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 don’t think a book has jumped so high on my all-time favourites list quicker than City of Brass. Within the first fifty pages, I knew it was going to be a five-star read, and for a book that’s ten times that size and more, that’s a lot to say.
The worldbuilding in this book is nothing short of phenomenal – definitely the best I’ve ever read. The world is inspired and deeply ingrained in Middle-Eastern culture, which was such a great change from the typical western fantasies on the market. We first meet Nahri in 18th century Cairo, and I just loved reading about such an interesting setting.
A huge part of City of Brass and my favourite aspect was the inclusion of so many mythical/fantastical creatures, such as djinn (obviously), ghouls, marid, and ifrit. There are so many more and I would highly recommend reading the glossary in the back of the book, not just to keep them straight in your head, but just to appreciate the world S.A. Chakraborty has created.
However, instead of merely including the creatures to furnish the story, they are their own characters with their own cultures, history, and politics, each of them being so interesting and intricately detailed. It really just takes the book to a whole other level. I’d love to hear S.A. Chakraborty talk about her worldbuilding process because it truly is amazing.
The writing in this book is decadent and takes great care to build a picture of this wonderful and terrifying world in your head. That can make it slower paced in places, but never (in 550 pages) was I bored or wanted the story to pick up the pace. I was more than happy to appreciate the beautiful descriptions of places or listen to characters recounting their histories in places, because the writing is just that good.
There is also a surprising amount of humour sprinkled throughout the book, which I hadn’t expected. There’s a perfect amount of snark, intensity, action, and feels.
City of Brass is an example of angst done well, in my opinion. There are moments that are extremely dark and agonising, both for the characters and you as a reader, so that angst is mirrored in the characters’ reactions. It adds even more push and pull in terms of romantic and political alliances, but also internally when it comes to ancestry and purpose. I’m a sucker at the moment for the whole questioning how ancestors’ legacies affect an individual character, especially in Nahri’s case as she’s been unaware of her history her whole life.
Nahri is the strong female character that we really want. She’s independent and sarcastic at times, but compassionate and vulnerable more than a few times throughout the story. She also messes up a lot, which I loved. She doesn’t waltz into every situation and immediately know how to handle everything perfectly. She makes mistakes, gets frustrated, gets confused, but keeps at it. Having such a relatable main character was just the cherry on top of the cake. Nahri was also a thief/con woman back in Cairo and I just love that trope so much.
Dara is the first daeva we come into contact with and arrives in a whirlwind of drama, which is just typical of him. He initially is not a fan of Nahri, despite them being thrust together but his character development (without spoilers) is so satisfying to read and so well done. If you’re a fan of this trope, you’ll love this book. He’s not just the typical brooding love interest, but someone with a deep emotional past that is meaningful and heartbreaking.
At first glance, Ali, the second in line to the throne, can seem like a bit of a cinnamon roll but he definitely has a bite to him, which was done brilliantly. He’s bookish but also deadly, and who like Nahri, also makes messes up and has to face the consequences. You can always see how his good intentions are warring with his responsibility as a prince. With the way City of Brass ended, I am so excited to see where his character goes, because the opportunities are endless from that jumping off point.
Ali’s familial relationships are very central to his character, especially with his brother Muntadhir. The bond these brothers have was both endearing and heartbreaking. I’m terrified to see how their relationship develops in future books because if you know me, you’ll be aware that I get way too invested in sibling relationships.
Is It For You?
If you love:
- beautiful descriptions of setting
- mythical creatures such as djinn and ifrit
- complex political systems
- characters of colour in a non-Western setting
- characters you can easily root for
Then this is a book for you!
Have you read City of Brass? If so, how did you like it?! I’d love to chat with you guys!
Until the next one,