Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)

Genre: Fantasy, Historical

Publisher: Harper Voyager on November 14, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

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.

  

I’ve read and loved a lot of historical fantasy in my time, but few are as accomplished as S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, THE CITY OF BRASS.

On the streets of 18th century Cairo, Nahri gets by using her unusual gifts to perform various rituals to placate spirits and deities she doesn’t believe in at the behest of her customers. But she soon finds that all the stories she scoffed at are indeed true…and her abilities are more than merely unusual. Whisked away from Cairo by a mercurial djinni or “daeva” called Dara, Nahri gets a crash course in her illustrious magical heritage but she’s far from prepared for the intrigue that awaits her in Daevabad, the City of Brass.

I couldn’t help but love Nahri, with her street smarts, resilience, and her searing wit. She had me laughing aloud and wincing in sympathy at her various personal and political missteps in Daevabad, and I found her incredibly relatable. Admittedly I found it more difficult to connect with the young Prince Ali, a son of the most powerful family in Daevabad whose sanctimonious attitude and naiveté bordered on the unbelievable at times. But his character growth is realistic and when the reasons for his behaviour eventually become clear, Ali’s outlook is much easier to understand. After all, who hasn’t naively believed whatever they were told and trusted all the wrong people at some point?

This is a world that will likely feel familiar to many readers, with its religious, linguistic and political tensions and nuances drawn from real-life history; despite the historical setting, I think that Nahri and Ali’s struggles and experiences are very timely for contemporary readers. From grappling with the tenets of religion versus the way they are practiced, with the realities of privilege and power, and the subjugation of the mixed blood human-daeva people known as shafit, the injustices witnessed by Nahri and Ali are just as much the problems of today as they are of 18th century Daevabad.

But have no fear, it isn’t all doom and gloom – there’s magic and wonder aplenty to be found in THE CITY OF BRASS. Chakraborty has created a rich, sumptuous world with complex magic and many new-to-me creatures. Following Nahri as she experiments with her healing abilities and other magic was a wild ride, full of ups and downs. Unlike many fantasy novels, Nahri’s abilities aren’t mastered through convenient training montages or a hyper-speed development of power, but through a slow grind and considerable failure. Ali isn’t as connected to the magical side of things, but we do get to know the feel of the city and its inhabitants through his eyes as he makes a number of ill-fated attempts to make Daevabad a better place for shafit.

While I’ve read a fair number of books that feature djinn, this depiction of them is by far the most creative and detailed I’ve yet to encounter. Particularly impressive is the way that Chakraborty tackles the abuse and trauma suffered by the daeva who are forced into slavery by their human masters; she pulls no punches in this regard, and I was both moved and disturbed by Dara’s experiences as a slave. It isn’t all happy fun wish time, y’all. Go figure!

Complex, moving, funny, magical, and thought-provoking, THE CITY OF BRASS has it all. S.A. Chakraborty absolutely blew me away with her debut, and I can’t wait to see what she has for us next.

Have you read THE CITY OF BRASS? What was your favourite debut novel of 2017? Let me know in the comments!

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  • OMG, want it now

  • I regret not requesting this for review, everyone seems to love it! Maybe I can make time for it next year??😁

  • Greg Hill

    I always was fascinated by the City of Brass legends and djinnis and all that, so when I saw this book I was like cool! And now that reviews are coming out I’m glad to see that it’s good! And it’s nice that Nahri’s abilities develop slowly, with lots of failure or hiccups along the way- sounds a lot more realistic.

    Glad this one was good!!

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    Historical fantasy is quickly becoming one of my favorite genres, and the description of this story is more than intriguing. What I believe I will love is the parallel between present issues and those depicted in the novel: when an author can work these details into a compelling story, the result is always a fascinating one. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • This sounds really cool! I especially like the setting – seems like it’s pretty unique!

  • I’m so pleased this is as wonderful as I hoped it would be — and the blurb hints at — if not more so. This sound like an utter gem!

  • I’ve heard nothing but praises for this one so far, and I’m super-excited for the book! I love the sound of the characters and especially with nearly 600 pages, this seems like it could be a very intriguing, unique fantasy. ALSO, I adore the cover. Fantastic review!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

  • Yaay so happy you enjoyed it, it was one of my 2017 favorites too! I can’t imagine what will happen in Book 2.

  • I haven’t read The City of Brass but it sounds really good! Now that I think about it I don’t think I read much fantasy at all this year…. I will definitely have to change that in 2018! Also I love the wee sticker things you use at the start of your review. That’s such a fun idea!

  • This is one review book that I have yet to get around to but this bodes well. I’m so glad to see you loved it!

  • I loved this book too! I thought it was was one of best surprises of the year 🙂

  • Sounds like this was super well-written! And I like when characters actually practice and learn and sometimes fail instead of being super amazing with their magic immediately. I haven’t really cared for reading about djinn in the other books I’ve read about them, but the way you described this one has me really interested and thinking I may need to give djinn another chance!

  • I really loved this book so I am delighted to read you did too. This was one of my favorites from 2017 for sure. I can’t wait for the next book. Great review!

  • Lynn Williams

    This book is really impressive and it’s really difficult to believe it’s a debut – the writing is so lovely. I had a good time reading this and that twisty turny ending makes me long for the next book.
    Lynn 😀

  • Finally I can read your review because I’ve read this book and written my own review! I was nodding along throughout this because I totally agree with you. This book was so good and the troubles in this book are just as relevant to today as they were in this fantasy world. I love when books do that. I completely missed in my post how the struggle of Dara overcoming the horrors of his period as a slave! The slavery of the daeva was awful and the fact so many were driven to insanity by it was worse. The fact this was a debut was shocking as it felt like a book my an expert author. I cannot wait to read the sequel.