Review: The City of Brass. The Daevabad Trilogy 1 by S. A. Chakraborty

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-brasscentury 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, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to question all she believes. For the warrior tells her 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 not 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, 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 to be careful what you wish for . .

I am torn! I love and hate this book at the same time, which is definitely better than having no opinion at all or being unimpressed.. But it’s so hard to sort out my thoughts.

The story starts in Cairo, in the 18th century and introduces us to Nahri, a 20-year old con artist who is living a tough life on her own. She can heal herself, as well as see what’s wrong with others & heal them, but is keeping her talents secret. She wants to save up enough money so she can study to become a surgeon but it is proving to be really hard. Additionally to her healing powers, Nahri can talk and understand every language she hears. During a ritual something goes horribly wrong and she accidentally calls a Djinn warrior to her side.

But not only that, suddenly Nahri is being followed by ifrits and ghouls!

She has to flee Cairo, together with the Djinn warrior Dara (who is not actually a Djinn, but calls himself Daeva) and must make her way to the city of Daevabad, where Nahri will be safe.

Through Dara, Nahri gets to know, that there is a lot of magic and magical creatures out there in the world. She herself is supposedly a daughter of the infamous Nahid clan, famous for their healing powers. Nahri might not be as human as she thinks she is.

Let’s talk about the world first. It’s an Oriental Fantasy setting, which I liked a lot, as I don’t really read a lot of those. It’s done very well, the author knows how to show & describe just enough so you can paint a picture in your head. You can see the colourful markets, the desert and the yummy food! It’s definitely all lively & vivid and is just getting better later on. Once the characters arrive in Daevabad, it is a whole new world. There’s curses that turn you into a bird or put salamanders under your skin! You might even slowly turn to ash!

For the first half of the book we follow Nahri and Dara on their way to Daevabad. This part was my favourite of the book, as we get to know a lot of backstory from Dara’s point of view and learn more about those two characters. I especially liked Dara, as he is such a conflicted character. He is not a good guy. He is arrogant, bitter and resentful towards the people who enslaved him. He spent hundreds of years doing horrible things for his masters, killing thousands of people. On the other hand he is very protective of his own people, the Daeva and feels he is in the right. He also grows to like Nahri, and it’s the start of a great slow-burn romance, something I am always a big fan of!

Nahri herself is also not perfect and she is struggling with all the information about her past and powers. She is certainly lost in the city of Daevabad and feels overwhelmed by the court politics and unrealistic expectations. She is slowly falling in love with Dara, but stories about his past and the horrible things he did, make her unsure about him. It doesn’t help, that he is holding back information either. Often, you don’t know what is truth and lie.

I have to admit, I was a bit confused by all the different races and tribes and their bloody history of war and violence. Apparently the Djinn and Daeva are both the same, but have different ideals. They are both considered to be pure-blooded and hate each other with a passion. And everyone hates the Shafit, mixed-bloods with Daeva/Djinn, as well as human roots. The ruling family is Djinn and they do have some ancient power as well.

Nahri and Dara run straight into a conflict between all those 3 different sides. There is just so much going on, so many schemes and rivalries. Tons of secrets, especially surrounding Dara’s past. He is a freed slave, but apparently has too much power for that. Is he really freed? I was wondering in the end… Then, Nahri’s mother gets mentioned a lot. Apparently she is dead, but it all sounds fishy too me. She still seems to have too much influence for not being alive anymore. Also, the ifrit who were following Nahri suddenly don’t want to hurt her, but were sent by Nahri’s mother? WHAT IS GOING OOON, HELP!

I already wrote so much about this book but still feel like there is so much left unsaid. I didn’t even mention the second pov character, Ali, yet. He’s the youngest son of the ruler of Daevabad, a rebel, a great fighter and awkward around women. He loves his family but wants to make life better for the Shafit, who are being oppressed and treated like slaves. I do agree with him, that someone has to step up for the Shafit, but I hated his perspectives and didn’t want him close to Nahri, as he was interfering with my slow-burn romance. There were shades of a love triangle and if they had been more obvious, I would have dropped the book immediately.

It is a book that has morally grey characters, who have strong views based on a century-long rivalries and a lot of war, violence and injustice. I was happy to see that a couple of characters could overcome their prejudices but in general, it is just as bad as it probably was centuries ago.

I did NOT like the ending at all and thought that characters were acting all wrong. I couldn’t believe what Dara was doing (although I think he was still being controlled by someone..) and it was a bit of a clusterfuck with that massive fight and Ali’s ridiculous transformation. I was left feeling unsatisfied and unhappy after I finished the book.

Damn you, why tease me with such a nice slow-burn romance and then let the characters act all weird and rip my heart out?!

I am not sure if I want to read a sequel. I need to check very carefully, whether there will indeed be a love triangle and what direction the story will be going.

As a summary: Great setting, engaging characters, especially Nahri and Dara, sometimes a bit too much information dumping, some annoying characters, too many questions left unanswered, it confused me a bit and the ending was disappointing for me. I don’t like to get teased and I like to understand the characters’ actions.

3/5 Stars.

10 comments

  1. Love your review! It expressed many of the thoughts I had about the book but had trouble expressing. It was both good and bad at the same time and that takes some effort. Also never crossed my mind that Dara was being controlled by someone outside of Nahri at the end. Hadn’t crossed my mind. Gives me whole new avenues to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!!

      I’m still feeling really conflicted about this book haha, but it’s a good thing it’s still on my mind! Yes, I thought something wasn’t right there.. especially when they kept mentioning Nahri’s mum all the time and I didn’t buy that she was dead.. and also when they hinted at Dara having way too much power for a freed slave. Also, he acted weird in the end so I thought it might not have been his own decision to try to abduct Nahri^^ I think her mum is controlling him. We will see in book 2. Hopefully 😀 I’m probably WAY off!

      Like

  2. Terrific review! I’ve seen promos for this book everywhere, but hadn’t read “real” people’s thoughts yet. It sounds interesting, despite the problematic plot elements. Maybe I’ll give it a try, even though I’m reluctant to start anything that has a sequel. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thank you! That’s so nice to say 🙂

      Haha, I don’t even know if I would recommend it 😀 If you don’t like waiting for sequels or sequels in general, I’d say no, as the next part isn’t even published yet 😀

      Like

  3. Agreed in so many ways. There was just so much conflict in all the information, depending on who we got it from, and not enough of a step-back to really have answers. I do want to reread this, and read the next one, but I’m hoping things get clearer after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but now I have very mixed feelings about it, LOL. Your review is great, and it’s a good look at some of the things that might annoy me… but then again, it might be worth the annoyance for the amazing-sounding world-building. Choices, choices…

    Liked by 1 person

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