Hello humans! I’m beyond thrilled to be bringing you my review of S. A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass. This was one of the many HUGE books I read in March and it felt like such an achievement. At 533 pages this book is no small fry but every page is worth it! (Aside: is there anything worse than powering through a huge book and finding it’s not that good? It bums me out for sure!). This book is a retelling of/is inspired by a story by the same name from 1001 Nights which only adds to my theory that this is the year of all the retellings! The City of Brass is a phenomenal example of writing an epic fantasy novel and I am finally ready to share my thoughts!
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.
Firstly, I want to talk about the setting(s). This book starts off in Cairo, a place which I rarely read in fantasy novels, at least I rarely read it done well. The Cairo of our main character is described in rich and wonderful detail without feeling like it drags the action down. You get a real sense of the heat and bustle of the city. What I also enjoyed was that Chakraborty decided to set this book in the eighteenth century. It was a wonderful choice of period and, while a lot of this book takes place outside the human world, I’m expecting to see more of this period bleeding through in the later books in the trilogy.
For a fantasy novel of such length, I was surprised that this book only had two points of view. We jump between Nahri and her discovery that the world is far more complicated than she ever realised and Ali, a young ‘prince’ trying to align his conscience with what people tell him is his duty. I was initially worried I would get a bit bored of reading these two perspectives but the story itself is ever changing and wonderfully complex so I felt in the middle of the action the entire time!
Worldbuilding! You can’t write a book this long without some serious worldbuilding. Chakraborty does a phenomenal job of setting up not only the human world but also a kindred fantasy world. I adored the way she described the city and those within it, I thought it made for a rich backdrop on which the story could take place. When I saw how long this book was I was scared I was going to get bogged down in describing the minutia of a fantasy world which is fun for a while but not for over 500 pages. I think this has just the right amount of detail that you can immerse yourself in the world and thus make the story feel so much more real. Top notch worldbuilding.
There is a lot of politics in this book, which is sometimes something that I don’t get on with, I get a bit fed up with all the double talk and trying to seize power and just want to get on with things. In this story, I think the power dynamics are clearly set out in such a way that the politics is easy enough to follow which in turn keeps things interesting for the reader.
There is romance in this story, and yes, it is the forbidden kind. While it does take up quite a bit of the story at times, overall this story is about building relationships, between individuals and between the people of an entire city. There is a theme of trust throughout the novel and I don’t think you can explore that theme fully without also exploring the trust you need to form a romantic attachment.
If you’ve got some time on your hands, or you read incredibly fast, or you just want a challenge I can highly recommend picking up The City of Brass.
My rating: 5/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
What long books are you planning on reading this year? Let me know in the comments below!