The City of Brass by SA Chakraborty
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: November 2017
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 . . .
On the streets of 18th-century Cairo, Nahri gets by on her cons and finds joy in deceiving Ottoman nobles. Sometimes she helps others with reassurances of good health, even when death may be near, so as to give them some sense of peace. When she accidentally summons a djinn warrior during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept the magical world she thought only existed in stories. The djinn, Dara, tells her about mythical creatures in air and water, of mountains and sands full of terrifying beings, and a city of brass called Daevabad. It is here that Nahri enters a whole new world of court politics, finding herself bound to the city’s ancient history and conflict, and where schemes can prove to be deadly.
Hands down my favorite book of 2018, and the year has only just begun. I’m still reeling from a book hangover, and I finished this book in January. I’m writing this in mid-March and I still don’t know how to put this book into words. Bear with me as I attempt this feat…
The City of Brass is so layered and complicated, it forced me to slow down to read. Imagine yourself a foreigner to a whole new world. There will be racism, elitism, sexism, centuries of war and development and culture, and you are thrown into this world as a savior for some (in a most complicated way) and a signal of downfall to others (in a most complicated way). Nahri is literally thrust into a role she cannot comprehend or begin to understand, and is expected to know this world like the back of her hand, with all of its intricacies and history.
So yes, it’s complicated. Especially when the warrior she’s summoned is the last of his kind as well, bound for centuries to the kind she’s descended from, and he’s basically sentenced to death upon entering Daevabad for his centuries’-past treason. Who do you believe when it comes to describing the history and significance of Daevabad? The royal family, the people, the warrior?
I haven’t read a book like this in a long time, if ever. It’s not easy to tell who the good and bad guys are. The characters provide ample moments of humor in the midst of heart-pounding adventure. The political complications throughout the novel — from the variety of djinn races, to the fascinating mythological creatures, to the cultural and historical clashes — only heighten the emotional intensity between Nahri and Dara. Their romance simply burned and I was left in tatters at the end of the novel. Avid readers of historical fantasy will enjoy this Middle Eastern debut, inspired by one of the stories from 1001 Nights. The world is imaginative yet feels incredibly authentic and tangible. I was surprised at every turn!
I cannot recommend this enough. The City of Brass is a must-read.
This qualifies as book 3 of 16 in my TBR challenge.