The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty is the first book in the Daevabad trilogy, which is one of my favorite series of all time. After my initial read through of the book, I told everyone I know about it. I wish I was joking. Seriously, even my bosses, who are 70 something year old men, know that I love this series, because I never shut up about it. Now that I’ve revealed that embarrassing fact, let’s move on!
The premise of the book is that in an alternate eighteenth century Egypt, con woman Nahri is trying to make a living by swindling the wealthy denizens of Cairo through her services as a “healer.” Nahri actually *does* have some innate intuition for healing, though, and a host of other strange abilities that she’s never quite understood. When a djinn warrior comes to her aid one day, he notices her strange abilities and reveals that she is a part of his world. He then takes Nahri on a journey to the djinn’s capital city Daevabad, where she becomes bound up in its political affairs.
This book has some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever read.
This series is not as long as other epic fantasy series such as A Song of Ice and Fire or The Lord of the Rings or whatever, but I think the worldbuilding is even better. Chakraborty has the perfect mixture of establishing the wide overarching conventions of Daevabad, as well as giving small details such as descriptions of food and style of clothing. Her writing makes readers feel like they inhabit the world and know its history. I think it’s helpful that readers discover Daevabad along with Nahri, because Daevabad natives explain their ways to her and consequently to the readers, as well.
Other strengths of the worldbuilding are the settings themselves. The places that the book takes place in are so lushly described and seem so beautiful. I have been having this preference lately for only reading books that are set in hot sandy deserts, or cold wintery forests, and this book definitely satisfies all of my hot sandy desert needs. I want a glass of water just thinking about it.
The characters are complex and detailed. *Slight tirade may follow.*
S.A. Chakraborty does a good job of portraying characters who aren’t innately likeable, but are so fascinating that readers don’t care. This is especially true for her side characters. For her main characters, I like that she gives them lots of room to grow.
Nahri is a great main character. She will win you over even if you don’t always agree with her decision making. I appreciate Nahri because she gives you the feeling that she always has something else up her sleeve. Even though she comes from a humble background and suddenly has to find a way to survive the power plays of Daevabad royalty, I never get the sense that she’s being outmatched by another character.
My favorite character is definitely Ali, which is amusing because he can be quite exasperating. He’s only 18 in The City of Brass, and at the beginning of the book, he has strong convictions that have yet to be tested by the world. “Doing the right thing” is Ali’s goal, but that goal can get complicated in a city as socially fractured as Daevabad. I think a lot of Ali’s character arc is him learning how he can keep his principles and put them into action in a morally corrupt world. Ali is motivated by goodness and religious devotion, and I can tell that Chakraborty respects him for this. I love when authors write characters like him in order to be appreciate them and not strike them down. Ali’s Muslim faith is important to him, and it’s not going anywhere. His faith helps to guide him as he tries to nativage the world. Adult fantasy could definitely stand to see more positive Muslim representation, and I’m so glad Ali is around to join the fold!
Okay, this section should probably have been titled “I love Alizayd al-Qahtani.” Who am I kidding? Maybe it should have been the title of the whole review.
The love interests are immensely pleasing.
The love interests in The City of Brass are so good. First, we have *redacted*, who shall be referred to as Green Eyes, who has the whole yearning angst thing going for him. Green eyes is romantic and dashing and sad and broody. I mean, come on. Shakraborty placed all of the compelling love interest traits in a blender and mixed them just right and bam! Green eyes was born.
He isn’t the one who you would want beside you for your entire life, though. His character isn’t very fit for a long term relationship due to all of the angst and broodiness. No, instead you (and by you I mean me) would want *redacted.* We shall call him Zali. Zali is not the love interest one would have a passionate dream about, but he’s the one who will make dinner for you and listen to you talk about your ideas for book reviews for hours. He’s the one you can grow with. He will stick by your side no matter what and he makes me smile. Nahri’s so enchanted by Green Eyes in The City of Brass that she doesn’t even really notice Zali. It’s just that readers can tell that he’s going to be a major romantic player later because of his smartness, sweetness, kindness, and commitment to good.
Yes, a love triangle is starting to form. Yes, I am here for it. If you don’t like love triangles, that’s cool, but sometimes they work!
The plot was occasionally slow.
I think that Chakraborty prioritized character development over plot development in the beginning of the book. She wanted to establish where the characters are in life, and what their relationships to each other are. I think that Dara and Nahri took a bit too long on their initial voyage to Daevabad, because the action of the book doesn’t really start until that’s over. However, some scenes crucial to the series as a whole happen on this journey, and looking back on the series now, I’m not sure what she could have done differently. I’m giving y’all a warning that the plot of the story doesn’t really get going until about 100 pages into the book, but I didn’t especially mind because I was too busy getting to know the characters.
I highly recommend this book.