The City of Brass – S. A. Chakraborty

5 stars

I received an eARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for my review. 

The City of Brass is S.A. Chakraborty’s absolutely spellbinding debut novel, an epic fantasy set in Cairo and the Middle East.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

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. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

But it wasn’t that description that made me want to read this novel. I came across Chakraborty’s Twitter feed about a month ago and found her tweet-thread about just how much she nerded out over ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern history and mythology while she wrote The City of Brass and her enthusiasm just oozed out of my screen. I had seen a mention of the book earlier in the day, but after seeing her tweets, I just had to read it. I’m sad to say I couldn’t find the thread again (if I do, I’ll edit a link in here.)

I was absolutely transported by Chakraborty’s descriptive storytelling. She sets the scene so completely that I could hear the noises of bazaars and mobs. I could feel the heat of Cairo on my skin – quite the feat since Seattle has been chilly and damp lately. I could clearly picture the scenes she set and in those scenes, she brings Nahri, Ali, and Dara to life.

Nahri is the magical, unbelieving thief at the center of City of Brass though she doesn’t know it at the start. She’s motivated not by greed, but by a necessary selfishness that comes from scraping out a living on the streets from a very young age. Nahri is Nahri’s number one, and she’s not going to apologize for who and what she is. She felt believable and even when her actions surprised me, ultimately they make sense for her character.

Dara is a broken Daeva man from a broken clan, broken past, and broken family. Just about the only thing unbroken about him is his fierce spirit – but even that fierce spirit is tested. He is untamed fire, a hero and a horror. But Dara is driven by loyalty and duty, which is where he finds his strength.

Ali is the second son of the king in Daevabad, raised in The Citadel in order to become his brother’s security minister when his brother ascends the throne. Ali finds himself at the center of a tangled web he helped others weave around him by playing upon his good intentions, naivete, and religious zeal. Ali was the character I had the hardest time with. For someone raised from childhood in a military setting, he was surprisingly soft-hearted. As someone to be a fixture at court he was surprisingly naive.

Nahri, Dara, and Ali are at the center of the war for the soul of Daevabad, the City of Brass. Battles are fought in a swirling, fast-paced plot that kept me turning the pages until I reached the dreaded end of the novel. Thankfully, The City of Brass is the first book in the Daevabad trilogy, so I have two more novels packed full of their adventures to look forward to. I can only hope Chakraborty takes us to new locations. I’m just aching for new places for her to describe.

The City of Brass is the first novel in the Daevabad trilogy and will be released on November 14, 2017.


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