June 24, 2021

Review: The Empire of Gold

The Empire of Gold The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cripes, this book. I struggled and slogged through it for ten days, and finally slammed the back cover shut today. I would have given it up if I hadn't had (just) enough invested in the characters to continue. This 752-page brick has ballooned greatly since the first book of the trilogy, itself a hefty 533 pages. Unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, the extra 220 pages is simply not worth it. The plot is bloated, overstuffed, and unnecessarily convoluted, to the point where I didn't care about the tenth or twentieth plot twist, reversal, and/or betrayal, because I could hardly keep track of what was going on anyway.

(Also, I started another book about halfway through this one, a book that is short, tight and straightforward, and I kept sneaking off to it as if to a new lover.)

It's sad, because this book has the foundation of a good story, if only the editor had spread the manuscript on a table and taken an axe to it instead of a red pen. It's a Middle Eastern-inspired epic fantasy, with gods, demons, djinn, and air, fire and water elementals, all seen through the eyes of the protagonist Nahri, a former Cairo con artist. In the first book, she is dragged willy-nilly into the hidden djinn city of Daevabad, and thrust into the middle of a tangled mess of fighting tribes, court intrigue, revenge and murder. The stakes are ramped higher and higher through the second and third books, ending in a gory battle with all the djinn seemingly intent on wiping each other out. Nahri manages to weave a thread between all the factions, and after a great deal of loss and pain, at the end she is putting together what promises to be a more or less democratic government (albeit one that will be even more fractious than the current state of Washington D.C.). The worldbuilding is interesting and the character growth feels genuine and earned--at least what I could make out of it through the endless convoluted plot twists.

I wish someone had sat the author down and asked her to cut out about 300 pages and half the plot. There was no reason to have such a struggle reading this.

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