Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

As epic fantasy novels go, it doesn’t get much better than The City of Brass! Set partly in ancient Cairo, it’s a richly diverse and beautifully descriptive novel, and even better, it’s the first in a series! The Kingdom of Copper is out now and The Empire of Gold is due in 2020!

TL;DR An Aladdin-esque fantasy with djinn warriors, elemental spirits and a smart, sassy con-woman. Nahri accidentally conjures a mysterious djinn warrior during a supposedly fake exorcism, and ends up being hunted by fire spirits across the Egyptian desert. When they escape into the legendary city of brass, Daevabad, Nahri discovers a history she never knew existed. One in which she and her ancestors are deeply entangled…

The City of Brass S A Chakraborty`
5 stars

Trying to make a living as a woman alone on the streets of Cairo isn’t easy, but Nahri has always survived on her wits. She uses her ability to read people, and a sort of ‘sixth sense’ for what ails them, to pray on the gullible, weak and desperate.

Nahri cons rich Ottoman nobles on the streets of Cairo, performing fake palm readings, healings and exorcisms. It’s all an elaborate performance to make money, until one day Nahri accidentally conjures a real djinn, who drags her across Egypt to a hidden, magical city. Her abilities make her a target and a spectacle, but her arrival in Daevabad, the city of brass, sparks more than just intrigue. Unrest has been building between the residents for centuries, and Nahri’s appearance might just light the fire of rebellion in them.

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The City of Brass focuses on three main characters whose lives and stories weave together to create a captivating and shocking depiction of life in Daevabad:

  • Nahri, the courageous, sceptical and self-sufficient con-woman, fighting for survival in the human world;
  • Dara, the centuries-old djinn warrior who is conjured by Nahri and escorts her to Daevabad to face her true destiny (and his own); and
  • Alizayd (Ali), the youngest son of the king, in training to be his elder brother’s ‘Qaid’ (captain of the royal guard).

By following these three through the novel, we get to see events from every angle and understand the actions and motivations of both the ruling class and the rebellious civilians, which is crucial in a novel of such rich culture and history. If we only saw Nahri’s perspective – as with many portal fantasies where we experience the new, thrilling world alongside the protagonist – we’d miss out on a lot of the finer details and political intricacies of Chakraborty’s world.

I absolutely loved being immersed in the Middle Eastern culture that inspired the story, I haven’t read many novels set in Africa or Arabia and it was really refreshing to find a fantasy story that wasn’t based in Europe or America. I’ve recently read An Ember in the Ashes, and have Children of Blood and Bone and Rebel of the Sands on my TBR, so it’s amazing to see more diverse characters and stories from different cultures being published. Chakraborty does a phenomenal job of creating an imaginative and stunning backdrop, mingling history and fantasy, and a compelling story that combines themes of family, loyalty, politics, love and revenge.

If you’re bored of the usual fantasy settings (dark forests and magic schools still have their place, but it’s nice to try something new every now and then) then you can’t go wrong with The City of Brass. Pick it up if you love a brave, morally-grey female protagonist and a lush magical world with more history than you could shake a wand at.

I’m currently listening to The Kingdom of Copper on audio book, and loving it. Can’t wait for the third and final book to come out next year!

Lyndsey

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Review: Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

Excuse me while I do a happy dance, because this isn’t the final book in the series! I was absolutely expecting the series to come to an end at the conclusion of Escaping from Houdini, but I was wrong. According to Goodreads, book four will be the last, so we’re getting one more instalment, people!

Check out my review of Hunting Prince Dracula to find out what I thought of the previous two books in the series (I realised I never reviewed Stalking Jack the Ripper whilst writing my review for book two, but you can see how many stars I gave it!).

Also, spoilers ahead for books one and two, so stop right here if you haven’t read them yet. Seriously, don’t read any further.

You rebel.

TL;DR Audrey Rose and Thomas jump on a cruise liner to New York and their next case, but as per usual, murder and mystery follow them at every step. Entertained each evening by the Moonlight Carnival, guests begin dropping like flies in increasingly gruesome and theatrical ways. Can Wadsworth and Cresswell solve the murders before the killer’s grand finale?

Escaping from Houdini

4.5 stars

This book had one of my biggest pet peeve tropes as a central plot point, but as you can see, that didn’t stop me loving it. (I won’t say which trope for spoilers’ sake, but if you feel the same, let me know in the comments!)

It starts off with Audrey Rose and Thomas completely smitten with each other, looking forward to a pleasant transatlantic cruise, chaperoned by Audrey’s uncle Dr. Jonathan Wadsworth and Mrs Harvey (and her notorious “travelling tonic”). Well, if you’ve been paying attention to this series so far, you won’t be surprised to hear that almost immediately people start being murdered.

Entertaining the guests every evening on board the ship is the Moonlight Carnival, a rag tag crew of contortionists, cartomancers, knife-throwers and fire-eaters, lead by a mysterious, masked man who calls himself Mephistopheles. If you weren’t lucky enough to read Faust at school, Mephistopheles is the name of the devil in the classic German novel. The ringmaster is a charming, manipulative and arrogant man with designs on our Audrey Rose, much to Thomas’s chagrin.

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Only one member of the carnival doesn’t wear a mask at all times, and that’s the eponymous Harry Houdini. Unlike the rest of the performers who all seem to be hiding from someone or something, Houdini comes across as a fame-hungry young man. Does that make him a murderer, though? Or could one of his travelling carnival companions be hiding a dark past behind their glittery facade?

Like in the previous books, the stakes are pretty high for our leading lady, drawing her family and friends into the heart of the danger yet again. But none more so than herself, and in the end Audrey Rose goes through something that will change her forever.

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I loved this book. I whipped through it at breakneck speed and it’s my new favourite of the series (I know I said that about Hunting Prince Dracula, because boarding school setting! But that’s been trumped by cruise ship setting. Sorry not sorry). Book four, you’ve got a lot to live up to!

I gave Escaping from Houdini 4.5 stars, there’s room for improvement – that flipping annoying trope, to be precise – but it’s such an enjoyable romp on the high seas. I still love Audrey Rose, she’s not perfect, but who of us is? And Thomas is just a dreamboat, flirting shamelessly with her one minute, and telling her he’ll never hold her back the next.

If you’ve enjoyed books one and two, or you’re just a fan of YA historical fiction, you’ll love this book. It’s full of illusions, romance, murder and kissing. What more could you want?

 

Lyndsey

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Review: Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

Love historical fiction? Fan of dark fantasy? You’ve come to the right place! Today we’re talking about Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, and more specifically book two, Hunting Prince Dracula.

(I just looked for my review of Stalking Jack the Ripper to see how many stars I gave it, and realised I never wrote one! Sorry about that, I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, so it’s definitely worth a read before you dive into this one – although the way book two is written there are no spoilers for book one beyond who survives, so it’s up to you!)

Hunting Prince Dracula Kerri Maniscalco

Remember last week when we discussed ‘speculative fiction‘? This is a prime example of ‘alternate history’, taking well-known legends and giving them a completely new and fresh spin. Book three tackles the story of Harry Houdini, and I cannot wait to read it – I feel like I know the Jack the Ripper and Vlad the Impaler/Dracula stories reasonably well, and have read a few fictional takes on them, but I’m basically a newbie to Houdini. All I’ve heard is he was pretty good at disappearing.

Speaking of which, don’t you love how Maniscalco has twisted the book titles to show how the eponymous character operated in the original story, and how that’s been flipped on its head in her versions? STALKING Jack the Ripper, HUNTING Prince Dracula and ESCAPING from Houdini. I love that little hint of what’s to come from the author.

(According to Google, Houdini was born Erich Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, before moving with his family to Wisconsin, USA, so fingers crossed we see a bit of both countries in book three. I’ve always wanted to visit Budapest!)

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4.5 stars

Book two picks up a couple of weeks after book one ended, and Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are on their way to Romania, where a school of pathology and forensic science has taken up position in the old castle where Vlad Dracula once lived.

Audrey Rose is running away from her problems, she’s having nightmares and hallucinations caused by the Ripper case, and hopes she can escape them by leaving London. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works, and her problems follow her to Romania. Not only that, but a whole crop of new problems arise on the way there, when a man is murdered on their train. His wounds look like the work of a vampire, but surely they’re the stuff of myth?

On arrival at the castle, we discover the deaths tie into the local myth of the ‘strigoi’, angry spirits of the dead that rise from the grave and drain their victims’ blood. As more victims are found, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin to question whether there’s a copycat killer on the loose, or if something more supernatural is afoot.

With the help of Thomas’s sister, the head teacher’s niece, and a castle maid, the pair hunt for clues and try to solve the puzzle before anyone else can be killed.

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I gave Hunting Prince Dracula 4.5 stars, I enjoyed it even more than book one, there’s something about the boarding school environment that speaks to me (I went to a boarding school but I didn’t board as we lived 5 minutes away, and I’ve always loved YA in that setting, i.e. Harry Potter). The romance between the two main characters starts to heat up somewhat in this instalment, so I’m excited to see where that leads, and as always Maniscalco’s writing is beautiful and descriptive, with just the right amount of Victorian vocab mixed in.

If you’re into period dramas, alternate histories, dark thrillers with just a hint of the supernatural, then you’ll definitely love this series. My pre-order of Escaping from Houdini will be available to download in 5 days time, I’ll let you know how I find it!

 

Lyndsey

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