Book Review: The City of Brass

  • Written by: S.A. Chakraborty
  • Series: 1 of 3
  • Pages: 576
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Publication Date: July 3, 2018
  • ISBN: 0062678116
  • ISBN13: 9780062678119
  • Genre: Fantasy

Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty—an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and Uprooted, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts.

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades 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 and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to question all she believes. For the warrior tells her an extraordinary 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 birds of prey are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In Daevabad, within 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 to be careful what you wish for….

I began reading S. A. Chakraborthy‘s book with a great deal of hope. The characters at first seemed to come off of the page and the world that was being built seemed alive with promise. Let me be utterly honest, I wanted to love this book; I already had the second one waiting in the wings.

The City of Brass proceeded to dash all my hope like dropped eggs against a rocky shoreline. She made the main character, Nahri, impervious to harm, as she self-heals. The main protagonist is then never in any danger, there is nothing at stake when the stakes are bodily harm to her – which is the only kind of real danger that Chakraborty put Nahri in. There was a moment when it was wondered if she could be overwhelmed by ghouls or if she might be able to be drowned by mythic water beasts but in the back of my mind, the other things she had self-healed from that should have been life threatening and weren’t…I was never once worried about her safety. As such, I never empathized very much with her as a character and she fell flat as a two dimensional woman con artist who finds herself in over her head, equally damned and saved by magic. The other main protagonist, Alizayd al Qahtani, also started off as very promising and was perhaps the only redeeming character in the book. If only he weren’t so boring and his story line so tried and true. The final main character, Darayavahoush e-Afshin, had no real character arc to speak of and served mostly as a foil through which Nahri became more and more boring as a less and less independent self-thinker.

The world building had dense politics and a beautiful magical city in which they took place. However, the way it was presented, the history which was explained, the dynamics of the races – it was purely an information dump that took place over the entirety of the book. History is filled with passion but this was worse than reading a high school essay on the court of King Henry VIII. There was no why to any of it, just presented to you as ‘this is the situation you need to be aware of, there’s a quiz later.’

Not to mention that she built a world of Djinn! This could have been epic! Sweeping! Amazing! but ultimately they were very human and they lived their lives in a very human way. Chakraborty spent an immense amount of time describing the city and making it sound remarkable but then she populated it with the mundane. Another build up of promises dashed against the rocks.

By the time I finally made it to the end of the book and all the excitement happened, my reaction was one of irritation. Now the author makes an effort at making something interesting happen like a large pay off of some kind? It might have worked, if I had cared one whit about what happened to anyone in the book at that point. Which I didn’t.

Overall, it was a large investment of energy to read and lots of flipping to the glossary in the beginning followed by a sagging middle and a pointless crescendo ending. It certainly passed the time but that was about all it did for me. Time I could have spent better reading a different book.

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