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The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, Book 1) Paperback – 7 Feb 2019
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‘THE CITY OF BRASS is the best adult fantasy I’ve read since THE NAME OF THE WIND. It’s stunning and complex and consuming and fantastic. You must read it’
Sabaa Tahir, #1 New York Times bestselling author of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES
‘An extravagant feast of a book – spicy and bloody, dizzyingly magical, and still, somehow, utterly believable’
Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of STRANGE THE DREAMER
‘Even a few pages will enmesh you in its magic’
Robin Hobb, New York Times bestselling author
‘I raced to the end of City of Brass and can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m eager for more adventures in Daevabad’
Peter V. Brett, bestselling author of The Demon Cycle
‘Blends legend and history to create a fascinating world…thoroughly enjoyable’
About the Author
S. A. Chakraborty is a speculative fiction writer from New York City. Her debut, The City of Brass, is the first book in the Daevabad trilogy. When not buried in books about Mughal miniatures and Abbasid political intrigue, she enjoys hiking, knitting, and recreating unnecessarily complicated medieval meals for her family. You can find her online at www.sachakraborty.com or on Twitter where she likes to ramble about history, politics, and Islamic art.
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The history in this world was just as thoroughly constructed as the setting. Throughout the book we are given different bits of information about the war that happened a very, very, very long time ago. Each bit of information usually makes you see things very differently, as you are given various characters thoughts on it. As always is the case in wars, everyone feels that they were in the right and that they were doing what was ultimately best for everyone. A lot of the politics in Daevabad stemmed from the war that their ancestors took part in centuries ago. In this, I think that the author beautifully showed that although a war may technically ‘be over’, the ramifications of it are always still present. This is most noticeable in the tension between the ruling family, the Qahtani family who belong to the Geziri tribe in the Daeva/ djinn race and how they deal with the ancestors of those whose city they now govern. The politics and general history in this can get a bit confusing at times though, for example the daeva race is also referred to as Djinn. Some of them started calling themselves Djinn as they learned that that is what humans dubbed them, they are essentially “souled beings like humans, but we were created from fire, not earth…all the elements-earth, fire, water, air-have their own creatures”.
Now, within the Daeva race there are six tribes: The Tukharistanis, The Agnivanshi, The Geziri, The Ayaanle, The Sahrayn and The Daevastana (Daeva). However, here is where it gets confusing, one of the six groups took the name of the entire race for their tribe name because they were in charge at the start, “What about your people?” “our people”, he corrected…”Daevastana,” he said warmly. “The land of the Daevas”. She frowned. “Your tribe took the original name of the entire daeva race as your own?” Dara shrugged. “We were in charge”. So, it’s basically like if within the Bird family you had, sparrows, crows, owls and then a group called birds. As you can imagine this was somewhat confusing at times, as I had to decipher whether someone was referring to the Daeva as a whole race or as that individual tribe. Then what made it more perplexing was that there were obviously different family names within those groups, and sometimes I kept thinking that they were the group name that person belonged to and not simply their last name. I did feel like I got to grips with this as I went along, but it did prevent this from being a full five star read.
Another thing that prevented this from getting that 5 start rating was that in a book full of politics, naturally people had a lot of secrets. And as is the way, a lot of things came to light as the book progressed, however, sometimes I would think that something had already been revealed about a character, but then someone would bribe them about the entirety of the secret getting out, and I would be like, I thought people knew that already. I can’t go into detail without spoilers, but I just didn’t get how people didn’t work out someone’s full secret when they knew enough damning information about them. I could of just been mistaken, but I thought a secret had come out, but then there’d be a character using it as a bribe later on or confronting them with it, and so I didn’t see the big deal when they resurfaced. Despite those issues I had, the writing in this was exquisite, the author is without a doubt a very gifted writer, and so although this was quite a long book, it didn’t feel like I was sifting through mountains of text, it was very readable and I was fully absorbed the whole time.
Although I enjoyed the world building in this tremendously, my absolute favourite thing about The City of Brass, was the characters. I may have found my best female protagonist yet in Nahri, and I may be just a little bit over the moon about it! I loved Nahri from the first time she made her appearance, her very dry sense of humour is made apparent from the start when she makes a remark on the Franks and Turks fighting over Egypt, “the only thing they seemed to agree on was that the Egyptians couldn’t govern it themselves. God forbid. It’s not as though the Egyptians were the inheritors of a great civilization whose mighty monuments still littered the land. Oh, no. They were peasants, superstitious fools who ate too many beans. Well, this superstitious fool is about to swindle you for all your’e worth, so insult away”. She is the embodiment of sassiness, but she also shows many different sides to her throughout the book, she’s gutsy and determined, but still craves some sort of stability for herself. She’s the first one to tell herself that she needs to get it together, but also allows herself to delve into her emotions, especially when it comes to a certain someone with emerald eyes. Nahri may not always take life seriously and makes smart remarks whenever she gets a chance to, but she is also extremely cunning and shrewd and thank the lord, didn’t always make a ton of stupid decisions.
When Nahri first summons this djinn/daeva, much like Nahri, I didn’t quite know what to make of him. He was rightly annoyed that he’d been summoned by this human looking girl, who has no idea what she is doing and who turns out to be so much more than meets the eye. Initially the two don’t get along, but Dara feels like it’s his duty to his lost masters, to get what he believes to be one of their ancestors safely to the city of Daevabad, the city of brass. As the two embark on this journey to the Daeva’s homeland, they develop a sense of companionship and a physical attraction starts to build and build between them. Dara knows that enemies await him if he returns to Daevabad, but that sense of duty and this growing fondness for this “little thief”, as he likes to call her, drive him forward. I absolutely adore the relationship that these two have, especially the banter, “Ali?” He scowled. “You’ve nicknamed the sand fly?” “I call you by a nickname…wait.” Nahri felt herself starting to grin. “Are you jealous?” When his cheeks flushed, she laughed and clapped her hands in delight. “By the Most High, you are!…how does that even work for you? Have you looked in a mirror this century”. Dara has a whole host of secrets trailing behind him, which some were revealed (although I’m still a little confused), but I have a feeling that there are many more waiting to slither out of the closet.
Out of all the characters, I feel like Dara had the most development in the book, he was amusing in the beginning as he would often entertain Nahri’s verbal sparring competitions, however, once they got to Daevabad we got to see a whole new side to him, which I might have enjoyed a bit too much. Surrounded by the ancestors of his sworn enemies, just how dangerous and powerful Dara is truly comes out, there were some very hostile and intense sparring scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, it was so amazing. Dara really seemed to come alive once he set foot back in his homeland, “A grin like Nahri had never seen before lit Dara’s face as he gazed upon the city. His cheeks flushed with excitement”. I thought that Nahri had a smart mouth, but Dara’s may just be that much more superior, “And now here I am getting a rather informative tour of my old home”, I greatly enjoyed this side to him, it was immensely entertaining to see him getting under the skin of and generally unnerving his enemies, “Did I really break it?” he asked with an impish grin. “I thought so. His bones made the most pleasant sound…”. Dara is also ridiculously good looking, so I challenge you not to fall head over heels in love with him, “He was beautiful-strikingly, frighteningly beautiful, with the type of allure Nahri imagined a tiger held right before it ripped out your throat. Her heart skipped a beat even as her stomach constricted in fear”.
Prince Alizayd al Qahtani’s family currently rule over Daevabad, and the books chapters are split between him and Nahri. So we are following Ali around Daevabad whilst also on a journey with Nahri and Dara to get to the city, until their worlds eventually collide, I really liked how this was structured as it added a heightened sense of anticipation. Through Ali we get to see what life is like for those in Daevabad, and in particular – The Shafit, “What’s a shafit?” “It’s what we call someone with mixed blood. It’s what happens when my race gets a bit…indulgent around humans”. These people are treated very badly by their fellow pureblooded citizens and the ruling system. Ali is very sympathetic to the Shafit’s cause and he is desperately searching for a way to be able to help them have a better way of life, but he loves his family dearly, especially his brother and knows that any attempts he makes would be going against his fathers wishes. Ali is such an interesting character though, as he is constantly unsure of where his loyalties lie, as he doesn’t completely agree with any side. Again, the issues with the Shafit have links to the war, which Ali’s ancestors started in order to liberate the Shafit from the tyranny of the Nahid rulers, “I believe the shafit should be treated equally. That’s why our ancestors came to Daevabad. That’s why Zaydi al Qahtani went to war with the Nahids”, and yet today they may not be outright murdered, but they are still gravely oppressed. Ali truly believes that he can find a way to help them though, but he’s as clueless and self righteous as he is caring and wise, but his good intentions bring him a great number of problems, which he doesn’t deserve, “The shafit aren’t fools. They just want a better life for themselves. They want to be able to work and live in buildings that aren’t coming down around them. To take care of their families without fearing their children will be snatched away by some pure-“.
This was an amazing fantasy book that was filled with magic, politics, questions of morality, exceptional world building and an unforgettable cast of characters. This book constantly kept me guessing and I reveled in every second of it. The City of Brass is unlike anything I’ve ever read, most notably in the fact that it’s an own voices Muslim fantasy and is consequently filled with characters of every shade of brown. I have so many things that I want to learn more about in the next book, I’m still trying to figure out a couple of characters, as so many of them have such blurry lines concerning their morality. This uncertainty also spills into the war and therefore, whose side I lean towards in the book. Both sides of those involved in the war seemed in the wrong to me, so it would be great to learn more specifics in the next installment, especially since there were so many loose ends! I am more than eager to get my hands on The Kingdom of Copper and suggest that you pick this up immediately.
Things go pear-shaped when, improvising an exorcism on a young girl, Nahri inadvertently summons Dara, a djinn warrior, and alerts the evil ifrit to her whereabouts. As the two of them flee the ghoul-summoning ifrit on a—wait for it— flying carpet, Dari tells Nahri she’s a shafrit, a half-human-half-djinn.
Nahri’s only refuge is the hidden city of Daevabad and its brass wall no ifrit can pass beyond. Once inside the magic city, with its six tribes of djinn, Nahri soon realises she isn’t as safe as she expected.
What makes The City of Brass such a good read is its cast of characters, their relationships and the web of political intrigue they spin. This isn’t sword and sorcery fantasy with magic lamps, although there’s plenty of magic, but rather a deadly game of chess where the removal of a piece results in death.
While some readers have complained about the book’s length (it’s over 500 pages) and its slow middle section, I finished the book in a couple of days and enjoyed it thoroughly. With six tribes and the Daevbad’s history thrown in, you’ll find yourself constantly referring to the glossary. Having to do so might detract from some readers’ enjoyment, but for me it emphasised the depth of world building and the complications that beset Nahri in this beguiling city.