The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)by Published 14 Nov 2017
|The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1).pdf|
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...
"The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)" Reviews
I can tally my life in good days and bad days, and thanks to this book, this turned out to be a very bad day.
I’m less of a person and more of a physical manifestation of how much this book disappointed me. It’s like my personality has been factory reset and all I want now is to go out into an empty field and scream for about an hour and generally just give in to the brief privilege of hating myself for harboring so many expectations.
I really can’t wait to not be let down by every single one of my most anticipated books. I’m very excited for that time to come whenever that may be.
What is this book about?
Nahri is living in what appears to be 18th-century Cairo, earning her money as a fortune-teller, a con artist and a leader of zars (rituals for the exorcism of evil spirits), dwelling on her ability to sense illness in others and to heal some ailments, speaking a language that she inherited from her long-dead parents and that was as unknowable to her as it was to anyone else, and generally hiding from the many questions about herself and her upbringing that she needed to stare down.
Her carefully crafted, if precarious, routine is shattered when Nahri walks through Cairo’s cemetery tailing a possessed young girl she’s tried to help, only to be chased herself by Ifrits (ghoulish zombies). Nahri is rescued by the intervention of Dara, a djinn, who tells her that she’s the only remaining descendent of an ancient half-human, half-magical tribe of healers and promises to take her to the eponymous city of brass, Daevabad, where she will get the answers to all her unasked questions.
And so begins Nahri’s entanglement in a world of Islamic mythology and lore, landing herself in a city on a knife’s edge, and in the middle of a political conflict stretching back to the time of Suleiman (or Solomon). Concurrently, the book also follows the youngest son of Daevabad’s king, Alizayd, who opposes his family’s unjust treatment of the shafits — the half djinn, half human population — who are forced to live in horrible conditions, while the pureblood djinn gorge on the city's resources, power, and freedom.
Reading this book seemed like a good idea but so was boarding the titanic and look what happened there. It was the equivalent of taking a nap, the cruelest kind of temptation: it promises you rest and wellness but leaves you with a cloudy headache and an inescapable drowsiness the rest of the day.
The first issue is the pacing: Nahri doesn't make it to Daevebad until about halfway through the book and by that point I was beginning to wonder: if I sigh loudly enough will this plot stop dragging? A problem conflated by the fact that there are approximately 3 million various groups of magical peoples and different political and cultural divides – which made it very easy to disengage with the story and lose the thread of the plot, and very difficult to care enough to flip to the glossary every single time. The political framework was employed with an odd detachment, creating a fablelike distance from what was supposed to be a grisly, shocking climax. Not to mention the fact that it was so confusing I had a headache so strong I swear I could sense Lord Voldemort. I honestly felt like I was actively crushing my last remaining brain cells just trying to figure out who’s allies with whom, what are their motivations, why are they all so obsessed with war, what about just going to sleep.
But what really kicked me out of this book was the characters. There are literally only like, two people in this 500-pages book whom I would hang out with for more than three or four hours without wanting to strangle them. It’s disappointing because for the first third of the book, the very dry action was leavened with their humor, which earned this book bankable reputation that it later spent slumming it for the rest 350 pages. And now I'm left looking at the characters as I would an old friend that I sometimes miss but always remember why I had to cut them off, knowing I’m better off now than before.
First, Dara. I emotionally and physically cannot stand him. He’s a nail raked over the chalkboard of my nerves.
Here’s the thing: I’m of the firm belief that a great character does not necessarily translate into a “good person”. In fact, some of the best literary figures are completely horrible people, and that's because a character’s worth should always be hinged on how interesting and complex they are, not on their morality in case they were real. But you know what? Male protagonists whose arc revolves around growth and actual personality will always be more interesting than insufferable wankers who punch everything and treat everyone around them like garbage.
Dara’s character lacks any creativity, emotion, or purpose beyond carrying on a pointless ancestral grudge. It’s impossible to sympathize with him, let alone root for him.
Even more unfathomable is cheering for his relationship with Nahri which was dangerously teetering on the edge of “abusive”, to be honest. Nahri is pretty much stuck in a relationship with the personnification of a blackhole who never considers the fact that she’s a person and not an attention machine he can neglect until it suits him to remind himself of her existence. How am I supposed to believe he “cares for her” when he clearly only loves himself through her in the most selfish of ways and keeps leeching off her energy for his own egotistical purposes?
And even worse, Nahri continuously puts substantial effort into pleasing him for no reason other than that she feels like she owes him the benefit of the doubt after saving her life and bringing her to Daevabad, even when it was at the expense of everyone else. She’s allowed him to turn her into a secondary character in the story of her own life – by coaxing and pleading and enduring for this “relationship”, while he sits there, absolutely uncaring about her opinions and have all his sordid emotional whims (voiced or unvoiced) catered to. It didn’t even seem as if Nahri cared enough to form thoughts of her own, only flitting between her own half-hearted suspicions and whatever half-truths he pushed down her throat, and that only made the slide toward resenting her quiet and fast.
“I can take care of myself.”
“But you don’t need to,” Dara replied, sounding annoyed. “Nahri, did you not hear what I just said? Let others play politics. Stay away from these princes. They are beneath you anyway.”
I was honestly mentally crafting incredibly angry speeches in my head by that point. I wanted to shake her. I was just a smoldering glove of bitterness flying through space right then (and I still am).
Lastly, any book that’s advertised as a Muslim inspired fantasy novel is inviting high expectations. However, in a community that is depicted as largely Muslim, Alizayd was the only character who was remotely portrayed as being so.....only he was ostracized on account of being Muslim by pretty much EVERYONE ELSE.
Ali is a pious, self-serious and kind-hearted scholar, trying to understand his own privilege and to balance exercising his own power with the love he has for his powerful family. Yet he was perceived, by everyone else, as an oddity for simply being devout – for declining his brother’s invitation to drink alcohol, for frequenting parties, etc. He was even called a “religious fanatic”, a fallacious claim that was unwarranted, and worst of all, left unchallenged or called out by the author.
I’m not saying that every Muslim is as pious as Ali and as intent on following Islam’s laws, because that is simply not true. Like any other religion, the levels of faith differentiate from a person to another: it depends on every individual’s social world, their politics, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves. And that diversity amongst the Muslims themselves is a welcome representation but it was far from being an accurate one in this case: piousness and pure intentions would never serve as a reason to be shunned and belittled in your own Muslim community—and especially not by the majority.
This is my issue with Islam representation in the mainstream media. If Islam isn’t negatively framed and portrayed as a violent religion, then it’s reduced to five-time prayers and a dress code and Halal vs. Haram… when it’s so much more.
The beauty of Islam lives in your conduct and your character and your manners. Islam is kindness in the face of hostility, love in the face of anger, charity in the face of poverty, calmness amidst troubles and overwhelming reliance on God. This is the nature of Islam. It’s a way of life that revolves around goodness of the heart and having pure intentions. It’s not merely putting a hijab on or praying five times a day, but to (simply) be a kind, righteous person who spreads peace, forgiveness, love and justice wherever we are. This is the Islam I grew up being taught. This is my religion. This is the representation I long to see.
Overall, this book was a disappointment. The only reason I’m giving it an extra star is because there was a very brief portion of it that I wish I could steal with the photoshop eyedropper tool and expand into a full book of its own.
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ARC provided by Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.
The City of Brass was unlike any Fantasy novel I’ve read before, and I completely adored it. This debut novel is easily one of the best books I’ve read in 2017, and I will sing its praises even after its release on November 14th, 2017. Please guys, don’t sleep on this story, because it has not received the hype it deserves.
This is the first book in an own voices Muslim Fantasy series, that walks the line between Young Adult and Adult, and switches between two very different points of view. One point of view is a girl in her early twenties, who remembers nothing of her childhood, and is living near Cairo, Egypt. Her name is Nahri and she is a street healer by day, and a con-woman and thief by night. Nahri has a natural affinity for healing people, and can magically see what the problem is. Sometimes she can wish it away, other times it is not so easy. Many people realize Nahri’s talents and believe her magic to also work spiritually, which is why she gets hired a lot to cleanse and heal people at Zar Ceremonies, where she leads dances and prayers to be rid of demons/ifrits, which she doesn't believe in.
Our story truly starts at a Zar Ceremony where Nahri is doing the steps she normally does while really just putting on a show to get paid at the end of the night, except this time she actually does feel something after an old song is sung. After a turn of events, Nahri ends up in a cemetery where she begins to pray and accidentally summons a djinn daeva warrior.
And Dara isn’t just any daeva warrior. He is the best warrior to have ever lived, and he has a very tormented past, because, let’s be real, what brooding male protagonist doesn’t? Dara soon realizes that Nahri isn’t completely human, and that ifrits will soon be after both of them. He then tells her about a city that is hidden behind brass walls, that will completely keep them safe from said ifrits.
We get to see our second point of view, which is from a young djinn prince named Ali, who lives in the magical hidden city of Daevabad. In Daevabad Ali’s brother, Muntadhir, is the promised king, even though their father, Ghassan, currently rules, and Ali is training to become what his brother needs him to be once he takes the throne. I loved Ali’s selflessness and his unconditional love for his family, because in this world, Ali will never marry or have children, but will be groomed to serve and protect Muntadhir with his life. Ali is completely okay with what is promised of his life, and he completely dedicates his life to God. Yet, with devoting his life to God, he starts to see the unfair treatment among the citizens.
People in this world can use magic, including humans, even though there are different ways, kinds, and extremes. This is a historical novel set in our time in the early 1800s, which barely touches upon the Ottoman Empire. Yet, we do get to briefly see how some of the Turkish people treated the Egyptians, and we even get to see some French Soldiers. I’m getting off topic, but basically what I’m trying to say is that even though this is for sure a fantasy novel, it ties in with our real world, and this makes humans a key part of this story.
➽Beings of Earth - Humans.
➽Beings of Water - Marid (water elementals).
➽Beings of Air - Peri, Rukh, Shedu (all flying creatures).
➽Beings of Fire - Daevas, Djinns, Ifrit.
With all these beings, come different powers and abilities. I loved this fantastical element and it truly made this story feel so whimsical. Also, Dijnns and daevas are the same, but “daeva” is an ancient term that means fire elementals, and after a war was over, everyone started calling themselves the human word for “daeva” which is “djinn”. But many people hold on to their daeva roots, since they have very different roles in Daevabad. Also, there are six tribes. But our dear Nahri though, is something completely different, very rare, and very sought after.
But ultimately this is a story about oppression, and what it means to believe that your blood is more pure than someone else. The mixed bloods in this world, shafits, are treated horribly and without a second thought. They are killed for crimes they didn’t commit, just to make the pure bloods feel safer. They aren’t allowed even close to the same luxuries pure bloods are, but they aren’t even allowed significant food or any medical treatment. Their children are stolen and sold away, most the time time as working slaves or pleasure slaves. This story can feel so very real at times and, in my opinion, S.A. Chakraborty writes this systemic oppression beautifully to mirror our world today.
“It’s not just a word […] That slur has been used to demonize our tribe for centuries. It’s what people spit when they rip off our women’s veils and beat our men. It’s what the authorities charge us with whenever they want to raid our homes and seize our property.”
Yeah, this is a pretty powerful book for many reasons. The only negative thing I can really say about it is that I felt somewhat like I was being queerbaited. Like, I was very unsure of Ali’s sexuality, because a few of his observations made me feel like he wasn’t straight by any means. I thought this was going to be addressed, but it just lead to a very anticlimactic and saddening death of a very minor side character, who had the promise for so much more. And then, once I got to the epilogue I was surprised to see something else that I would also borderline call queerbaiting, but hopefully she will address that in the next book in this series. Plus, maybe it’s just me reading things through my queer-tinted-glasses, and/or maybe we will get some awesome bisexual representation in book two!
Besides that, this is such a beautiful Middle Eastern story, that ties in so much of the culture’s folklore in an absolutely beautiful and seamless way. I completely recommend with my whole heart. I loved it and I couldn’t put it down. And the cover? Goosebumps.
This is the diverse fantasy novel I’ve been searching for. The fantasy world needs more diverse stories like this, and the world needs to see the diverse stories can be easily consumed and loved and, most importantly, worth buying. Everyone in this story is beautifully brown, we get to see some of these characters interact in mosques, we get to see our main character wearing a headscarf. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel with these minor elements that are real life for so many readers. And this story is so amazing and so very beautifully written, too. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Kingdom of Copper in 2018!
I loved The City of Brass and it is one of the best author debuts I’ve ever read in my entire life. But I will say, the ending of this book ripped my heart out three times, so be prepared for that. This story was amazing, the characters are beyond words, the prose is exceptional, and the messages and representation are so very important. This book is heartfelt and powerful. Please give this a try come November 14th, 2017.
Trigger Warnings for graphic violence, human trafficking, rape, slavery, and war.
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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.
It’s time to polish that special lamp gathering webs in the attic, put a fine edge on your bladed weaponry, remind yourself of ancient tribal insults and outrages, dust off that list of wishes that is around here somewhere and vacuum your magic carpet. You are about to be transported.
“The Magic Carpet” (detail), 1880, by Apollinary Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov © State Art Museum, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia/Bridgeman Art Library
Nahri, our Aladdin here, is a twenty-year-old thief and con artist, working marks in 18th Century French-occupied Cairo. She has a gift for discerning medical maladies and another for treating them. She is adept at languages and at parting the unwary from their money. When she is called in to help deal with a 12-year-old girl who is possessed, she rolls her eyes and opts to have a bit of fun trotting out an old spell that has never worked before. The difference here is that she tries it in a language she seems to have known forever, but which no one else has ever heard. Turns out the girl really was possessed, by a particularly nasty entity, and turns out that Nahri’s little experiment summoned a very scary djinn. In a flash, the evil possessor spirit and a large number of its dead minions are on her like decay on a corpse. Thankfully, the djinn is there to save the day, with extreme prejudice. Thus begins a beautiful friendship.
Image from deviantart.net
The frustrated pursuers have made Cairo a no-go zone for Nahri, so she and the djinn, Dara (which is a small portion of his entire name) head for the place where people of his sort reside, the world capital of the magical races, Daevabad, the Brass City of the title.
From Bensozia - Illustration by Edmund Dulac for Stories from the Arabian Nights
To call Dara a hottie would be a bit of an understatement. Handsome? For sure. Incredibly powerful? Fierce in battle? Be afraid, be very afraid. Able to leap tall minarets in a single flying carpet? You betcha. As if that were not enough, he is literally a creature of fire, and emits actual smoke. You never had a friend like him.
Cairo may present imminent threats of death, but Daevabad is no prize either. Ancient tribal hatreds are kept at bay by a strong, and ruthless ruler. King Ghassan ibn Khader al Qahtani must contend not only with inter-tribal tensions, he must cope with a growing insurgency. (Think sundry Middle East rulers with tribally diverse populations.) There are many who feel that laws favoring purebloods are unjust, and want those of mixed Djinn-human blood, shafit, (think mudbloods) to be treated fairly. One of those happens to be the king’s number two son. Ali is a very devout young (18) man. As second in line, he is destined to help his older brother, Muntadhir, rule, as, basically, the head of security. He is extremely adept at sword-fighting and has gained a good reputation among the other student-warriors at the Citadel, a military training school (not in South Carolina) where he has been living and training for some years. Dad would not be pleased were he to learn that junior was giving money to an organization that purports to offer civilian-only aid to shafit, but is also rumored to be involved in a more military form of activity. (Think Hamas)
Revolutionary tensions are on the rise, palace intrigues as well, as trust is something one could only wish for. One key question is where Nahri really came from, who is she, really? It matters. And what happened to the ancient tribe that was chosen by Suleiman himself to rule, way back when.
S.A. Chakraborty - image from her site
There are magic rings, flaming swords, strange beings of diverse sorts, plots, battles, large scale and small, plenty of awful ways to die, without that being done too graphically. And there is even a bit of interpersonal attraction. Did I mention Dara being smokin’? There is also some romantic tension between Nahri and Ali. Add in a nifty core bit of history centered on Suleiman.
One of the great strengths of City of Brass is the lode of historical knowledge the author brings to bear.
It actually started not as a novel, but as sort of a passion project/exercise in world-building that I never intended to show a soul! I’m a big history buff and with The City of Brass I wanted to recreate some of the stunning worlds I’d read about while also exploring traditional beliefs about djinn. A bit contrary to Western lore, djinn are said to be intelligent beings similar to humans, created from smokeless fire and living unseen in our midst—a fascinating, albeit slightly frightening concept, this idea of creatures living silently among us, dispassionately watching the rise and fall of our various civilizations. - from the Twinning for Books interview
Zulfiqar - image from mere-vision.com
Chakraborty, our Sheherezade here, fills us in on much of the history of how the djinn came to build their human-parallel world, offering not just what is, but how what is arose from what was.
there’s a djinn version of Baghdad’s great library, filled with the ancient books humans have lost alongside powerful texts of magic; they battle with weapons from Achaemenid Persia (enhanced by fire of course); the medical traditions of famed scholars like Ibn Sina have been adapted to treat magical maladies; dancers conjure flowers while singing Mughal love songs; a court system based on the Zanzibar Sultanate deals justice to merchants who bewitch their competitors… not to mention a cityscape featuring everything from ziggurats and pyramids to minarets and stupas. - from the Twinning for Books interviewThere are a lot of names to remember, words to learn, tribes to keep straight, and allegiances to keep track of. I found myself wishing there was a list somewhere that helped keep it all straight, and “Poof!” there it appeared at the back of the book, a glossary, rich with useful information. It could have been a bit larger though. I would have liked for it to include a list of the djinn tribes, with information about each, their geographical bases, proclivities, languages, you know, stuff. The information can be found in the book itself, but it would have been nice to have had a handy short reference.
image from upstaged entertainment
The City of Brass is both very smart and very entertaining. The richness of the world we see here gives added heft to a wonderful story. The world Chakraborty has created hums with humanity, well, whatever the djinn equivalent might be for humanity (djinnity?). You will smell the incense, want to keep a damp cloth at hand to wipe the dust and sand from your face, and a cool drink nearby to help with the heat. It probably wouldn’t hurt to post a lookout in case someone decides to try spiking your drink or inserting a long blade into your back. This is a wonderful, engaging, and fun read. It will not take you a thousand and one nights to read, but you might prefer that it did. The only wish you will need when you finish reading The City of Brass is for Volume 2 of this trilogy, The Kingdom of Copper, to appear, NOW!!!
Review posted – July 28, 2017
Publication date – November 14, 2017
Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages
Interview - Twinning For Books
A link to a map with a key to the main places noted in the book
The M Word: Muslin Americans Take the Mic - a panel discussion including Chakraboty and two other Islamic women writers – hosted by Hussein Rashid
The City of Brass - from Arabian Nights, on Gutenberg
November 9, 2017 - City of Brass is among the nominees for Amazon's book of the year - Science Fiction and Fantasy
Update: $1.99 kindle US today 5/16/18
OMG! I got my stained, numbered, & signed edition of the book today. I'm addicted to these kinds of books. Look at the beauty!