Title: The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Narrator: Soneela Nankani
Running Time: 19 hours, 35 minutes
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Blood, gore, violence, war, genocide, casual mention of rape
Goodreads 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 . . .
Well folks, the end of 2017 is nigh and, quite foolishly, before I read The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, I thought my favorite books of 2017 had secured their spots on my list. Oh, how wrong I was…
From what I had heard from other #ownvoices Arab reviewers, I was in for a treat…And, let me tell you…THEY WERE SO RIGHT!
I loved everything about The City of Brass! From the characters to the world to the writing and everything in between and beyond–The City of Brass was pure perfection! It had everything that it needed to propel its way to the top of my list and clench the spot of my #1 TOP FAVORITE BOOK OF 2017!
Let’s start with the characters. Honestly, it took me two or three chapters to fall in love with them, but I did come around in the end. None of them, in my opinion, were particularly worthy of that wide-eyed, awe-inspired reverence which we tend to give heroes, the type of reverence that strips people of their flaws and in doing so strips them of their very humanity. But I think that’s part of why I liked the characters. In a way, the characters of The City of Brass are the most human characters I’ve ever read. Each of the trio of main characters is so complex, so multifaceted, managing to be a good person who a) is having to survive in less-than-ideal circumstances and b) is deeply flawed. Chakraborty flawlessly adds layer upon layer of complexity to each character, so that you no longer feel as though you’re reading about people, but about lives.
Nahri was cunning and savvy–a con woman who we first meet using her skills to “pretend” to heal patients (at least, that’s what she believes she’s doing). She’s fierce and intelligent, rough around the edges and not your typical heroine. But the hints of vulnerability we got from her eventually made me fall for her. Ali was the picture of a passionate youth first learning of the injustices of the world–ones which he comes to realize that he may have contributed to in even the slightest of ways. He has a good heart, but at times he is stubborn, self righteous, and too black-and-white in his thinking. But his incredible desire to do good made me fall for him in the end. Of the trio that I’d call main characters, Dara was the hardest to like, perhaps because we didn’t have a POV from his perspective and so therefore did not see the full breadth of his experience and his feelings. Dara was a warrior and a former slave, but he has done awful things in his past. And the thing is that his arrogance does not allow for him to at least show remorse for his past atrocities or question his beliefs. It made him hard to like and I’m hesitant even now to say if I like him–he’s one I want to wait on the later books before deciding on.
As for the world-building, it was absolutely wonderful and completely magical! You can tell that Chakraborty knows her stuff when it comes to The Middle East, from the aesthetics to the history to the language to the culture–you can tell that it is a subject that she loves dearly! As someone who is part Arab, I loved the hints of overarching Arab culture as well as the dashes of Arab sub-cultures that Chakraborty infused the story with! It was so lovely to read a story written by someone who loves our cultures as dearly as I do, it just made my heart sigh. The way in which Chakraborty builds and expands upon Arab culture is so creative and respectful and all-around magical. And the way in which she did so was A+! I never felt like info was being dumped upon me, instead, we experienced the wonders of the world of The City of Brass with the characters, through their senses.
Admittedly, when it comes to the plot, The City of Brass takes a bit of a slower route. The City of Brass is a thick tome, but Chakraborty uses each page, each line, each word, to build up the characters, the world, and the story. While the plot wasn’t always progressing at breakneck speed, I never felt like my time was wasted. Everything we learned and witnessed felt important and slowly but steadily built up to the climax. And when the payoff finally came, it was an explosive moment that threatened to tear my heart in two! It’s rare for me to feel super strongly about a climax, generally due to the fact that I can guess what’s gonna happen–BUT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN THIS TIME! Chakraborty kept me on my toes and wondering throughout! Another thing that I really appreciated was that The City of Brass didn’t end at the climax, which I find that a lot of YA books do. Instead, we got a few chapters of what happens after the climax! When the book ended I think that despite the fact that we’re left with questions that we need answered, the story of The City of Brass was completely wrapped up. So we’re left with this great sense of satisfaction, but also desperate desire for the next book.
The City of Brass is not always an easy book to love, thematically speaking. I’d say that the book’s wholehearted disregard of any sort of black-and-white thinking when it comes to right and wrong, to good and evil, place it solidly in the New Adult category over the YA category. This is a story about war. About one that has gone on so long that, though neither side remembers the beginning correctly, both sides believe they are in the right and are doing the noble thing. And Chakraborty never leans toward favoring one side above the other, choosing instead to allow readers to see how tangled the webs of conflict are.
I honestly could go on and on about how wonderful The City of Brass is, but I think I’m gonna leave it there, lest I get into spoilery territory. Just know that if there’s one 2017 release that you absolutely need to pick up, I’d say it should be this one.