Hardcover, 528 pages
Expected publication: November 14th 2017 by Harper Voyager
The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty is a feast of the senses. As an opening sentence to this review, that should hopefully gain your attention. I inhaled this book in a matter of hours and as soon as I was done, I immediately wanted to read it again. This happens very infrequently if at all.
But before anything else, here’s the official summary:
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 . . .
If you think you have read all there is about djinns, The City of Brass will prove you entirely and loudly wrong. To be quite honest, I am not entirely where to begin writing about this book. How exactly to articulate how much I loved it.
Okay, let’s do this. The novel gives you Nahri, a protagonist you can immediately get behind. Yes, okay, her intentions are slightly suspect but a girl’s gotta eat, you know? You can’t begrudge her one lie or a hundred–as long as it gets food in her tummy and a roof over her head. And okay, so what if she is taking part in a ritual she has no business taking part in? It pays a lot and Nahri needs (and likes) money. So when she accidentally summons this djinn who wants to kill her in most painful ways, she has no choice but to trust the other djinn who well, he doesn’t seem to want to kill her. Just get rid of her.
And that’s how Nahri meets Dara and her life changes in the kind of dramatic way you only see in movies. With him, Nahri leaves the human world behind for a world unlike anything she has imagined. Where creatures of legend walk the streets and humans are more myth than reality. Nahri finds truths about herself that to be honestly she slightly suspected. She meets new people, has new experiences, and is told in extremely unpleasant ways of her destiny–chosen for her, of course.
The City of Brass may be Shan’s debut novel but the skill with which she wields her pen and infuses life into her story will leave you gasping for more. Her characters resonate and her scenes are crafted so beautifully. One such scene is cinematic in scope and you can just see the river rising like a serpent behind the protagonists as they flee for safety.
Another very wonderful thing about the book is how complex every single character in the novel is. There is no one person who is wholly bad or good. All of them scale the grey area where their actions may not always skew on the side of good but their motives are always understandable, always anchored in a way that the reader will understand and perhaps can empathize with. There is no one you can hate with the passion of a thousand burning suns though Ali sometimes came close.
A skein of humour saves the narrative from becoming too serious and also reveals a facet of Nahri that I adored. She’s funny.
“He was beautiful–strikingly, frighteningly beautiful, with the type of allure Nahri imagined a tiger held right before it ripped out your throat.”
“…Absolutely not. We don’t eat meat.”
“What? Why not?” Nahri complainled. Meat had been a rare luxury on her limited income in Cairo. “It’s delicious!”
“It’s unclean.” Dara shuddered. “Blood pollutes. NO Daeva would consume such a thing…”
…”So you are telling me I should hide my kebabs.”
The City of Brass has everything you could want in a book and more. Tightly wrought court politics, sympathetic characters, a lovable heroine, and a toe curling romance. You need to read it.