Title: City of Brass
Author: S. A. Chakraborty
Series? Yes, 1 of 3.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Harper Voyager Australia in exchange for an honest review.
For me, City of Brass takes the title of Fantasy Debut of the Year. It contains an impressive and expansive world, populated by a cast of diverse and morally-complex characters. This is fantasy at its finest, imaginative and mesmerising, while also offering cutting commentary on the real world. There’s engaging action, compelling palace intrigues, slow burn romance, and everything else I could possibly love in fantasy – get this book into your hands!
The titular City of Brass refers to Daevabad, an ancient city simmering with magic and steeped in the complex history between the six djinn tribes. Whether the action is unfolding within Daevabad or beyond its gilded walls, the world Chakraborty created feels palpable and fully-realised. There are layers of history imbued in the conflicts between the different factions within the novel, particularly the clash unfolding between djinn and shafits (people with mixed djinn-human heritage). The world-building spans across several continents, encompassing thousands of years of history and a multitude of cultural influences. The resulting effect is an immersive landscape that feels at once familiar to our own world, yet infinitely strange and wondrous.
City of Brass is told through the viewpoints of two narrators:
- Nahri: an orphaned hustler living in 18th century Cairo. Although her cons have Nahri performing zars, palm readings, and healing, she has never believed in magic.
- Ali: an idealistic young prince of Daevabad, who is torn between duty to his family and his beliefs in a better life for the shafits.
I expect that many readers will fall in love with Nahri, it’s hard not to with her razor-sharp wit and ingenious resourcefulness. I began rooting for her with the first chapter, where she swindled two Ottoman noblemen with style and aplomb. Her character development throughout the story is considerable, and I loved how she stayed in touch with her humanity despite all the fantastical situations she finds herself in.
On the other hand, I imagine that Ali will be a polarising character due to his immovable moral compass and persistent inability to see beyond his own point of view. I loved his chapters for their palace politics and commentary on social and racial divide. Ali’s character is an extension of the series’ larger struggle between tradition and revolution – I found his chapters extremely compelling despite my disagreement with many of his choices.
Aside from the narrators, we also have a memorable cast of distinctive supporting characters. The most notable of which is Dara, the daeva who introduced Nahri to this wondrous new world. His relationship with Nahri is one of the most thrilling component of her story arc – and not just because he’s smoldering hot. He also has a dark and richly embellished past of his own, and I love how his interactions with most characters in the book is weighted with double meaning and history.
The villains of City of Brass are also equally compelling, this is a book where morals are complex and relationships are tangled. Every action has convoluted and riveting implications and consequences. There’s a hint of a bigger story at play behind every character, from the djinn who pursues Nahri and Dara, to the tyrannical ruler of the City of Brass. I can’t wait to see these players get more development within the next instalment of the series.
I read in an interview that Chakraborty wanted to recreate a fantasy version of the Islamic Golden Age with the setting of this novel. I loved that little details the prayers, the languages, and the culture were left in the story. It’s a triumphant example of an #ownvoices Muslim fantasy, and I will link to some #ownvoices review of it where I find them.
Highly recommended! If you’ve read it, please let me know your thoughts 😀