The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Publisher: Harper Voyager (Harper Collins)
Publication Date: 8th March 2018
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new 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 hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she 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.
I have a lot to say about this book, but it’s really hard to not just pack it all in with a ‘fantastic!’ and then move on.
I’ve been reading this book for a long time, or at least picking it up and putting it down again. If you haven’t heard the story which I go on about constantly about how I got my hands on an early copy of The City of Brass, then I talk about it in detail in on my post about 2017’s YALC which you can read here (don’t forget to come back to this review!) but I’ll just say this. While I didn’t technically get handed this or sent this by someone from Harper Collins, I want to thank them no less for this glorious advanced copy that I will be telling everyone to read when it comes out!
The City of Brass was a hard one to rate just because it’s largest pitfall was the characters. Our main characters, Alizayd and Nahri, I absolutely adore. They’re sweet, smart, passionate, and they both go through so much development from their humble beginnings as a religious soldier and a conwoman and hustler, respectively. What I can’t wrap my head around are the rest of the characters.
The story, for the majority of the time, takes place in the city of Daevabad, once a beacon of industry, diversity and development, has had it’s history of tribes and people overthrown to what it is now; a mixture of different people who live separate from each other and can’t stand one another. For a lot of the book, I was confused as to who was who and ultimately, who are the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys. I assumed this is supposed to be the case and to show that no ‘tribe’ (the term they use for each community of people) is better than the other in our eyes. The city is mainly divided into three quarters (I think?), the Djinn, the Daeva, and the Shafit. The Daeva and the Djinn are pretty much the same people, except that many years ago a group of Daeva began calling themselves Djinn because the Daeva were too religious, puritanical, and hated humans. Djinn began calling themselves Djinn because it’s what humans called them, and they actually like humans, often ‘interfering’ with their lives and reproducing with them, creating a new form of Djinn, called the Shafit who are hated by everyone and have no rights.
This is how I see it: Daeva – Upper middle class, Djinn – Lower middle to working class, Shafit – The underclass. However, the ruling class (the monarchy), are a mixture of Daeva and Djinn, and the family that wear the crowns are Djinn but from a different country. They hold their history and prejudice against the Daeva, yet still accomodate them to the point where they neglect their own people and ruin the lives of Shafit…all for the Daeva. However, the Djinn are also horrible to Daeva, who are often outnumbered by the Djinn and Shafit who make their lives Hell. It’s…a lot to take in.
So when I say that different characters belong to different tribes, I found it difficult to find who I should root for and who I should want to see fall. This was especially the case with Dara, a Daeva Ashfin (soldier) who I consider a main character despite not having a POV. He is with Nahri for the whole book, being the only lifeline she has most of the time, and yet his views on the Shafit and the Djinn are so horrible I would reel my head back from looking at the book and just wish he would fuck off. And it was made worse when our hero, Nahri, one of two characters I actually liked, liked him and believed the things that he said. But, as the story progressed, I began to see that Nahri felt the way I felt, and it made me realise that Chakraborty purposefully wrote these characters this way to show that humans (or in this case, Djinn and Daeva) are morally grey, and yet that gret morality can affect others in devastating ways (the Shafit).
While this dominated my reading time and was a true mind-fuck (brought upon by myself), I genuinely loved this book. Any historical fantasy set in the middle east is going to catch my eye anyway, but The City of Brass is the cream of the crop. It’s political (as you can see from my word vomit above), beautiful in it’s setting and description of the culture, the food, fashion, and grand temples you can see from the horizon. At times it made feel warm and cozy, and other times I felt cold and my skin was riddled with goosebumps. A book that can make your body react like that is powerful. And that’s exactly what this book is.
The City of Brass comes out in the UK 8th March 2018, but is already out in the U.S. It doesn’t have enough buzz in my mind, and so I will be thoroughly raving about it this March.