The City of Brass
I was such a lazy reader this month, I only started reading in the last few days. Thankfully, the book has got me so caught up, I could barely put it down. The book I’m talking about is “The City of Brass” by S.A. Chakraborty. An adult fantasy novel, that marks the beginning of “The Daevabad Trilogy”. Beware, there are spoilers ahead.
So what is this about?
We start by being introduced to Nahri, a con artist from Cairo, who gets by in her daily life, tricking gullible patrons into giving her money or jewels in exchange for different cures or rituals she performs. Though Nahri is mainly a fraud, she does have a knack for disease and cures, as she can sense someone’s illness and can, in most cases, heal them. Her body also heals itself. However, Nahri doesn’t believe in magic or spirits, like most people, in 18th century Cairo, do.
And, yes, you guessed it – her non-beliefs are about to change. It all starts when she performs a zar – a ritual meant to get rid of evil spirits, an exorcism of sorts. Unfortunately, something goes wrong as in her incantations she uses the language only known to her (yes, she had that too and didn’t believe in magic) and manages to summon the evil spirit within the little girl she was doing the zar for. On her way home through a cemetery, she’s being followed by the same little girl (obviously possessed) and here she manages to summon an ancient warrior who comes to her aid.
They flee Cairo together and a journey of discovery begins. Not only of an entirely new world but also of Nahri, who, of course, is what humans call a djinn and what djinn call a daeva. Not only that, but she’s also part of a long-lost clan of daevas, the Nahid, who had healing powers. The warrior aiding her, also a legendary character in the daeva’s world, used to be a most loyal defender of the nahids. His name is Dara. And he’s terribly handsome and skilled in combat. And he can drive a carpet.
Now now, I know it reads like I’m making fun and with all summarised like this, it all might seem too obvious or over the top – but as I read, what was happening was not apparent or predictable, which is why it kept me going. And yes, we discover a magical world and find out about djinn and flying carpets, but that is the point. And trust me, this world is pretty awesome. Not only in the magical sense of things, but also because the author manages to build it in a quite believable way.
Daevabad, the City of Brass, is home to several tribes of djinn, now ruled by the Quahtani family. We find out a lot about this city’s history, the revolts, wars, and rivalries between the tribes, and how all the characters are interconnected.
And speaking of characters, although Nahri is introduced first and she seems to be the main character, and the story flows from her perspective, we are later on introduced to Ali, the second son of the king of Daevabad, whose perspective shows us the city, the intrigues, the violence and generally the social life of the djinn. The main animosities are between the ruler family, belonging to the Gezira tribe, the Daeva tribe, and the shafit.
And here’s where it gets even better. The shafit are half-djinn/half-human and although some of them are just as powerful as pureblood djinn, they are treated as the lesser race. These issues are thousands of years old when wars were fought. Some of them by…drumroll…Dara – the warrior djinn helping Nahri.
After many obstacles, Nahri and Dara finally get to Daevabad, where they’re received by the king. Nahri goes on to live at the palace and starts treating patients, while Dara goes off after the ifrit (the evil spirits from the beginning). Nahri starts to befriend Ali and when Dara returns tension builds up between the two men. As Dara wants to flee Daevabad with Nahri, Ali stands in their way, a whole massacre takes place and despite us rooting for one character or the other, we realise they’re all just part of a much greater scheme, they have yet to take control over.
Why I liked it:
The two different storylines that intertwined seem to be to my taste. You get plenty of characters and despite not all being very detailed, you still get enough of them one way or another.
The main characters are likable but quite flawed, with all of them, especially Ali and Daeva going to some extremes, that can take you out of your comfort zones and throw you into liking one or the other more, but only briefly. The female protagonist is not your usual damsel-in-distress, nor some “I have these new powers and I’m gonna take on a thousand-year-old villain” kind of gal either.
There’s some romance, but not abundant. The main theme is still a social one, with religion, politics, and various schemes at its core. We also get family relationships with all their good and bad. Above all, rules the “greater good/evil/meaning/society”, that trumps father-son relations or any romantic trio.
Overall, I hope I didn’t give you too many spoilers and I rate this book at 5/5. I might have different feelings about it once I dive into the other books in the trilogy, but with it still fresh on my mind, I truly like it.