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City of Brass
a Book Review of the Novel by S. A. Chakraborty
I first picked up The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty several years ago and then promptly put it down after 50 pages when a sexy djinn showed up and whisked the young naive main character away from her home. I rolled my eyes and thought: not another predictable fantasy novel about a “special” girl who never actively does anything but has a lot of exciting adventures that she only survives because she’s the main character. I stopped reading before I even realized that the novel is written from two perspectives, Nahri’s, the aforementioned suspiciously predictable female character, and Ali.
I decided to try The City of Brass again because of recommendations from two friends who both told me that the story is awesome. You should have seen them scoff when I said I’d tried to read it and hadn’t liked it.
The book does follow a young naive female character who is whisked away on a magical adventure, but it also has plot. The plot is not predictable and the ending is exciting because it flips expectations on its head. The beginning of the story is well-written but is like any generic fantasy novel, it really gets juicy later in the book.
The story follows two main characters, Nahri and Ali. Nahri is a 20-year-old thief and con artist who grows up in a generic middle eastern country (it’s not given a name). Nahri has secret a magical ability to heal, which she has used to gain what little money and status she can. She accidentally uses her magical powers to summon a Djinni, the sexy and well-muscled Dara.
Ali is the second son of a king; religion and faith guide his decisions. His story begins in Daevabad, the city of Djinn. Ali’s moral conscious has led him to donate his wealth to the shafit, the human-djinni mixed race group who are oppressed by his own family. Ali is torn between being loyal to his family and doing the right thing (blurgh). At least, it’s refreshing to read a book where the male character is self-righteous instead of the female character.
This book really starts getting interesting about half way through when deception and intrigue enter the scene. It quickly becomes obvious that the characters (and, consequently, the author) are a lot more intelligent and creative than the opening scenes lead one to expect. As the plot thickened, I ended up staying up til 12:30 am reading, which is crazy for me because I’m a “strictly asleep by 11pm” kind of gal.
I don’t love Nahri’s relationship with Dara. I’ll give it to Chakraborty, the couple’s conventional love story that seems obvious at the beginning of the novel is subverted as the story progresses. Still, why are young girls always attracted to 1000+ year old beings in fantasy novels? In the real world, people who are 80+ always talk about the good old days, so I expect it to be at least 10x worse in Dara’s case (in the book, the author does, in fact, describe multiple instances where Dara complains about how things used to be better when the Najid ruled Daevabad). Also, dating a 20-year old when you’re older than 26 violates the half-your-age-plus-seven rule, and is therefore in questionable taste.
Also, Is it just me, or is it weird that this book is named “The City of Brass” when Cassandra Clare, an established fantasy author who writes about a female character who is surrounded by sexy demon hunters, has a series where each book is called “City of …”.? I’m not sure whether this is an intentional nod to Clare’s novels, coincidence, or brilliant marketing.
There are obvious parallels between these two series that stem from the fact that both are fantasy series where the narrative switches between the perspectives of the characters. Also, they are both sooo dramatic, whether its because of relationship scandals, adults decreeing things the young characters don’t agree with, evil creatures coming out of nowhere and attacking, or evil plots with long-lost parents. Ok, now that I list them these books have a lot in common…
In essence, The City of Brass is about a race war and consequently, it has similar themes as other books that are also about race wars: Dune, Mistborn, Harry Potter. There is an oppressed group, in this case the shafit, and heros, Nahri and Ali, who observe the injustices and (sometimes) act to protect and change society. Nahri is the character born outside of the society who gives us a fresh perspective on the world, like Paul, Vin, or Harry. Ali and Nahri are both given the burden of changing society despite their own desires, also like Paul, Vin, or Harry. I liked Dune, Mistborn, and Harry Potter; and I also like The City of Brass. The themes aren’t new, but the setting is interesting, the characters are fun, and the relationships and plot progression are novel (see the pun there 😉).
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Whales in a Bottle Baby (WBB):
4/5 - A Tail for the Ages