City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

“In what world do men and women pay the same price for passion?”

It’s been such a long time since I picked up a debut fantasy novel and was mind-blown as City of Brass did me. You don’t find a lot of books about Egyptians, their mythologies and the history of Arabs; the things that this book did to my Muslim heart are a starlight of explosion. This book was like I was immediately transported into the tales of Aladdin and the lamp, a journey through the Arabian Nights and oh boy, it was so damn good.

On the streets of Cairo, during the 18th century, Nahri doesn’t believe in magic; ignoring the powers she obviously have. She’s a con woman with unequaled talents and she’s well aware that what she practices on the streets of Cairo to survive – palm readings, zars, healings – are tricks, illusions and statement to the slight of her hands.

In a zar, Nahri spoke the long lost language of her ancestors – whom she knows nothing of – and accidentally summoned an equally sly, dark and mysterious djinn warrior to her side. Not existent in her childhood memories of tales and stories anymore, Nahri has to accept the magical world. When 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 Daevabad, old resentments are simmering behind gilded brass walls with six gates – one for each djinn tribe. Entering this world, Nahri learns the true meaning of power, magic and all about this whole cunning world. But her powers and talents cannot yet shield her from the cruel politics of the court in Daevabad. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for. 

listened to City of Brass on audible for about the first 400 pages, however the last 100+ were so overwhelmingly intense that I resorted to picking up my own copy – I needed something in my hands to through against the wall, my phone wasn’t up for the task I’m afraid.

“They shall control the winds and be lords of the deserts. And any traveler who strays across their land shall be doomed.” 

From the very first chapter, I knew this book will be worlds away different; the culture was different, the manners, the traditions, the conversation, the setting, it was all new to me in a fantasy book yet ones that are familiar to my heart – after all, I am Egyptian. To find a historical, fantasy novel talking about my world, my religion, my mythology, it brought me so much joy in my heart, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Shannon excelled in the execution of this novel, not one single detail felt amiss to me; she even tickled my curiosity to read more in our Arab history (job well done, Shannon!).

The world building was done in a kind of brick-on-brick kind of a situation. We were thrust in the streets of Cairo – which didn’t give me a culture shock or anything – but I imagine was a bit difficult to adjust to for others. Yet, I gotta say that Shannon made the transition quite easy, after a few pages, the tone of the world felt like something I’ve been reading about for years, felt familiar, understood and I was swept of my feet. The world easily progressed, we saw the humans’ side of it first; with all its struggles, hardships, … and then throughout circumstances we didn’t see coming, we got on the road towards the magical world, the City of Brass, Daevabad.

A world of djinn, efrits, ghouls, Nahids, marids sleeping in lakes, daevas enslaved in artifacts forever slaves to the humans masters wishes,  centuries old war between Daevas and ifrits, and djinn tribes. A rich world with endless details, that enthralled me on the spot, it was like I had a million direction to look at with never an ounce of confusion or boredom and my eyes sparkled at the magic of it. As fantastic as the world, the plot took a new level of outstanding; not only we read about political feud, but family, historical and magical ones. Added on top of the world, I believe that it gave this whole history a full picture – one that is in my believes is 90% close to the truth of how things were at the time. The story shows races, tribes, men in power, oppressing others, it spoke volumes! It manifested and underlined what men and women in power are truly capable of doing to their subjects, what cruelty and injustice they’re capable of.

The characters then were like the cherries on top of the cake, the last added taste to give an already delicious desert an extravagantly divine taste. The story being told from two POVs, we got to meet Nahri first.

Nahri – the female protagonist – is now on top of my favorite females list. Resilient, persistent, strong and sarcastic with an occasional appearance of her vulnerabilities. Her reaction to this new magical world was gold, she didn’t immediately fall head-over-heels for it, she didn’t swoon in the matter of seconds, she showed her fears, her concerns and voiced her own opinions with no shame. She was unbelievably relatable in her journey towards believing in herself and truly understanding her worth. She was down-to-earth, not some human-girl transformed into a shocking warrior in the matter of minutes, she asked for help when needed, she struggled with even holding a dagger and she accepted that her skills lies elsewhere and not in weapons, fights and war.

Our second protagonist is Prince Alizayd Al Qatani, the second son to King Ghassan. The youngest zulfiqar in generations, a badass warrior with a mind as sharp as a knife; unbelievably smart, and well contained – extremely contained I might say. Enjoying his chapters was a bit difficult at first, he’s the complete opposite on Nahri‘s in the matter of being loud, extrovert, reckless and such. The guy is kind, calm, caring and his manners and religious ways, give religion men a run for their money. But right about when the two perspectives started to mingle together, I started to see another side in Alizayd and I gotta I loved him.

“The bow in hand, he finally staggered up and glanced down the alley, obviously searching for whoever had – what had he said? – ‘called’ him? Though he didn’t look much taller than her, the vast array of weapons – enough to fight a whole troop of French soldiers – was terrifying and slightly ridiculous. Like what a little boy might don to pretend to be some ancient warrior.

A warrior. Oh, by the Most High… 

He was looking for her. Nahri was the one who had called him.” 

Right about the start of our story, Nahri summons the sly djinn warrior Darayavahoush e-Afshin and oh boy, the guy is terror walking on feet. Now that man shocked me, with a tattoo on his face marking him for what he is, weapons always at arms reach, a constantly staring gaze, a warrior on the battlefield analyzing, calculating everything 24/7. Dara‘s bloody history and slavery made my heart go out to him in moments of weaknesses, but he’s still got so much darkness around his character. There are still a lot more to know about him, a millennium history we still need unraveled.

With many more characters, adding voice to this #OwnVoices novel; a tale of a powerfully rich history and a world to mesmerize and marvel at, City of Brass is a novel to not be missed on. It’s an experience , a journey to embark upon and never want to detour from.

Now the torturing long wait for the second book begins, beware the cliffhanger!

City of brass – S. A. Chakarborty – Harper Voyger – ISBN: 9780062690951 – Paperback

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