*This review contains spoilers for The City of Brass*
As I started writing this review, I was struck with the same thought I had the first time I read The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty, which is that it must be hard to write the second book in a trilogy. The second book has the difficult task of building on the action of the first book in a way that’s interesting, while not resolving any of the biggest plot lines, either. If it’s a fantasy, the author has to stick to the world they created in their previous book and adhere to its rules, while still making it seem magical and wonderful and new. I think that the second book in a series truly reveals an author’s talent. The fact that The Kingdom of Copper is such a great book cements S. A. Chakraborty’s status as an amazing writer, in my mind.
The premise of the book is that five years have passed since The City of Brass, and Nahri struggles to find her purpose after her marriage to Muntadhir. She fights to open a hospital, and this process reveals all sorts of deadly secrets and plans. Ali winds up thrust back into Daevabad court politics after being stranded in the desert, and Dara finds himself working for a savior who might turn out to be everyone’s worst nightmare. Everything is fine.
The time jump actually worked.
Most time jumps in books leave me with a sense of loss, as if I missed out on a lot of a character’s arc. The time jump in The Kingdom of Copper didn’t make me feel this way. If anything, it allows readers to witness even more character development. In The City of Brass, Nahri and Ali, at 20ish and 18 respectively, were technically adults, but they read a little bit like children. Now we get to see Ali and Nahri as people who have been tried and true adults for a few years. They both have to forge their way deeper into Daevabad’s messy political conflicts, and attempt to find ways to defeat their adversary, King Ghassan, who is also Ali’s father. It feels more realistic that characters who are farther into adulthood than 18 and 20 are handling these conflicts.
The ending was rather unexpected.
“Unexpected” is putting it mildly. This novel has a violent crescendo of an ending. It’s a cliff-hanger ending, as is common in most second books in trilogies, but I think that the cliffhanger is actually surprising and suspenseful. None of the characters end up where I guessed they were going to, and this sets up the third novel really well.
Incredibly major plot points are revealed.
Chakraborty manages to reveal the major villain of the trilogy in this book, without making it seem like a belated process. As this character’s arc plays out over time, they are revealed to have had a hand in the action of the series since the beginning of The City of Brass. With the placement of this character within the trilogy, it feels like the action truly starts. We thought the action was started in the first book, but it’s nothing compared to what happens here.
Ali comes into his own.
Ali has a better sense of himself in this book, he’s a little more self aware. Perhaps because he’s close to my own age in the book, he seems a lot more relatable. Don’t get me wrong, he continues to be gullible and awkward. He wouldn’t be Ali without these characteristics. He will always be more than a little idealistic, but I think he is learning how to better emotionally handle tough situations with his family. He also has a character arc that I couldn’t predict. What happens with his magic is unexpected, to say the least. His magic has changed since the ending of the first book, but we won’t be given real answers as to why until Empire of Gold, the final book in the trilogy.
Some characters fall off the map.
I think my biggest criticism of the book and the series in general is that there are many characters who are introduced and who demand satisfying character arcs. This is a tall order. Chakraborty has made her side characters beloved, and I think it proves hard to keep up with them all. One example of this is the revolutionary shafit faction Ali was helping in The City of Brass. Their story got a lot of attention in the first book, and not as much in this book. If Chakraborty lets them fade into the background it would be disappointing, given the earlier care and attention that they received in the books.
I highly recommend this book.