So much to say about this outstanding debut novel! First I’d like to address the issues around the author, then I’ll delve into the book itself. (It’s fantastic, though!)
So the book has been touted as an “own voices” novel, seemingly much to the author’s chagrin. She is Muslim, but she’s a white convert (Chakraborty is her married name). She has striven to correct the misconception about her ethnicity when she finds it, tweeting about it and talking about it in interviews. (This interview is a good example.) Because the book is pure fantasy, in a fantasy realm after the first few chapters, I’m not too worried about it not actually being written by a middle-eastern author. She does note in the interview I linked that she’s not qualified to write some stories because of her ethnicity, and I appreciate that recognition of privilege. As far as I can tell, (as a white person myself) she did justice to the bits of mythology that she included. (Given the reception by people who were so excited about it being an Own Voices book, I think I’m probably right.) Her twitter (@SChakrabs) is FULL of links to minority authors and retweets about their books. I am very impressed by the level of her advocacy for minority authors.
So that aside, I LOVED THIS BOOK. I almost always enjoy fantasy inspired by non-western mythology: Children of Blood and Bone was fantastic, and though Forest of a Thousand Lanterns had a western fairytale at its heart, being reimagined through an Asian lense was really neat to read. The Bear and The Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower were Russian inspired, as were The Crown’s Game/The Crown’s Fate. I really do try to pick up non-western inspired fantasy when I can. City of Brass scratched that itch perfectly.
City of Brass opens in Cairo, where our heroine, Nahri, is a con-woman with small healing magics. When a ritual goes awry, she’s thrust into the world of the djinn. It’s when Nahri and her accidental bodyguard, Dara, arrive at the Djinns’ city of Daevabad that the story really gets started.
I’m still a little confused about the difference between djinn and Daeva; Daeva seem to be one of the tribes but also the name for the entire race, and some of them get offended at being called djinn but some of them don’t? I’m not really sure about that distinction. There is a clear line between djinn and Ifrit, though – Ifrit are immensely powerful, immortal beings who refused to subject themselves to punishment many centuries ago. I’m not sure I actually see a downside to being Ifrit, other than the djinn all think they’re evil. The Ifrit, however, are out to get Nahri, and Dara’s not having any of THAT.
I love Dara – he’s a fascinating character, with a violent, mysterious backstory. I’m very eager to read more about him and figure out exactly what’s up with his background. Nahri is also awesome – a little arrogant, but by the end of the book she’s starting to learn she might need help from those around her. Unfortunately, also by the end of the book she doesn’t know who to trust. The naive djinn prince, Ali, is the third main character of the book, and while I can see him having an interesting story, his personality is still a little flat. Hopefully the second book will see advancement in all three of these characters’ personalities.
And I can’t WAIT for the second book! City of Brass didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but it did leave many questions unanswered and our main characters’ fates uncertain. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on the sequel, just that it’s being edited. No release date or title yet.
Read this book. It’s fantastic.
From the cover of City of Brass:
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, and a mysterious gift for healing—are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.
But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri an extraordinary 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 birds of prey are more than what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In Daevabad, within gilded brass walls laced with enchantments and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.
Spurning Dara’s warning of the treachery surrounding her, she embarks on a hesitant friendship with Alizayd, an idealistic prince who dreams of revolutionizing his father’s corrupt regime. All too soon, Nahri 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 to be careful what you wish for . . .