This book should be called “The City of Disappointment.”
I know, that sounds a bit harsh, but hear me out. I really wanted to like this book. Christ, I spent $12 on a goddamn Kindle copy, so I truly did want to enjoy it. Or at least get my money’s worth. And while I feel like I did get my money’s worth, I did not get much out of this book beyond that bare minimum level.
I first found this book on Amazon when I was just browsing for a new book (living that college life). The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty popped up in the recommended section under a book I previously enjoyed (I forget which one). Upon glancing through the synopsis, I decided to buy the kindle e-book, as the library did not have The City of Brass in stock.
Synopsis from Amazon.com:
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, and a mysterious gift for healing—are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.
But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri 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 more than 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 and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.
Spurning Dara’s warning of the treachery surrounding her, she embarks on a hesitant friendship with Alizayd, an idealistic prince who dreams of revolutionizing his father’s corrupt regime. All too soon, Nahri 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 . . .
Sounds intriguing, right? I thought so as well. I am always a sucker for stories reminiscent of Arabian Nights. The worlds and creatures are usually fascinating, and the setting provides tremendous room for world-builing and atmosphere. This setting was the best part of The City of Brass.
Plot: I don’t even know what to say for this section. Some parts of the story were outstanding, while some parts were the most unnecessary fluff I’ve ever read (I’m not joking; one hundred pages could have been shaved off without detriment). Without going into spoilers, I thoroughly enjoyed the first fifty or so pages of the book, but my interest slowly faded from there.
The introduction of eighteenth century Cairo was fantastic, and the intricate relationships of the different factions within Cairo at the time coud have written the entire book. Honestly, I wish Nahri just stayed in Cairo. Which is a damn shame, cause the world that Charkaborty builds in her book should have been fascinating. Different creatures like the Marid and Djinn (Sorry, Daeva) bring a fantastic, mystical atmosphere to the book. Unfortunately, the mythology behind the origins of the different djinn tribes and the historical motivations that fueled the conflict for most of the book were not fully explained. By the end of this over-five-hundred-page book, I was barely hanging on to who killed whom centuries ago, let alone feeling anything for the characters. Speaking of…
Nahri: My biggest disappointment, by far. I absolutely LOVED Nahri when she was first introduced to the reader at the beginning of the book. She is a swindler, not letting any sense of false pride or sentiment stop her from acheiving her goals. She had a no-nonsense personality, clearly capable of handling herself.
As soon as she leaves Cairo, her character starts a downward spiral. She is manipulated by pretty much every single character in the book and whines. Good Lord, does she whine. The entirety of her training for healing is downright painful. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that characters are not supposed to be perfect, and frustration is a natural response. But I swear, this girl whines about how she can’t heal anyone (or do anything, for that matter) for a significatn chunk of the book, all the while her assistant does most of the work and takes most of the crap. I’m just so sad about how this character turned out.
Dara: My second biggest disappointment. I read “sly” and “darkly mysterious” in the synopsis, and thought I was going to get something completely different than what I got. And that would be fine, if this character had a single purpose for the story. I swear that this character could have been removed from the book entirely with very few problems. His backstory is poorly explained to the point that I did not even understand what his personality was to begin with. At first he seemed dark and brooding, the goes to apologetic and a little sweet, to emotionally twisted, back to sweet, then ends up (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!) (YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED) kidnapping Nahri while threatening to kill her friend if she did not leave with him. Just because he did not agree with who she was marrying. WTF? And this is the main love interest? The worst part: Nahri still loves him and freaking protects him. WTF. This is not even the half of it, but I don’t feel like dealing with this bullshit. (End of spoilers).
Ali: This is the second POV for this book and ended up doing a reverse-Nahri (the technical term, of course). I started off wondering if I could just skip his chapters, but I ended up liking him the most out of the main cast. That is not saying much, but it is something. Ali goes from a rather timid youth to a more engaging young man, willing to even stand up to his father. One thing I did not understand was why the characters in the book addressed him as a “zealot” or “radical”. I could understand this in the first few POV chapters, but he quickly adapts his tune. I was surprised by how I grew to like Ali’s character, despite my initial grumblings.
Ghassan: I could not figure this character out. Maybe that’s a sign he was written well, but I am not sure. Ghassan, the king of Daevabad, oscillates from benevolence to kind of evil. He manipulates both of his sons constantly, purely to acheive his goals. While these goals have their merits, some of his actions are fairly despicable. This is not a bad thing, character-wise, but it makes it very difficult to feel anything towards him during the climax of the book. I didn’t love him, but I didn’t hate him. Take from that what you will.
Muntadhir: Like his father, I had difficulty untangling Muntadhir’s motivations. The son of Ghassan, brother of Ali, and emir of Daevabad, Muntadhir spends most of his days relaxing with women and drinks. He is jealous of Ali yet manipulates him quite thoroughly for most of the book. Overall, he was okay. At least he was consistent.
- One thing I noticed, especially in regards to Ali and his family, is that none of them were necessarily the antagonist. All three of them, the king included, had their own ways of accomplishing what they believed to be right. For that, I can forgive the character faults, as the sentiment and complexity was there. I just wished that Nahri and Dara had followed suit without the annoyance factor.
Writing: This is probably the strongest part of the book. The author, Chakraborty, clearly knows what she is doing. I cannot even imagine the amount of research that this book must have needed. Even considering the faults with The City of Brass, the environment and setting always felt solid. I just wish the two main characters and the plot could’ve been cleaned up, because those three elements are the main things clogging up this book. Ughhhhh! This book could have been amazing!
Cover: Do I even need to say anything?
The cover is beautiful, intriguing, and an apt indicator of the book’s contents. Gorgeous!
I don’t know if the problem was me or if the problem was the book. I applaud S. A. Chakraborty for tackling such a challenging subject matter, one that is very relevant and present in today’s society. However, it was all I could do to finish this book.
I will likely give the next book a shot, as this was the author’s debut, but I won’t hold my breath.