The City of Brass Review: A Rich Middle-Eastern Fantasy with a Magical City

May 13, 2021 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

The City of Brass Review: A Rich Middle-Eastern Fantasy with a Magical CityThe City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Published by Harper Voyager on July 3rd 2018
Source: Purchased
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic
Amazon | Book Depository | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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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 . . .

Having had The City of Brass on my radar ever since it’s release, I’ve attempted to read it previously on audiobook with no success. So when we picked it for The Name of the Book Club’s August book, I was keen on finally sitting down and reading this hyped book – especially after hearing it has been optioned for Netflix.

A healer, djinn and rebel prince

The first few chapters intrigued me, as it told a story of Nahri, a con-woman and a healer who encounters a daeva warrior (or a djinn), and decide to travel to Daevabad together. Their wariness for each other towards the start and the way they grew to “tolerate” one another was definitely a highlight, but during this stage, the plot slows to a major crawl. It took me ages to get past the travelling chapters, as it builds a detailed backstory of their backgrounds and how the daeva became oppressed.

Here, we alternate chapters with Ali, a prince who has a penchant for economics and analysis, but who’s flaws are his lack of experience and unwavering moral compass. It was interesting reading about his political ambitions as he aligns himself with a shafit group within Daevabad – an oppressed group of mixed bloods who are living in near poverty. I’m always down for royalty who are willing to question everything they’ve been raised to believe, which is exactly what we got from Ali.

A rich, intriguing world with Middle Eastern Mythology

The world building was rich and intriguing, and I could clearly picture the golden, sandy dunes, the numerous magical creatures they encountered within and the bustling, hectic city of Daevabad. If anything, I think the slow pace of the book could be attributed to the rich, detailed world-building, as the author takes time to build the setting and the history between the daevas, shafit, humans and the various tribes within the city. The magic and lore of this world is incredible, and I love how it draws inspiration from Muslim and Islamic history, with elements of different mythology. What a rich and beautiful setting.

As we hear from Ali and his ruling family, and the hard decisions they’ve had to made to stay in reign, we also hear about their precarious position due to the tensions between tribes. There is a lot of complex, political intrigue leading to how they’ve won the throne, and through this, Ali and his brother Muntadhir make many difficult decisions on behalf of their father. With Ali’s character, we see how personal ethics and struggles can have an effect on a ruling family and how the decisions he makes based off this could have dire consequences for the city.

The extremely slow pacing

Although I enjoyed The City of Brass and the rich, beautiful setting, I struggled with the incredibly slow pace of the book. A lot of care and attention was taken into the lore, history and political world-building, and I found like the plot and character building took a back seat. It’s not the type of book you can read quickly without letting a lot of the detail sinking in – hence why I couldn’t listetn to it on audiobook – and I found myself putting it down for weeks and was in a reading slump because of this. I also felt like some of the chapters could’ve definitely been condensed, with a lot of detail that could’ve been left out.

However, quite a few people urged me to push through the book and I’m really glad I finished it in time for book club.

The City of Brass tells a story of magic, segregation and royalty set in the magical city of Daevabad. It draws upon Muslim and Islamic history, with some fantastical mythological elements. With lots of political intrigue, shifting alliances and some fascinating characters leading the charge, this is a rich, dense fantasy that you’ll be able to sink your teeth into.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The City of Brass is available from all Australian bookstores or from The Book Depository.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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