The Blurb On The Back:
Among the swirling sands of the desert and behind gilded brass walls, lies an enchanted city of golden domes, jade roofs and marble palaces. A place where magic pours down every street, hanging in the sir like dust.
Welcome to Daevabad the legendary City of Brass
But remember, there is a reason that they say to be careful what you wish for …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
20-year-old Nahri is a confidence trickster and thief living in Cairo at the beginning of the 19th century but she wants to train in Istanbul as a healer and make full use of her strange abilities that allow her to diagnose and even heal and illness through touch or sight alone. When she agrees to perform a ceremony on a young girl believed to be possessed by a djinn, she thinks it’s a chance to make some easy money from gullible people who just need some reassurance. But the girl really is possessed by something supernatural – an ifrit – that has sinister intentions towards Nahri and she’s only saved by the sudden appearance of a Daeva (or djinn) called Dara.
Handsome, arrogant and very powerful, Dara believes that Nahri is a shafit (a person with mixed human and djinn blood) and the only way to keep her safe is to take her to Daevabad, the historical city of the djinn. But it’s been several centuries since Dara was last in Daevabad and it’s now a city divided – the djinn separated into different tribes, each with their own special abilities – and all treat the shafit who live there as second class citizens.
18-year-old Prince Ali is the youngest son of Daevabad’s King Geziris. Raised to be a warrior and adviser to the next king since the age of 5, he’s spiritual, proud and deeply troubled by the treatment of the shafits. But his attempts to help the Tanzeem (a group of shafits who are trying to improve the life of the shafits) plunge him into a world of political intrigue that he’s unprepared for and which threatens to put him into conflict with his own family. So the last thing he needs is the arrival of Nahri and Dara – especially when his father makes a revelation about who Nahri really is – and what she means for the people of Daevabad …
A. Chakraborty’s debut fantasy novel (the first in a trilogy) is set in a vividly imagined world that draws on Arabic and eastern mythology to interesting effect and has an interesting trio of characters (albeit I wish that Nahri had a little more agency) and a plot with real potential but there’s a lot of set-up, which means that the pacing is uneven and there’s a heavy reliance on not revealing information, which I found irritating.
Nahri is an interesting character and I enjoyed her survivalist attitude, particularly the way it makes her savvy to some of the undercurrents that neither Dara nor Ali are aware of. However, I found the love triangle set up between the three a little tedious and disappointing and it’s also annoying that most of the major decisions that affect her in this book, e.g. going to Daevabad, what she does when she gets there and even a potential marriage are made by the men around her (something which I hope is rectified in the sequel). I was also irritated by the fact that although she knows Dara is lying to her, she makes little attempt to uncover it for reasons that are solely driven by the need to keep the plot going so that they feel artificial.
Although Dara is a little over the top that’s in keeping with the character and I liked both Chakraborty’s take on djinn slaves and the information that she drips out about his past as it helps to flesh him out. Similarly, I enjoyed Ali’s internal conflict between family and his religious beliefs and his belief about what’s right and I particularly enjoyed the contrast in his relationship with his elder brother (and next king) Muntadhir and his father (although the end results her are largely telegraphed). The ending of both Dara and Ali’s plot lines in this book promise a great deal for the next book with Chakraborty establishing an interesting set-up that has a lot of potential.
There’s a lot of set up in this book as Chakraborty has to establish both the city, its factions, what the djinn are and their history. That means that the pacing suffers at times as she has to lever in a lot of information and not all of that feels particularly natural. At the same time, to try and maintain tension Chakraborty heavily relies on characters deliberately concealing information – often promising to reveal it later and only then do so in part, which makes it feel unnatural.
Ultimately despite the issues, now that the world and its characters have been established, there’s a lot of potential in the story for the next book (not least in the political situation and with Nahri promising to take control of her life), which means that I will definitely be checking out the sequel.
THE CITY OF BRASS will be released in the United Kingdom on 8th March 2018. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.