The City of Brass (the Daevabad trilogy book 1) by S A Chakraborty
Length: 545 pages
Publisher: HarperVoyager, 2017
Genre: Adventure fantasy
About the author:
S. A. Chakraborty in based in New Jersey with her husband, daughter and cats. She is the author of the Daevabad Trilogy which has been nominated for the Locus, World Fantasy, Crawford, and Astounding awards. When not writing she reads books about thirteen-century con artists and Abbasid political intrigue, as well as hiking, knitting, and re-creating unnecessarily complicated medieval meals. You can find her online at www.sachakraborty.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @SAChakrabooks, where she likes to talk about history, politics, and Islamic art.
Nahri: An egyptian woman in her 2o’s scratching out a living on the streets of Cairo with palm readings and thievery.
Dara: Daeva and Afshin, former slave
King Ghassan ibn Khader al Qahtani: Ruthless and calculating ruler of Daevabad.
Muntadhir al Qahtani: First son of Ghassan and Emir, heir to the throne. Fond of drinking and women but not to be underestimated.
Prince Alizayd al Qahtani: (Ali) Son of the current ruler of Daevabad and warrior in training. Torn between his family and the treatment of shafit people.
Kaveh e-Pramukh: Grand wazir, advisor to the king.
Jamshid e-Pramikh: Son of Kaveh and guard of Muntadhir
Ifrit: There are a few too many to name, but the ifrit are powerful demons
Marid: water elementals
Daeva: Created from fire but with souls like humans, cursed (or blessed) by Suleiman.
Shafit: Those with mixed Djinn and human blood.
Plot summary, spoiler free I promise:
The novel starts in the thronging markets of Cairo in the time where Napoleon has conquered Egypt. We are introduced to Nahri and slowly learn about the struggles of her life and skills she possesses that hint at other worlds and magic. We learn of her ambition to become a fully trained healer and the almost impossibility of her raising enough money to start training. When a Zar ceremony goes wrong she is plunged into a whole new world of magic and begins her journey to Daevabad.
Alongside Narhi’s story, we follow Price Ali and see his view of the world within the City of Brass and get our first glimpse into both the inner conflict he faces, and the wider issues within the city. Through Ali we also learn of the Tanzeem, an organisation fighting for the rights of shafit who are currently seen as lesser beings. We also see the politics, rumours and spies that abound in palace life, a building that appears to be haunted but in reality just misses its founding family.
Switching between Ali and Nahri every few chapters we learn of the horrific past endured and created by Dara, as well as learning more about the actions, consequences and reasons behind Suleimans curse on the Daeva. Through this, the theories behind Nahri’s powers and the rising tensions within Daevebad, we have front row seats to the dramatic events that are unfolding.
This is a novel that takes you on a journey from the inner city of Cairo to the hidden magical city of Daevabad, and through deserts, rivers, mountains and snow. As well as the past and present of a whole new world.
I was absolutely in love with this book from the very beginning, those that follow me on Instagram will already know that this book got me out of a huge anxiety induced reading slump which says a lot about the power of this novel.
Right from the start the author manages to bring the surroundings to life in a way that I could almost smell the spices, heat and humanity in the busy markets of Cairo, despite never having been anywhere remotely like it in my life. There is also a subtle difference to the behaviour of characters too, their conversations are less direct than you would expect from an English character, and their interactions are …… this adds to the feel of being immersed in a different culture and helps make the novel feel real enough to be part of.
The food too, plump fruit, fragrant stew and soups, date wine, the list goes on but it sounds so real that you can almost smell and taste it, always in my minds eye was the beautiful imagery conjured by the author.
The slow introduction to Nahri and the gradual reveal that she was not all as appears on first glimpse was tantalisingly done and left me absolutely hooked. I wanted to know more about who, or what she was, and to discover how magic, language and legend fit together around her.
Without accidentally giving away spoilers, the author paces the reveals about the world of Djinn and magic that Nahri is now a part of. Alongside her, you are left knowing there is so much not being said about the new world, and the interplay of past, present and the long held divides between daeva, djinn and shafit. There are so many grudges, stories, lies and opinions that it can be hard to keep track of who is against who, and more importantly why, but the author is fantastic at clear reveals and making sure all is explained in time, so stick with any confusing bits you might find.
All of the characters were well thought out too, they each had strong personality points, and both positive and negative attributes that meant it was difficult to pick a “side”, and left me unsure at times who I wanted to be the ultimate victor. This for me was a brilliant representation of how very little of real life is completely black or white, and it made me want to read more about the history of the city and it’s people so I could root for one side or another. Side note, I still can’t pick one…
For a society, theories of magic and myths that I know nothing about there was nothing in this book that left me totally lost. Yes at times I found it hard to remember names of characters or places, and to keep the legend of Suleiman straight in my head. But this is more a reflection on me than the book, as I mostly read books with westernised names and places, and I get confused reading those too. I also normally struggle to keep politics, the confusion of lies and half truths that are central to palace life straight, and it is a credit to the author that I (mostly) managed it.
This was a brilliant book that truly took me on an adventure through a world that I really believe could be real. And it also led to me immediately buying the second book in the series because I am still so invested in all the characters and, like a softie, am hoping for a happy ending despite all the war, anger and trauma seen thoughout.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys fantasy, magic and adventure and enjoys a blend of action and political intrigue.
“It was a beautiful view: the ancient city hugged by it’s glowing brass walls, the neatly terraced and irrigated fields on it’s southern hills, the calm lake ringed by the emerald green mountains. Three thousand years of human architecture was spread before him, meticulously copied by the invisible Djinn who’d passed through human cities, watching the rise and fall of their empires.”