June 22, 2019

Hugo Reading 2019: The City of Brass

The City of Brass The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an Arabic-inspired fantasy, beginning in eighteenth-century Cairo (that's from the jacket flap; there's no specific year mentioned), and ending in the secret magical land of the daeva, or djinn. In between we have a rather complicated and fast-moving plot of rebellion, betrayal, oppression, and court intrigue, with a con artist protagonist who is much more than she seems.

This book started out slow but gradually drew me in, fueled by the two viewpoint characters: Nahri, the aforementioned con artist who discovers a world she never knew existed, and comes to realize she is not entirely human; and Ali, or Prince Alizayd al Qahtani, the second son of the king of the djinn. Ali is, to me, the more interesting character: young, naive, spoiled and idealistic, he falls in with and funds a rebel group fighting for the rights of the shafit, the part-human second-class citizens of Daevabad, the city of the djinn. Nahri and Ali cross paths and clash as their separate plots intertwine.

There's a great weight of backstory to this universe, impressively delivered in a non-infodumpy manner by the author. (Of course Nahri, not knowing anything about this world, serves as an able stand in for the reader.) The primary villain is Ali's father, King Ghassan, but even he is portrayed as having what he thinks are good reasons for what he does: preventing the simmering tensions within Daevabad from boiling over into full-blown civil war. This does not stop him from committing atrocities as he works to uphold the oppressive system of the djinn, and by the story's end it becomes clear that the entire system needs to be burned to the ground. Nahri, who at the end of this book is shown as accepting of and beginning to come into her full powers, seems to be up to the task.

This is a first novel, and it's a little rough, but the author has an interesting, well-thought-out universe here, and it's refreshing to read a fantasy drawn from a different culture. Recommended.

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