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

Goodreads: The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Published: 14 November 2017
Genre: NA/Adult Fantasy

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century 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, and a mysterious gift for healing–are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri 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 more than 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 and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.

Spurning Dara’s warning of the treachery surrounding her, she embarks on a hesitant friendship with Alizayd, an idealistic prince who dreams of revolutionizing his father’s corrupt regime. All too soon, Nahri 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 . . .

TL;DR: I had *thoughts* after reading this and I didn’t quite know how to put them into words. I realise that my review sounds a little on the negative side but I ultimately did enjoy this. It’s not what I expected and I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would but the world-building was fantastic, the complex characters interesting, and the last 15% had me holding on tight to the edge of my seat. Plus, the character who I started out disliking the most ended up being the one I sympathised with most at the end and I couldn’t have been more surprised. It does have quite a slow start but I’d say it’s worth it to keep reading—just hang in there! 😂

The book started out on a high note and reeled me in quickly. I don’t think I’ve read a book set in 18th century Cairo before so I was immediately intrigued by the setting and Arab-inspired fantasy world that Chakraborty develops. The world-building and atmosphere were consistently immaculate and immersive, and the descriptions were so rich and vivid that it was no hardship to picture it come to life. I loved learning about the history and culture of Daevabad and its inhabitants, the politics and nature of djinn magic, and the creatures of myth and legend.

One thing I didn’t expect was how political this story would be. It’s not complicated politics but the fraught tension between daeva/djinn and shafit, the pureblood vs mixed blood, is a theme that makes up the majority of the plot. Everyone is playing a game and no one is entirely truthful but they do what needs to be done and it’s how they survive the fragile peace in this city. In a lot of stories, there’s usually an obvious side that we’re meant to take but in The City of Brass, Chakraborty presents the history in a way that allows us to clearly see and understand both sides of the story; everyone has suffered great losses and no one is entirely innocent.

We’re introduced to a lot of characters both historically and in the present day but the main characters who get POVs are Nahri and Ali though Dara also carries main-character energy even if he’s not as consistently present as the other two. Chakraborty writes well-formed, complex and interesting characters and as much as there’s no “right or wrong” side, there were also no “good or evil” characters because all of them were a little morally grey. Again, they’re all doing what they believe is right for their people based on their culture and beliefs. Even knowing that though, I have to admit that I constantly vacillated between grudgingly “liking” them to very strongly disliking them. I don’t necessarily need to like the characters to enjoy a story but omg, I wanted to give so many of them a good hard shake and scream “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” at them at so many points. Nahri started off as such an independent and empowered character but then her arc fell flat for me once she gets to Daevabad—it almost felt like she became a secondary character while still being a main (if that makes sense). Dara was the most mysterious of the lot and there’s a whole lot of secrets and trauma to unpack with his character but I grew increasingly irritated by his “holier than thou” attitude. Then there’s Ali… I think I struggled the most with his character at first but he, very shockingly, was who I sympathised with and who grew on me the most. He’s naive, hot-headed and rarely thinks before speaking but I appreciated his honesty and he does have a kind heart. He goes through considerable growth by the end and I’m so curious to see how his story unfolds!

There is also a romance that develops very quickly and it did not work at all for me. Their connection was all tell and no show and they actually spent very little time together for a large part of the story! He constantly kept her in the dark and continuously made decisions for her without consulting her, by the end, he gave me such ‘if I can’t have my cake and eat it too then no one can be happy’ vibes. Like, if this bro had just talked to her like she wanted him to, there might’ve been hope for me to like this romance but as it was, it was just not it.

So, it was these frustrations that made it more difficult for me to enjoy the story because the plot is also quite… loose? I’m not entirely sure what the plot really was? Oop… 🙊 As I mentioned, the beginning had me hooked but the pace slowed down considerably for a good chunk of the book and I was left wondering where the story was going until everything seemed to happen in the last 15ish%? The fast-paced and intense action, the reveals and the drama—holy smokes, it was wild in the absolute best way. Also, that ending? Way to bring back the intrigue in full force! 😱

Overall, this ended up being very different to what I expected but I enjoyed the immersive world-building and the complex characters. I wished that I had felt more for the characters and that the pacing had been better but oof, that ending really made up for a lot of it. It was shocking, exciting and has me so intrigued that I can’t wait to start the second book ASAP! Hopefully, everything that I wanted from this one will be found in The Kingdom of Copper.

Have you read The City of Brass or is it on your TBR?

14 thoughts on “Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

  1. I had so many of the same thoughts about Ali!! His chapters were such a struggle for me, but then became the ones I looked forward too the most! Glad you ended up enjoying this! I hope Kingdom of Cooper helps with some of those missing pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, good! I’m glad that I’m not the only one who felt that way about him. A friend told me that she only started liking Ali towards the middle of the second book so I’m glad that my feelings towards his character have already started changing. 😂 I can’t wait to continue Kingdom of Copper!


  2. I’ve seen this book around, but hadn’t really looked into it before. It sounds like something I’d like historical fantasy based on a real-world place? Yes. And throw in the djinn? Yeah, I’m definitely interested. Great review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was worried I’d be disappointed but that last bit was fantastic enough for me to want to desperately continue the series, so I definitely have to agree with you 😊


  3. I loved this book but can definitely relate to your pain points! I think of the trilogy the first book got the lowest rating from me but the series as a whole is spectacular

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s good to know. I’ve heard that the rest of the series gets stronger so I’m definitely looking forward to continuing with it asap. Glad to hear that you also thought it was spectacular 😃


  4. I agree with you! Sometimes i thought I was reading an epic fantasy with many characters and complex world-building. I enjoyed it but there was something personal that lacked for me. I dunno! If you are going to read the sequel i am curious what’d you think. Wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree that at the beginning the lack of personal connection to the story and characters made it frustrating but that last bit really did it for me! I’m pretty excited to continue and I already have the second book lined up on my Kindle. Hopefully, it won’t take me years to read it this time, haha, though I don’t think it will cos I’m so keen to know what happens next! Will definitely let you know how it goes 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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