with creative mythology and intriguing morally grey characters. SA Chakraborty’s debut novel, it skirts the border between YA and adult, easily accessible to younger readers but with the worldbuilding and depth of an adult novel.

In eighteenth century Cairo, Egypt, Nahri makes a living as a conwoman. She reads palms, hosts exorcisms – and steals from unsuspecting nobles. She knows better than anyone that the demons she makes a living exorcising aren’t real. That is, until she accidentally summons a djinn. Suddenly, Nahri finds herself swept into a world of magic and myth. But unlike Cairo, this is a world that Nahri doesn’t know how to navigate – and with those on all sides trying to manipulate her, Nahri must decide what she really wants. After all, they say you should be careful what you wish for.

The story is told from the perspective of three main characters – Nahri, Dara, and Alizayd. Nahri is a strong character, a woman who knows how to stand up for herself and isn’t afraid to bend the rules to her own needs. However, she’s also kind-hearted and overly trusting, wanting to believe in the best of everyone. She’s immensely likeable with a real spark, but Daevabad is very different to Cairo and she’s regularly out of her depth. Her relationships with Dara and Alizayd fluctuate, but are always beautifully written – and its great to see a character who unapologetically puts herself first.

Dara is viewed completely different by Nahri and Alizayd, a fascinating dichotomy. Its never clear whose perspective is more accurate. An ancient djinn who has spent most of his life as a slave, Dara is a bit of a mystery – but a mystery with a horrific legacy in Daevabad. To Nahri, Dara is a kind voice in her ear, a teacher about the djinn world and a staunch ally. To Alizayd, Dara is a scourge on his people and an enemy of Daevabad’s hard-fought peace. Dara himself seems to have good intentions – but those with good intentions can still do horrific things.

Alizayd is rash and judgmental, leaping to conclusions without considering the consequences – but he’s also sweet and naive. The younger prince of Daevabad, he’s lived all his life knowing he’s inferior in his father’s eyes, and trying desperately to live up to the impossible expectations placed upon him. Alizayd is also an exceptionally devout Muslim, and its lovely seeing how his faith impacts every aspect of his life. Alizayd’s growth across the novel is enormous, and its fascinating seeing how his relationships with both Nahri and Dara evolve.

The plot is intricate and intriguing, highly political with twists that are impossible to predict. The worldbuilding is also excellent. Daevabad is beautifully described, and whilst the magic systems remains mostly a mystery, its clear that this will be explored further in the sequels. The novel also has a strong focus on class structures and the affect these have on society. Daevabad is very much a city with a caste system, and the way this has affected its development and its politics is fascinating – if horrific in places – to read about. SA Chakraborty creates an exceptionally real feeling world, with every aspect believable – especially the class system and political manoeuvering.

Overall, ‘The City of Brass’ is a brilliant start to a wonderful, creative epic fantasy trilogy. The characters and worldbuilding are real highlights, but the political plot is strongly rendered too. Recommended for fans of political fantasy, Middle Eastern mythology, and stories which blur the boundary between YA and adult.

I review the final book in the trilogy, The Empire of Gold, here.

Published by HarperVoyager
Paperback: 22nd January 2018

Robyn Reviews: The Empire of Gold

The Empire of Gold is the final book in the Daevabad trilogy – a rare example of a series that gets better with every book. It’s everything I could possibly have wanted in the final book – brilliantly written with great character development, intriguing revelations, and an ending that’s both satisfying and, in some ways, unexpected. This series has become one of my favourite trilogies of all time, and I’m so happy that the final book exceeded my expectations.

The Daevabad trilogy is an Islamic epic fantasy series inspired by Persian and Egyptian mythology. It follows three primary characters – Nahri, an Egyptian woman with a talent for healing who turns out to be the daughter of a famous group of Daevas – or djinn – called the Nahids; Ali, Prince of Daevabad and trained from birth to protect his older brother Muntadhir; and Dara, a famous djinn enslaved for over a thousand years who has always served the Nahids. There are secrets, betrayals, uprisings, coups, weddings, and assassinations, but at the start of The Empire of Gold all three major players are still alive – albeit not very happy.

The Kingdom of Copper, the second book, is set five years after The City of Brass, the first. In contrast, The Empire of Gold starts immediately after the ending of The Kingdom of Copper. Nahri and Ali have fled Daevabad after an invasion, finding themselves in Cairo, where Nahri grew up. Dara remains in Daevabad dealing with the aftermath of the invasion – and the sudden, unexpected loss of all Daevabad’s magic (except his own). Nahri wars between settling down in Cairo and returning to Daevabad to save her people. Ali is determined to return to Daevabad but is struggling with the loss of those closest to him. Dara is on the winning side – but it doesn’t feel like a victory, and he’s struggling with morality and navigating politics he’s a thousand years out of touch from.

Nahri remains a great character. No longer out of depth in the djinn world, but nonetheless with many ties to the human one, she’s exceptionally strong and stubborn but also incredibly kind. She’s a shrewd game player but has clear moral lines and an absolute respect for the sanctity of life. It’s impossible not to like her and feel anguish every time something goes wrong. Her only ambition is to be a doctor, and it’s nice to see a character with an actual plan for the future beyond ‘take over this country’ or ‘kill the dictator’.

Ali is a fascinating character and one of my absolute favourites. It’s unusual to see a devoutly religious character in epic fantasy, and it’s great seeing how his religion shapes his actions and views of the world. Ali remains pure of heart and soul – far too kind and trusting for the world and position he’s in – but he’s forced to confront many of his prejudices and emerges a much stronger character for it.

Dara is the ultimate grey character, not truly protagonist or antagonist. The examination of morality and how far to go in pursuit of what you believe to be right is excellent and done exceptionally well. I can’t help but wonder if SA Chakraborty changed his ending – it’s not what I expected for him, although it fits very well, and I do love it.

This book branches out more than its predecessors into the world of the djinn, with the Marid and Peris playing a role. I enjoyed this peek at forces only briefly mentioned in previous books and loved how they were portrayed. Each book has expanded on the world further, and the setting created is gorgeous and thoroughly believable. This isn’t an area of history or mythology I’ve really read about before, and having read this trilogy I’ll definitely be seeking out more.

Overall, this is a fantastic book in an excellent series that I’d recommend to everyone. If you’re looking for an epic fantasy series, look no further. I can’t wait to see what SA Chakraborty does next.

 

Published by HarperVoyager
Hardback: 11th June 2020