Title: THE CITY OF BRASS
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Release Date: November 2017
Publisher: Harper Voyager
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Review on Goodreads
Y’all. READ THIS BOOK. I’m gonna be recommending this to literally every single person I know because holy hell.
I don’t even know where to begin; I just finished this last night and I was an incoherent mess. I still am. It’s been such a long time since I’ve been so hooked by an epic fantasy. More than hooked, it’s been a while since I’ve felt so comfortable within a fantasy world. Not that S.A. Chakraborty’s world is all warm and fuzzy (on the contrary), but she builds it up in such a way as to make it seem so sturdy and real that I feel like it has always existed, like if I return to Cairo and peek behind some kind of veil I will find the djinn.
Actually, that’s an appropriate place to start, isn’t it? The personal. Because this book is deeply important to me on a personal level, as an Egyptian. Besides building upon the myth of the djinn, stories which I grew up on, part of it takes place in 18th century Cairo, and the protagonist, Nahri, is Egyptian. It’s hard to articulate just how amazing it was to see Cairo illustrated so beautifully and to hear Nahri speaking Egyptian Arabic. Though only a single chapter takes place in Cairo, its influence is felt throughout the rest of the book in Nahri. And in Daevabad, the city of the djinn, the Middle Eastern influence is strong.
But honestly, the main reason this book left me sobbing is because I developed such a deep love for the characters. Within the first few paragraphs Chakraborty was able to make me fall in love with Nahri, a clever, pragmatic, and snarky con artist thrown into an unfamiliar world. Nahri is the sort of person to make the best out of what she’s got; she’s level-headed and intelligent and she feels so utterly real. And, perhaps this is more personal, but Nahri’s decisions and thought processes all made so much sense to me; never did I throw up my hands in frustration at her. Like I said, sensible and pragmatic. She certainly balances out the two other main characters, who are much more intense.
There’s Ali, the other POV character, a second son and prince, a devoutly religious young man and trained soldier, with a fiercely formulated opinion on what’s right and wrong. Ali gets caught up in the plight of the shafit (mixed human and djinn) in Daevabad, giving money and resources to a grassroots organization called the Tanzeem dedicated to helping the shafit (sometimes in increasingly desperate, violent ways). Since Ali’s father the king is directly in opposition to this, Ali toes the line between loyalty to his family and loyalty to his own sense of right and wrong. Ali is rigid and taciturn and self-righteous, but it is difficult not to like him because he tries so hard to do the right thing.
And then there’s Dara. Oh my God, Dara. A seriously flawed person and an incredible character, Dara is arrogant, mercurial, prejudiced, stubborn, and dishonest. While he’s had to endure some horrific suffering in all the centuries he’s been alive, he’s also caused horrific suffering: he is essentially a war criminal, with a fearsome reputation. He’s the type of person you should hate on sight. And yet. As Nahri grows to care for him, so did I. His fierce loyalty and protectiveness of her, his intense regret, his devotion to his tribe, his tenderness with Nahri and Nahri alone…all of these things made me fall utterly and completely in love with him even as some of his stupidly thought out decisions made me despise him.
Chakraborty brought these characters to life so well it was painful. I could feel everything the characters did; their joy, their grief, their frustration, it was all my own, which meant that by the time I finished the book my chest ached and I felt like I myself was the one going through the characters’ adventures. It takes a seriously talented writer to achieve this.
Then there’s the worldbuilding. Like I said, Chakraborty makes it seem as though Daevabad has been there forever and ever, almost as though she is describing a place that truly exists. Her unique, creative spin on the djinn resulted in a complex world with its own culture and history. There is definitely a learning curve to this book; I referred to the glossary multiple times and it was a while before I knew what everything was. The politics in this book are complex, to the point where I sometimes had trouble understanding where all the various factions stood. This complexity is indicative of how morally grey this world is; no one faction is ever truly in the right. Every side has committed atrocities, every side has dirtied their hands, and it makes for a deliciously engaging and realistic read. There are no heroes or villains here, only people trying to do what they each think is right.
I also have to mention the high quality of prose. I’m so glad I have a physical copy of this book so I can refer back to Chakraborty’s writing. It’s absolutely beautiful; she weaves vivid, colorful descriptions without falling into the trap of purple prose. Her dialogue is quick and engaging and she deftly sprinkles important information throughout without it turning into a history lecture. This is writing you can learn from.
There’s not much else I can say without giving away the excellent plot, so I will simply end by saying: this is an objectively good book. A great book. Even if fantasy isn’t your thing, it’s worth picking this up. Trust me. It left me in tatters. I read nearly all 528 pages of it in a single day, eight straight hours of reading, because I just could not stop. These characters are incredible. I read a lot of fantasy books, but I’m rarely this affected by any single one. Like, this is me gushing; it took everything in my power not to write this entire review in capslock, even though that’s what my thought process looks like at the moment.
The City of Brass comes out November 14th of this year. Thank you so much to S.A. Chakraborty and HarperCollins’ Library Love Fest for providing me with an ARC of this book!