City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Publication date: 08 March 2018
Genre: Adult fantasy
Page count: 544 pages
Format: Hardback/digital proof
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
Ever since catching a glimpse of City of Brass’s gorgeous cover, I knew I needed it. Something about it caught my eye and I thought, ‘yep, I’m going to love that book’. I ended up with two copies of this book, my own finished copy and a digital ARC, and I’m not even upset — it turned out to be the sumptuous, gorgeous fantasy novel I hoped it would be.
Among the bustling markets of eighteenth century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles and foreign invaders alike.
But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert, full of enchantment, desire and riches. Where magic pours down every street, hanging in the air like dust.
Many wish their lives could be filled with such wonder, but not Nahri. She knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes…
Be careful what you wish for.
To start off, City of Brass is a dense book — there’s no way around it. Coming in at 544 pages in hardcover, it’s certainly a hefty tome to carry around. But packed within the numerous pages is a beautiful and complex fantasy world. The world building in this book is phenomenal. Apparently Chakraborty is a history buff and it really shows in the world of City of Brass. I find that the best fantasy worlds have a strong history or mythology behind them and this book had both. Now, some readers will not like the level of detail she goes into. If you didn’t like the amount of detail George R. R. Martin puts into food in A Song of Ice and Fire, the descriptions of clothing in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, or the complex cultural structures Brandon Sanderson builds in the Stormlight Archives, this may not be the book for you. While I enjoyed the plot, my favourite part of this book was picking apart the dense history of Daevabad, the political and religious beliefs, and the varying cultures of the groups of citizens. I’m always so impressed when an author can skillfully weave this kind of detail into their story and have it feel natural, rather than an info dump. I’ll admit that I got confused and had to have a little help sorting out some of the politics — shout out to Naima on Twitter for helping me — but that didn’t detract from my love of the book. I will say that I wish she had been a little more clear early on when laying out the political tensions that are so key to the plot.
The characters in City of Brass are all complex. I don’t think there are any truly likeable characters in this book — everyone has some shades of grey to them. Our three main characters are Nahri, Dara, and Ali — Nahri and Ali serve as our points of view. Nahri is our heroine. She’s young, feisty, prickly, and stubborn to a fault — did I mention she’s also a con artist swindling the wealthy occupiers of Cairo? I absolutely adored Nahri as a character. She has a serious backbone, is incredibly intelligent, and her sense of humor carries her through the events of the book. She’s far from perfect, in fact there were moments in which I wanted to shake her, but that’s what I loved about her.
I don’t want to say much about our two male leads, however I really liked them both. Again, they’re incredibly complex — Ali has his extreme religious views and Dara has his terrible past and blossoming interest in Nahri — but that’s what makes them so fascinating and fun to read about. They’re so different, but also so similar in many ways and I loved the dichotomy they created in their interactions with Nahri. I liked that Chakraborty chose Ali as a POV character rather than Dara, who seemed like the obvious choice to me, because Ali’s strict religious convictions and his social status make him an incredibly interesting character. I have so many questions about both characters and I cannot wait to read more about them.
One final note — I have heard some people say that this book has instalove in it and I don’t think that’s true. There’s absolutely instant attraction, but Nahri is rightfully wary of Dara. Trust is a theme in this book and because of that, I don’t think this qualifies as an instalove relationship.
City of Brass is a beautiful, atmospheric novel that will sweep the reader away with its lush storytelling, dense history, and intriguing politics. If you love non-European settings, political backstabbing, court intrigue, a bit of romance, independent ladies, and lots of magic and magical beings, you’ll adore City of Brass. It’s not the easiest read and many have said that it’s slow to start, but I think it’s absolutely worth your time. The only thing holding this book back from a five star rating is the fact that I had some confusion about the basic politics and social relationships that are key to the book (probably because I devoured the book instead of savouring it).
Want to purchase City of Brass? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):
Have you read City of Brass? What did you think? Is it in your TBR? Do you love that cover as much as I do? Let me know!