Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

I picked up The City of Brass on whim with the intent to only read the first chapter while trying to determine to my next read. To my surprise, I read the first 80 pages that night and ended up discovering one of my favorite fantasy books of the year.

About the Book

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…(via Goodreads)

Review

There’s so much left unsaid and unknown to the reader by the end of The City of Brass, but the intricate politics set off by an extremely lush world were enough to my keep me engrossed from start to finish. 

I was hooked from the very first page of this book, after we met our main character, Nahri. She’s doing whatever it takes to survive in 18th century Cairo, and has become quite good at her schemes, one of which is presented to us in the opening chapter. I enjoyed how the author took her time in introducing Nahri and her surroundings to the reader, despite the fact that we know she’ll eventually be whisked away into the fantasy world of Daevabad. That intentional approach made Nahri’s eventual journey to the mythical city all the more interesting to read since we know just how much she’s giving up. This really kept me invested and fully plugged into her story. I loved it!

There’s also nothing that gets me more invested in a book than reading about a protagonist that knows who they are to their core, but has a background cloaked in mystery (That’s actually key element in one of my favorite fantasy books, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And while I think a lot of fantasy novels make an attempt at this approach, we’re mostly beat over the head with explanations instead of being left to revel in the mystery of it all, so I loved that S.A. Chakraborty really took us there.). The same can be said about the character, Dara, who I loved just as much. This really spoke to my personal taste, and it allowed me to focus on other elements of the story that were crafted extremely well such as the unique magical abilities, mythical creatures, and complex political intrigue. The fact that we know next to nothing about the origins of either Nahri or Dara made reading about their distinctive personalities and various missteps even more interesting to me. I can’t wait to learn more about the both of them in the next installment.

Alizayd, our second protagonist, was just as intriguing to read about–and contrasted well with Nahri’s point of view since we know more about his familial history. It’s not often that I enjoy both perspectives in a multi-POV fantasy book, but The City of Brass crafted the perfect balance between the two.

This book is also a masterclass in showing not telling when it comes to fantasy world building. There’s a lot that we discover about Daevabad through Ali’s chapters and his observations of the city and the court which I thought was extremely well done. This approach really brought me into the world instead of over-explaining everything, so I was on the edge of my seat when Ali and Nahri’s respective POVs finally intertwined. 

Overall, I loved every minute of my reading experience with The City of Brass, and I’m so glad that I finally picked it up. I still have so many questions, so I can’t wait to see how this world continues to expand in the sequel. This series has quite the revered reputation, and after reading this first book, I can definitely see why.

My Ratings

Star Scale: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (4.5 stars)

Grade Scale: A+

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