The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
I’ve never read a +500 page book so quickly. This book made me less frustrated to wake up before 3am, because I knew I could read it in peace for a while.
for lovers of magical fantasy, for a lively world of mystical creatures, for court intrigue and royal politicking, for allies and enemies and a lot of places in between
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…
First of all, WOW. I’m a fool for not reading this sooner, especially when I had a copy on my shelf for a while thinking I would enjoy it but just not getting around to it. Big thanks to the stranger on The Storygraph who invited me to a buddy read to get me into it, finally!! This book blew my socks off, and since it’s currently winter, that’s saying a lot, because I’m ALWAYS wearing socks in winter.
The world in this is of course the biggest strength. There’s the right balance between the little details that flesh it out, and not sinking so deeply into the details that I’m bored and lost in pages and pages of miscellaneous descriptions. The conjurations in the bazaars of Daveabad, for example, were enough to make the city and world feel magical and entrancing, but not so deep that I got sick of it (if ever I could…).
The history of the djinn/Daveas was so rich; the fact that the book started with short summaries of each djinn house set the tone right away. I knew I was going to get a lot of knowledge on the houses. For the most part, I did, and in a natural way that wasn’t just Character A telling a story of history to Character B in a very lazy section of exposition. There were some houses of djinn that didn’t get much detail for some reason, and I hope that comes later, but the two biggies got a lot of attention.
The character development is nothing to scoff at either. Told in alternating perspectives from Nahri and Ali, they’re technically kind of ancestral enemies. Something of which Ali is very aware and vocal about, so don’t go thinking this is going to turn into some kind of Romeo and Juliet story for them. It’s so much more, and so much BETTER than that. I actually enjoyed both of their stories, even before they meet and merge. When a story is in two perspectives (or more), it really sucks when one (or more) doesn’t interest you. Thankfully, that was not the case, despite Ali’s extreme religious fanatacism which I definitely thought would turn me off. Seeing from his eyes helped make him more than that, which made him more relatable, if not exactly likeable.
The moral grayness of everyone in this story is incredible. Every time I learn someone else’s perspective, it made me side with them. And then we’d switch to the other side, and I’d agree with them… I loved that there was not really a clear good and evil battle in this for me, no matter how much either side could appear as such at various points.
I was carried quickly thorough this and never wanted to stop reading it. When I got the the last 100 pages or so, they absolutely flew by as the drama built and built and the action kept going one step further and further than I expected and the situation just kept escalating and I kept being completely blindsided by what happened next and I absolutely had to know what else was going to happen!!!!
It was extremely exciting, and I immediately ordered the second book with rush shipping to have it the next day, and borrowed a digital copy from the library to read the rest of that night so I didn’t have to wait.