Book Review: The City of Brass

Series: The Daevabad Trilogy #1

Author: S.A. Chakraborty

Pages: 533 (Hardcover)

Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Historical Fiction/Adventure Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5

Recommendation: Yes.  Read this book and fall in love with a world of magic and intrigue.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – a novel rich in fragrant description and interwoven verse and prose –  is about a young girl named Nahri, who uses her unique abilities to survive on the streets of 18th century Cairo.  Her personality – a mix of stubbornness, strength, and a touch of loneliness that is hidden within the folds of anger and bitterness – immediately draws you to her and makes you wish you would be as strong as she is given her position in life.  She is a lost child, a fighting soldier, and a mysterious Egyptian con-artist who never believed in the existence of magic, but certainly has abilities unlike anyone else. She can sense sickness and has the power to heal others. She is a woman of many talents – many of them of mysterious origins.  She speaks a language she has never heard spoken by anyone else in Cairo, and she can pick up other foreign languages with ease. She uses her con-artistry to make a living: healings, fortune telling, and zars (sacred rituals performed to exorcise spirits from their human hosts). Her tricks, her sleights of hand, are all a means to an end – a financial end that Nahri is struggling to fulfill.  For her past is a mystery, but she has decided that her future is to become a doctor, a profession that she is unlikely to achieve considering her status.

While pretending to perform a legitimate zar ceremony, Nahri accidentally and unknowingly summons a handsome, yet equally dark and mysterious djinn warrior, and her world gets turned upside down and sideways.  This warrior, named Dara, is an angry and vicious soldier that is brought to an unknown world where he has to work with Nahri, a seeming shafit, to battle the Ifrit (zombie-like creatures that are after blood).  He opens up an entire magical world to Nahri that she is reluctant to accept. Now, she is faced with these childhood legends that she never believed existed and that have suddenly come to life. Dara, the deliciously dark warrior, basically kidnaps her (for her own good, of course) and regails her with mythical tales of  the Nahids- an ancient and now extinct race of magical and powerful healers. Realizing the blood that is coursing through her veins and learning what he can about Nahri’s past and abilities, Dara decides that the only option is to take her to the City of Brass, Daevabad, where she will be safe and learn more about her history.  What they don’t know is the struggle they will endure in trying to get there and the battles they will face once they arrive. Dara must take her to the city, which is veiled from human eyes and is the only place where she will be safe from the Ifrit who are hunting her. It is a city in which she must take her rightful place as the last of the Nahid healers.  

Getting to the City of Brass

The relationship between Dara and Nahri is troublesome at best, but they are soon part of a duo, in spite of their dueling beliefs and theories.  In Daevabad, Nahri learns of the different ancient tribes and the many prejudices and resentments boiling underneath the surface of the glittering brass city.  Joined with the King and his sons, who are already at odds with each other on how the city should be run, Nahri introduces a new obstacle to the evolution of Daevabad, trying to understand the power she supposedly harnesses within her and respecting the power and structure that is already in place.  

While there, Nahri learns of her true magical abilities, all while developing romantic feelings for Dara, her Daeva protector.  The magical world created in the City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty is colorful and fragrant; where the layers of magic and civilization intermingle and create a dance of privilege, magic, and status.  The power struggle between the many different groups of magical and non-magical beings leave you rooting for different groups at different times, while pondering the best way to end the war of privilege and happenstance. Chakraborty’s descriptions literally transport the reader to a world rich of frankincense, glittering jewels, and rich, heady spices. It is a novel full of beautiful detail laced in a web of political intricacies.  We are anxiously looking forward to the next installment of this series, to say the least!

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