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
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.
✨ The long-overdue review finally posted.✨
This could and would have been a 5-star read for me had it not been for that incredibly slow start all the way through almost the end of the book.
The first half was very much foundational which introduced us to the world, the characters, as well as the inner workings and machinations of the city of Brass. Obviously, this is highly appreciated but I don’t think we needed to spend the entire three-quarters of the book just getting introduced to things. I get bored easily as it is.🤦♀️
So, I'm torn. I still don’t know if I'm happy or angry at this book. Initially, I rated it 4.5 stars (purely for the ending) but I don’t think spending almost the entirety of the book bored or confused only to get an explosive ending is a reason enough to be this generous so, I took it down a notch to 3.5 stars.
At first glance, this novel was everything I dreamt of, a Middle Eastern folklore. I'm a sucker for Eastern and Asian folklore and as someone who's always had a soft spot for anything related to Egypt (I’m not Egyptian incase you think I’m being biased. I just really love the country, its rich history and the people in general), I was so thrilled that I couldn’t even wait for the book to be released in the UK (which will be in March), so I ordered my copy from the US. That’s how badly I wanted to immerse myself in what I'd initially thought would be a magical time travel back to 18th-Century Cairo. Let me give you some pointers, here:
✨ A MC who’s a con artist and gets caught up in one of her cons.
✨ A Djinn warrior with a mysterious past.
✨ Djinns who can be loyal or deceitful as the occasion demands; ghouls who rise from the grave to devour the living; Mythical and terrifying creatures that fly through the air.
✨ Monsters who dwell in the water and kill both djinns and humans.
✨ Flying carpets. Shape-shifters. Clan warfare. Personal ambitions. Power politics. Racial and religious tensions.
All culminating in a cataclysmic showdown in a legendary city protected by magical brass.
Now, please tell me if that doesn't sound like the kind of book you'd want to devour in a single day.
✨ Let's start off with the plot:
Although the book was filled with action-packed scenes with a good amount of storytelling information, which made for somewhat of a rich reading experience, it all came in too little too late.
All of the excitement was sprung upon us toward the very last few pages when by then, the reader (or maybe just myself) was already too exhausted over the slow beginning and middle parts. I mean, Nahri doesn't even make it to Daevebad until after we’re way past the first half of the book.
Another source of disappointment for me was the political aspects and the inner workings of Daevabad. The rules and organization of this world became so overwhelming at points that I had to go back and re-read some parts to really understand what was going on. Some, I still don't.
And if you’ve read some of my reviews in the past, you know that a heavy dose of political intrigue in fantasy is my Achilles heel. I genuinely get weak in the knees for books with that aspect and the fact that I couldn’t get behind this particular world was heartbreaking and discouraging. The frustration alone almost made me quit because I felt like I was reading with my eyes closed.
I still don’t know the difference between a Daeva and a djinn!
Now onto the characters:
Oh, dear. Nahri and I started out with a bang then took a serious dive down, out of which neither of us made it alive.
The book has two perspectives, one of which is Nahri, who, at the beginning was primarily the kind of MC I love to read about. She was sharp-tongued, independent and a likeable con artist, who makes her living on the streets of Cairo by swindling nobles and also has the ability to sense illness in others and to heal some ailments. I mean, right!?
I felt an instant personal connection to her because, well, growing up, some kids dream of becoming a doctor or whatever but ever since I was a kid and watched some unfortunate TV show (or a movie that ruined all other dreams for me), all I'd wanted to become was a con artist. I proudly admit my childhood dream.
Everything about it looked and sounded appealing (in the eyes of a child, through the TV screen, I suppose), pulling off one unforgettable con after another, living off your wits and charm etc… sadly, I had neither the wit nor the charm to pull anything off and had to settle for a normal childhood. So, obviously this was my chance to live vicariously through Nahri and I jumped on that wagon faster than a speeding bullet.
She started out so well. She was a survivor; clever and mischievous, making decisions with her head rather than her heart, who’d do what needed to be done to make it through another day and though not all her decisions could be labelled as sound, they were necessary nonetheless. I appreciated that so much, after all, who isn’t a sucker for a survivor story?
All that went straight in the bin toward the end. As the plot finally progressed, her character basically regressed. Page after page she kept making one foolish decision after another which was so unlike her, as if the Nahri at the beginning of the novel transformed into a completely different character by the end.
All that pride I felt at the start was crushed to pieces as she became a great source of disappointment when the book ended. It was very disheartening and I am not pleased.
✨ Prince Alizayd:
The second perspective is told through Ali. As with Nahri, Ali, the benevolent second son of the current king, who will never inherit the throne but wants desperately to make amends to those he thinks his people have wronged, starts out remarkably and takes a tumble down in the end. As things were finally moving along, both Ali and Nahri's actions became so infuriating that I started rooting for whatever monster was the talk of the town to knock some sense into them or, more accurately, to just ingest them and be done with it.
My favourite character from beginning to end was Dara. The “frighteningly beautiful,” kidnapper/rescuer Djin who becomes Nahri’s saviour after she gets caught up in one of her cons and ends up being pursued by a monster or Djin of some sort (I'm still confused as to who’s who in this novel).
And as luck would have it, he knows the answer to the mystery of Nahri’s origins, who’s a Shafit, a descendant of a half-magical tribe, thought to have become extinct.
Thus, in an effort to save her, the mysterious protector and Nahri embark on a journey to the city of Daevabad, which’s where their adventure begins.
I loved everything about Dara. I was intrigued by him from the moment he entered the picture and as the plot advanced and his mysterious yet tragic past slowly started to unravel, I sympathised with him, rooted for him and quite literally, he became the reason I wanted to finish the book.
All in all, it was a fun-ish read but no minds were blown here. I loved it for the sole reason that it shifted the centre away from western myths, with a strong conclusion and a craftily set up epilogue. I'll give credit where credit is due, the epilogue was incredible.
The author combines some of the plot’s surprises with vivid prose and evens out the action with wry humour but with enough material that was already at hand, it could've been leveraged to turn it into an even more of an epic read with non-stop adventures.
Maybe with the next one.
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. This is the beginning of 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 key to the main places noted in the book
The M Word: Muslin Americans Take the Mic - a panel discussion including the 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
OMG! I got my stained, numbered, & signed edition of the book today. I'm addicted to these kinds of books. Look at the beauty!