Review/Rant: The City of Brass

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…

Characters:

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?

brass

The cover is beautiful, intriguing, and an apt indicator of the book’s contents. Gorgeous!

Score: 

 

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.

Score: 4.2

I will likely give the next book a shot, as this was the author’s debut, but I won’t hold my breath.

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Review: Rebel of the Sands

I finished this book approximately ten minutes ago, and holy shit, the Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton is amazing! I cannot even begin to describe the ride this book took me on while reading it. You know what sucks though? I probably won’t see a sequel until next year. I am already dying on the inside. The rest of this year is going to be horrible just because I have to wait. And while the end was not a complete cliff hanger or anything, I still want- no, I need- to hear the rest of the tale. Other wise I’ll go cry myself to sleep every night listening to C’est La Vie by ELP be very disappointed.

I suggest not even waiting to read the rest of this review. I cannot recommend this book enough and even though it is still right next to me from where I put it down after finishing it, I have to force myself right now to stop reading and write about it. But, if convincing is required, convincing I shall provide. The summary is as follows:

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female. 

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.

Hell yeah. Nothing like a gunslinger to get the blood pumping. I usually don’t like westerns, but the book has an Arabian Nights edge that I personally love in any book (see The Wrath and the Dawn Review). Can you tell by now that I love this book?

Plot: 

The world Amani (the main protangonist) lives in is unforgiving. As a girl, she has nothing. As a boy, however, she has the power of terrific aim and guts to keep her alive. The village of Dustwalk is some back-country shithole where the women hang if they are raped and guns are more prevalent than water. Amani grows up here before embarking on her journey that makes up the plot of this book. And, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained for every freaking word on every freaking page. After all, lying is a sin (lol inside jokes). The world of Miraji is expertly created, full of djinn and ghouls and Skinwalkers, and is fully capable of producing an individual as wild as Amani is. So, the plot is realistic in is surrealism, if that makes any sense. I love it, I love it, I love it.

Characters:

Amani: Alright, here we go. Amani. Is. Awesome. She has an unbelievable sense of self-preservation and will do whatever it takes to get her goals accomplished. She has a knack for guns and can hold her own against any man in a gun match. She can think on her feet and has instincts that keep her alive. There is nothing more to say. I would say that she is the best part of this book, but there is just so much good in it, I don’t even know if I can.

Jin: Amani meets Jin early on in the book in a pistol pit and from the very beginning you know there is something up his sleeve. I actually reread this book since I began writing this review and I liked Jin even more the second time around. He possesses most of the characteristics that allow Amani to survive in the desert, but has a certain distaste for it. So the question remains: if he doesn’t like the desert, why is he currently traveling in the desert? And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of the matter. I loved Jin as well, especially upon a second reading.

Tamid: As a character, Tamid was not present for a lot of the book. The only reason I mention him here is because he is brought up in the rest of the book numerous times, almost as a motif.

Ahmed: To many spoilers!!!! Gahhhh!!! I want to talk about these characters, but then I would give away twists. Short story is that Ahmed is an interesting man. I am not sure how I feel about him personally, but a well written enigma nonetheless.

Naguib: Talk about a spoiled whiner. This character is one of the may sons of the Sultan and is constantly clawing for what power he can get. While he is distasteful, he is convincing, so I do have to say that he is a good character.

Noorsham: When he was first introduced, I did not even realize he would be a supporting character. He is kind of glossed over, than introduced again, then dropped again, then picked back up again. Hopefully we will see more from this blind follower the next sequel, but I can safely say that this character is as important a reflection of real people as he is a reflection of the main protangists of the series.

Writing Style:

Holy shit, this is Hamilton’s first novel? No. Freakin’. Way. She way she told this story was brilliant. If the prose had been to sophisticated, it would have stuck out from the rugged nature of the world and protangonist. If it was too rough, on the other hand, it would have distracted the reader a bit too much. The writing, I am happy to declare, masterfully blends the two, at times being metaphoric and beautiful, and other times the tough language of a girl who’s lived a hard life. Simpy brilliant.

“Tell me that and we’ll walk away. Right now. Go and save ourselves and leave them to die. All you’ve got to do is say the word. Tell me that that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand to the sea. Just say it.”

My story.

I’d spent my life dreaming of my own story that could start when I finally reached Izman. A story written in far-off places I didn’t know how to dream about yet. And on my way there, I’d slough off the desert until there was nothing left of it to mark the pages.

Only Jin was right. I was a desert girl. Even in Izman I would still be the same Blue-Eyed Bandit with a hanged mother, who left her friend dying.

Bonus points for first person, present tense 🙂

Cover: The cover is pretty cool, too. It is accurate, pretty, and intriguing to boot.

rebel

Final Thoughts: 

This is, quite honestly, one of the best books I have read in a long time, possibly ever. There is no way I can see some one not liking this book; it is just so versatile. On one end it is a western, on one end it is an Arabian journey, on one end it is a rebellion story, and on another it is a redemption story. There simply is something for everyone.

Score:

9.2

This book is now in my top ten, if not top five. Read it! Like, right now! Just go and read this; you’ll thank me later.

*I may have to have a separate post about one part of this book in particular that I thought was amazing. However, it occurs near the end, and I would have to go into spoilers, and there is no f***ing way that I want to spoil this book for any one. I would not wish that on my worst enemies. So, I will clearly label the post as spoilerific and discuss this later. Toodles!