“The City of Brass” by S.A. Chakraborty #BookReview

Georgia Kostopoulou


I couldn’t wait to read this book, and now that I have finally done, I want more! Thankfully, books 2 and 3 are on my shelves, so that won’t be a problem! I love reading about Middle East and I love historical fiction as well. I love reading stories with magic and I love mythology too. And let me tell you, The City of Brass had it all, plus a smart female main character, surviving all by herself in a strict patriarchic era. It’s a sure success story and it was more than that.

Nahri is a young woman that lives out of her little business of healing. In the eighteenth century Cairo, the natives are struggling to make do under someone else’s rule. Before it was the Ottomans. Now it is the French. Cairo is not theirs, but there is not much they can do at the moment. But, it being Cairo, the city has a big market and merchants of all kinds. People keep streaming the bazaar looking for goods to buy or sell. Others are looking to improve their health and get rid of whatever illness they believe they have. And this is where Nahri comes in the picture. But she knows she is not a real healer. She knows she doesn’t have magic. All she has is a bunch of tricks that help her put bread on the table without making her life in Cairo extremely safe or secured. All she wants is for one day to be able to leave the city, but as the saying goes…

“Be careful what you wish for…”

I just loved how the story was told from two different point of views. The first one was from Nahri, where we get to see how her life is and how she makes do, using charm and distraction in order to achieve her goals. Her ability of reading characters really helps her, as her ability to read a body and learn languages, but as it turns, this is not all she can do. As she performs a ritual to send away a spirit, something she has done several times before and something that isn’t real, but just a show, she actually feels a presence there. From that moment on, her life changes as she is actually being hunted by an ifrit, while at the same time she summons an ancient daeva (djinn) warrior that can protect her. Darayavahoush, or just Dara, decides to take Nahri to Daevabad, where she can be safe, as she is clearly not just human.

“You’re some kind of thief, then?”
“That a very narrow-minded way of looking at it. I prefer to think of myself as a merchant of delicate tasks.”
― S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass

Daevabad is a magical hidden city and home to the daevas and other djinns. Nahri is being welcomed in the palace by the ruler of the whole Daevastana, Ghassan al Qahtani. His two sons and daughter are not really happy with the newcomer but they have to welcome her. Soon, Nahri starts to spend a lot of time with the youngest son, Alizayd al Qahtani, learning to read and trying to understand how things work in Daevabad, but she misses Dara. Ali’s is the second point of view we get to have, which provides us with some more insight on the city and the different tribes there, the intrigues that one expects in every palace and the relationships between the different tribes and authority. Anther very useful view we get from Ali is about the relationships and the fragile balances inside the palace itself.

“Because I am shafit. That I can wield my magic better than a pureblood, that the sheikh here could spin intellectual circles around the scholars of the Royal Library – that is proof that we’re not so different from the rest of you.” He glared at Ali. “It’s not a thing I mean to hide.”
― S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass

The author has done a wonderful job in creating her magical world. It takes some time in order to build all the world, the tribes and how they interact, the city itself and the history that led to the current situation in Daevabad. That part is really important in order to understand what’s in stake for each party and how things may move forward from that point on. I really enjoyed the history and mythology part and then I was able to understand every action that took place afterwards, as well as the hidden agendas.

“Nahri always smiled at her marks.”
― S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass

I loved the storyline and the secrets of Nahri’s hidden identity. I really liked Nahri as a character. She is a survivor and she always finds a way to stay safe and away from troubles, or at least big troubles. She picks her battles wisely and she respects those that respect her as well. She can understand when people play games behind her back and she will use that information when needed. Dara’s character is that of the warrior, the defender of the people and the all-mighty daeva. HE is very powerful but he is not all innocent. He has his dark past too, one he is not proud of, but he is trying to leave the past behind.

“You’re young,” he said quietly. “You have no experience with what happens to people like us during a war. People who are different.”
― S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass

It’s a story that talks about religion and fanaticism. It talks about injustice and power over the week. It talks about patriarchy and discrimination between men and women, between one tribe and the other. It talks about racism. And it talks about giving, about those who want to help and give all they can. It’s a wonderful story!

“In what world do men and women pay the same price for passion?”
― S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass



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