Goodreads: The City of Brass
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy #!
Published: November 14, 2017
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade 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.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new 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 hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind 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 be careful what you wish for…
The City of Brass is a rich, complex novel that takes readers to a world where magic is rife but so is prejudice, danger, and scheming. It’s an adventure novel, a fantasy book, a story about people who are oppressed and people who abuse their power and people who are just trying to do their best through it all. It’s fascinating, but it’s also a bit overwhelming, as I discovered when I tried to explain the premise of the book to a friend and…couldn’t. There’s so much going on, so many different versions of the same story, so much information that is withheld or missing that things get a bit confusing. I enjoyed the book , but I was also completely prepared to just read City of Brass and never read the rest of the series.
The first sticking point for me was the two points of view in the story, Nahri’s and Ali’s. Both are well-developed. The characters have distinct voices, and both have complex story lines. My issue is that their stories took so long to begin to intersect in any meaningful way that for a long while I felt as though I were reading two entirely separate books. This may be less of a problem in the second book (and was even less of a problem in the second half of this book), but the wait for things to come together was frustrating.
I also just largely found the book confusing, and much of my enjoyment came from deciding I was going to let all the confusion flow over me and ignore it as best as I could. Part of this is intentional. The author has built a complex world with an incredibly complex society and political system and history. Worse, however, is that everyone has a different version of what happened during historical events and even what’s happening now in the present. On top of that, information is deliberately hidden from the characters (and the reader), so you have partial half-stories that may contain bits of truth but no full narrative. Of course, one could argue this is a strength of the book. It means the reader is basically in the role of Nahri, who is just learning about the world of the djinn and getting information in bits and pieces and must make sense of it all. Arguably, it also reflects real life, where what is true and what is the full story of any event can take research and a lot of thought. However, it is also (again) frustrating to read 600 pages and consistently have the sense you only know half of what is going on.
So, I was going to call this book good and not great and move on with my life–until I got to the final chapters. Wow, do both the author and the characters really come into their own here. A book that was alright suddenly had a major turn of events here and made me really, really want to know what happens next. The cast of characters also more fully begins to expand beyond the two or three main characters, and I think the secondary characters (who, frankly, often seem more interesting) will get more of a chance to shine in book 2, as well. I want the political games and scheming to continue, and I want to see who wins. (And, fascinatingly, because the characterization is so complex, I don’t even know who I want to win.)
If you like complex fantasy with rich settings and morally grey characters, you’ll probably like The City of Brass. Just give it a chance to get going.