The City of Brass: A dream of djinni

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Reposting to include Ray’s new review.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty fantasy book reviewsThe City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri, a young woman living alone in 18th century Cairo, gets by doing minor cons, fake healing rituals and a little theft. She knows nothing about her parents or heritage but, in addition to being able to diagnose disease in others with a glance and occasionally truly heal them, her own body automatically heals of injuries almost instantly and she has the magical ability to understand ― and speak ― any language.

Nahri’s life gets upended when she accidentally summons Darayavahoush, a fiery, handsome djinn warrior, to her side while performing a sham healing ceremony. After he gets over his murderous rage at being involuntarily summoned, Dara saves Nahri from murderous ifrit and ghouls who have become aware of Nahri and her abilities. Dara quickly enchants a magic carpet and, dragging along the reluctant Nahri, he flees with her toward Daevabad, the legendary city of brass inhabited by magical djinn (or, more properly, daeva). But there are warring political factions in Daevabad among the six different djinn tribes, and appalling mistreatment of the mixed-blood, partly human underclass of shafits. Nahri and Dara each have trouble that may await them there in Daevabad, for different reasons.

The chapters of The City of Brass (2017), S.A. Chakraborty’s debut fantasy novel based on Middle Eastern mythology, alternate between two characters’ points of view: Nahri, the feisty young con artist with a mysterious magical heritage, and Prince Alizayd al Qahtani, the second son of the ruler of Daevabad. Ali is a rather tightly wound but honorable young warrior with a mixed heritage himself, has sympathy for those who are mistreated. But in trying to secretly (and illegally) fund needed educational and medical services for the oppressed shafits, he may be stirring up even more trouble.

Chakraborty, who spent years studying Middle Eastern history and developing the magical world in which this story is set, has created a vibrant and exotic setting in The City of Brass. (There’s a helpful glossary at the end of the book that defines some of the Middle Eastern terminology and magical beings). Some of the setting details are memorable, like the palace in Daevabad that mourns its missing founding family, the Nahids. The gardens are an untamed wilderness, stairs go missing, water in fountains frequently turns to blood. When Nahri, a lost member of the Nahid family, arrives in the city, the palace magically begins to spiff itself up. In this exotic setting, Chakraborty examines some timeless human issues, like prejudice, torn loyalties, and the effect of violence on a person’s heart.

The City of Brass has a fast-paced beginning that sucks the reader right in, as Nahri and Dara flee through the desert toward Daevabad, pursued by deadly enemies, and develop a relationship based on equal parts irritation and attraction. Once they reach Daevabad, the great city of brass, the plot slows down and gets a little muddled. There are too many competing factions and conflicts: between pureblood djinn and shafits, between the different djinn tribes and other magical elementals, and between those who support the currently ruling Qahtani family and those who are intent on bringing back Nahid rule, using Nahri.

S.A. Chakraborty

Additionally, there are conflicts within the hearts of each of the main characters. Dara isn’t really certain he wants to take Nahri to Daevabad, where capture or death may be his fate, and where his violent past, which still haunts him, may catch up to him. Nahri isn’t at all convinced she wants to go there either; she rather liked her life as it was, and she doesn’t intend to be anyone’s pawn. And Prince Ali is caught between warring factions and loyalties, trying to balance both.

“You won’t be able to continue like this, Alizayd,” he warned. “To keep walking a path between loyalty to your family and loyalty to what you know is right. … Because on the day of your judgment, Alizayd … when you’re asked why you didn’t stand up for what you knew was just …” He paused, his next words finding Ali’s heart like an arrow. “Loyalty to your family won’t excuse you.”

It’s a conflict-driven plot, with both physical violence and subtler conspiring and conniving. While some of the more tangential factions and contentions are hazy in their nature and motivations, overall The City of Brass is a compelling read. Chakraborty won back my enthusiasm with a rousing game-changer of an ending. I didn’t even care that it was a cliffhanger! Now I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in THE DAEVABAD TRILOGY, The Kingdom of Copper, expected to be published in 2018.

The City of Brass, while it isn’t being marketed as a young adult fantasy, has crossover qualities. It has two younger main characters and, despite the web of conflicts, it’s written in a fairly straightforward style. It’s likely to appeal to older teenagers as well as many adults.

~Tadiana Jones


The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty In a richly described 18th century Cairo, Nahri is faking an exorcism. An impoverished street urchin, Nahri has always been able to sense people’s illnesses, and uses this mysterious skill to swindle the gullible and desperate. But when she accidentally summons an ancient Djinni called Dara, things go a little awry…

Dara whisks her away (on a magic carpet, no less) to Daevabad, a magical eastern city protected by brass walls. It is here that Nahri finds out she is descended from magical blood — which explains the mysterious powers she’s had her whole life. She quickly becomes immersed in the tumultuous political and magical goings on in a city full of racial and religious tensions.

Dara becomes an intriguing conundrum for Nahri to puzzle over — and it does, of course, help that he’s devastatingly handsome. Alongside the intrigues of the royal family, S.A. Chakraborty weaves a compelling and fast-paced tale that is sure to pull readers into her richly evoked world.

It would’ve been interesting to see Nahri spend a little more time in the alleys of Cairo. These opening scenes were intriguing, especially seeing Nahri fleece her unwitting customers. Yet almost immediately she finds herself being chased by ghouls in an abandoned graveyard, which felt a little incongruous after the stalls and backstreets of Egypt’s capital.

City of Brass is well written and well-paced. Nahri is a compelling heroine, though it does sometimes feel as though we’ve heard her voice before: the strong, sassy underdog will feel familiar. But the scope of the novel, its cast, and the twisting plot ensures for a strong debut.

~Ray McKenzie

Published November 11, 2017. Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty—an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and Uprooted, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts. Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades 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 and a reliable way to survive. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to question all she believes. For the warrior tells her an extraordinary 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 birds of prey are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. In Daevabad, within 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 to be careful what you wish for . . .

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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RACHAEL “RAY” MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well — a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette — those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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3 comments

  1. This sounds so fun!

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  1. Reading Links 12/5/17 – Where Genres Collide - […] http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-city-of-brass/ When Nahri summons a dijinn both find themselves at odds in the city of brass. […]

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