Book Reviews

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – Book Review

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty– Book Cover

Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty– Book Details

TITLE – The City of Brass

SERIES – The Daevabad Trilogy, book #1

AUTHOR – S.A. Chakraborty

GENREfantasy, low fantasy, young adult, adult

YEAR PUBLISHED – 2017

PAGE COUNT – 533

MY RATING – 5 of 5

RATED ON GOODREADS – 4.11 of 5

What It Is About

“All the elements—earth, fire, water, air—have their own creatures.”…“We’re souled beings like humans, but we were created from fire, not earth.”

The story starts in the 18th century Cairo where Nahri, a twenty something year old girl, dreams of saving enough money to go to Istanbul and get herself a proper education, specifically in the medical field. But to do so, she uses her uncanny inclination towards healing – mostly to scam people.

While preforming one of the rituals that Nahri is convinced is a scam like everything else, she accidentally summons a djinn warrior named Dara. By doing that, she also attracts an ifrit’s (the cursed djinn’s) attention to the fact that she is not quite… human.

While fleeing for their lives across the desert to the legendary City of Brass, Nahri learns from Dara about the magical beings of fire, beings Dara is convinced Nahri comes from, too. But, once they finally get there, will the homeland of her ancestors offer protection or even more danger for the two?

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – My Review

“To keep walking a path between loyalty to your family and loyalty to what you know is right. One of these days, you’re going to have to make a choice.”

This was so – exciting!

If you are in a mood for a fantasy, but you want something that is not quite epic and not quite urban and kind of but not too whimsical, try out The City of Brass. This book was a bit of all three things combined, but also none of them.

At least that’s how it felt to me. If most other fantasies I read have vibes of King Arthur or Robin Hood, this one was more like Aladdin. And I’m talking only about the vibes, and only about the way I personally felt it.

But, yeah, it definitely has that kind of atmosphere going on. It is set in 18th century Cairo. The main character is something like a street con artist. And there’s definitely magic involved.

But, there is also a creepier, more sinister note going on through all of that.

It was as though someone had created an image of a person, a man out of clay, but forgotten to give it a final spark of life. He was…unfinished.

There were so many small things I loved about this book. So many little surprises along the way.

First, it was incredibly imaginative. Such a complex story, and yet incredibly easy to follow. The lore, the politics, the different aspects of family loyalty, the court intrigues, and a bit of romance… This book had it all.

The world building was so rich, immersive, visual and colorful, full of magic and history, clearly based in Middle Eastern culture and mythology, which… I mean, I love me a nice medieval setting, but this was such a refreshment.

Judging from the screams of the mob, Nahri suspected animating winged lions that breathed flames was not a regular occurrence to the djinn world.

But though beautiful and magical, this world was also pretty ruthless. Not many authors can give their protagonists magic, and wealth, and position, and power, and pedigree, and strength, and looks, and freedom… and still make me think – man, I would hate to be in their spots.

And the characters were – interesting. I wouldn’t call them (at least not all of them) morally gray in the usual sense of the word. But when you get to see someone’s motives and actions from multiple points of view, you kind of start to question some things.

The City of Brass follows two MCs – Nahri and Alizayd. And whenever we have two or more perspectives in fantasies, I usually prefer one over the other and try to skim through the later one to get to my preferred parts.

But here I found both perspectives equally compelling and exciting. I literally couldn’t pick between Nahri and Ali, they were both amongst the most fleshed out, relatable characters I’ve ever found.

“You’re some kind of thief, then?”
“That’s a very narrow-minded way of looking at it. I prefer to think of myself as a merchant of delicate tasks.”

Nahri was such a gem. Pushed into a world she didn’t know or understand, that didn’t feel like her own, and yet so much was expected of her. She is street-smart, but court intrigues seem to be above her conning skills. Which puts her in a very dangerous position, considering how high the stakes are.

But her position is also very unique, considering her background. And I love when we have protagonists that are not supposed to exist, last of their kind or something like that. It adds a lure of the forbidden, while still maintaining a good amount of innocence. I just love such odds.

I also loved that not everything went easy for this particular special snowflake. Though it was clear there was something unique about her, she struggled a lot with both her heritage and her magic. I expect to see her slowly learn and improve as I go further into the series. But I also hope to see her keep working hard to earn it.

“Greatness takes time, Banu Nahida. Often the mightiest things have the humblest beginnings.”

One of the things that were done so skillfully in this book was the fact that the whole time I just couldn’t decide whose side I was on. The politics, the morals, the impossible decisions. The fact that nothing was ever black and white. Nothing was simply right or wrong.

You often start with one attitude, then hear someone else’s side of the story and are forced to reconsider. What would you do in their place?

“There’s no easy answer, Alizayd. All we can do is strike a balance.”

Though very eventful, the beginning felt a bit slow. Not because it wasn’t well paced, but because it was promising so many exciting things to come, I just wanted to skip half the book to get to them. But at least it pushed me to hurry through those first chapters, so I finished the book faster than I expected.

There were a lot of details and a lot of descriptions and it does take time to get through all of that. But the descriptions were beautiful and picturesque, and I thought they were necessary to truly portray the world in such a vivid, visual way. Even though it would have been a much quicker read without them, I think the story would have lost a lot of its charm and atmosphere.

The way it was, there was a really nice balance between the world building, plot and character development.

I loved how everything was explained perfectly without any info dumping. All of the lore and history were casually slipped through conversations, and it was done so skillfully, I was honestly impressed.

“Praise be to God, have I actually silenced you for once? I should have accused you of treason earlier in our conversation and saved myself your insufferable comments.”

If I were determined to find some flaws in this book, I would probably mention that there were a few instances that made me think I must be missing something. Grand confessions that didn’t seem to offer more than what we already knew. Or when the characters seemed to be taking a second too long to connect some things.

Also, the vague magic system allowed for a lot of… interpretation. In a couple of instances, it felt a bit like an easy way to get away with things without having to explain them. And it raised the infamous question of – if you’ve used that thing in that one case, why couldn’t you have used it in these other instances?

But the truth is – even noticing such things feels a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. I’ve been enjoying the read too much to really pay attention to such small inconsistencies.

“I was also once a young warrior from the ruling tribe. It’s a privileged position. Such utter confidence in the rightness of your people, such unwavering belief in your faith.”

Having in mind the complexity of the plot, The City of Brass was surprisingly easy to get though. I never felt overwhelmed or like too much was going on at once, even when that actually was the case.

S.A. Chakraborty is a great writer. I’m looking forward to finishing this trilogy, and to her future work.

So yeah, there’s not much more left to say about this book. It was a brilliant story and it was really well written. I already know it is going to be on my 2021 favorite reads, so I can only warmly recommend it to all you fantasy lovers out there.

Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did…

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