Book: The City of Brass (Daevabad Trilogy #1)
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
BECHDEL TEST: PASS: Nisreen and Nahri discuss Nisreen’s origins.
Content Warnings: Mentions of rape, ableist slurs, racism, violence (war, torture, death), genocide, sexism, brief scenes of self-harm
The City of Brass was my #RockMyTBR book for April, and also my book club’s Pick it For Me read for April as well, where we each get paired up with someone else who chooses a book for us to read. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, but as it’s a lengthier book, I just hadn’t had time to read it. Enter several weeks of mandatory lockdown and ta-da, suddenly I have all the time in the world to read lengthier books!
Anyway, all jokes aside, I was really looking forward to this one, and I’m glad to say that I did really enjoy it. It’s a little slow paced at times, but I loved the characters and the world-building and with the way the book ended, I’m definitely looking forward to reading the sequel as soon as I download the audiobook onto my phone! Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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 .
I think I should start this one with the world building because the world was probably my favourite part of this. It’s incredibly detailed and immersive, though I can definitely see where it would cause some confusion, I was definitely glad of the glossary at the back and the information about all the different Djinn tribes as it made it much easier to keep track of everything.
Everything about this world was so well thought through though, the food, the clothing, the languages, the setting and as a reader who loves that kind of immersion in a world, I really appreciated it. I kind of wish there had been a map, but I was reading an ARC so I don’t know if there was one in the finished book. The whole Egyptian inspired culture was brilliant as well, I love it when I read fantasy books that aren’t based on European cultures. The Djinn histories and rivalries between all the different tribes were quite complicated, but it was all well thought through and I did manage to follow.
I also really loved Nahri, one of the two POV characters in this book. She’s smart, she’s streetwise, she’s funny, it was really easy for me to connect with her and root for her throughout the book. I liked that she struggled with her new powers as well, I feel so often when you have a character who is coming into a world they are unfamiliar with, they slide into that new world way too easily so I appreciated seeing her struggle in her new surroundings. Her chapters were definitely my favourite of the two POVs in this book. I’d love to have her ability to speak pretty much any language!
Ali, the other POV character in this book, took a little longer to grow on me. He’s quite uptight and a little obnoxious at first, but as the book went on, he grew on me more and more and by the end, he had definitely achieved must protect at all costs status.
Dara on the other hand…..I completely loathed. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers saying how much they loved Dara, but I couldn’t disagree more. Dara is the “Love Interest” character and he’s honestly kind of an asshole. He’s pretty rude to everyone, he’s borderline abusive toward Nahri, he’s racist (toward other kinds of Djinn), he outs two of the characters despite it being not safe for them to be out, and he kind of committed genocide, so my sympathy for him is pretty non-existent. The other characters are flawed sure, Nahri can be quite oblivious, Ali is overly naive but they both had redeeming qualities, I couldn’t really find any for Dara.
You can imagine, given all this then, that I wasn’t a big fan of the romance. Thankfully it wasn’t a major feature, but I am so sick and tired of these romances where the female character falls for an immortal who obviously treats them like crap. Once again, Dara is well over 1000 years old, and he’s paired with a 20 year old, which is super gross. I also didn’t feel like they had much chemistry? The only thing that was kind of cute was Dara constantly misunderstanding Nahri’s humour. I was glad that she and Ali seemed to be only friends (in this book anyway, I suspect that may change) and I loved seeing their friendship blossom through the book. Ironically, he would probably be better for her than Dara, he certainly treats her better.
As I mentioned at the top, the book is a little slow paced. It takes almost half the book for the two POV characters to actually meet, and the chapters are incredibly long. I actually didn’t find the pace bothered me as much as usual though, because I was so immersed in the world (and I’m in lockdown so I have basically nothing else to do but read and watch TV). It’s definitely a book of two halves, and I 100% preferred the action in the palace to Dara and Nahri’s journeying. The timeline was also a little wonky in places.
The fact that all the characters (I think) were POC, was brilliant and I’m glad to see more fantasy books like this, though obviously it definitely still needs to become more commonplace. We also have Muslim representation here, and though obviously as I’m not Muslim, I can’t speak to the quality of that, it was nice to see an underrepresented religion front and centre here. The LGBTQ+ representation could have been more explicit, though I understand why it wasn’t.
I also really loved seeing older characters here! It’s adult fantasy, so the main characters are in their late teens/early 20s (those who aren’t hundreds of years old Djinn anyway) which was was really great to see.
Chakraborty’s writing style was also great for me, it was very immersive and descriptive but easily readable. The amount of research that must have had to go into this as well was pretty impressive!
There are an awful lot of supporting characters to keep track of, but I liked that they all played a role in the story and none of them felt completely flat. I would have liked to know more about Ali’s sister Zaynab, she seemed really interesting.
There’s a lot of political intrigue in this book which is something I don’t usually love, but I actually enjoyed it here, and I found it relatively simple to follow, for a change!
The traditional gender roles were kind of frustrating, I mean this is a world with immortal Djinni but we can’t live without the sexism? Also the fact that Nahri didn’t really have any female friends was incredibly frustrating, yet another book with a main female character who is surrounded by men and has very little interaction with other women.
I didn’t really understand why the Daevas thought things were so much better under them? I mean the Qahtanis aren’t great, but the Daevas didn’t seem to be either, so I couldn’t really understand why Dara thought his tribe were so much better, especially given how prejudiced he seems to be.
I hope the series goes beyond the palace for the next book, I would love to see more of Daevabad and how Chakraborty expands this world beyond the palace.
THE ENDING! I can’t talk about it without massive spoilers, but I have so many questions that I can’t wait to see answered in the next book, especially when it comes to Nahri’s parentage and how she ended up in Cairo in the first place.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book! It’s a little slow in places, but the world building and the characters definitely made up for that, and the ending of the book has me very excited to see where this trilogy is going to go next.
My Rating: 4/5
My next review will be of my current read, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi, the second book in the Orisha trilogy.