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…
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.
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!