This review originally appeared on 80 Books Blog.
5 out of 5 stars ★★★★★
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade 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.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new 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 hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind 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 be careful what you wish for…
Full disclosure, I work for the publisher, but I did not receive compensation for this review.
The City of Brass is an excellent debut. I read it again recently because the sequel just published. The book has everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel: an interesting, diverse world (as in the location, but also prominent Muslim religion), djinn, plenty of tension, an almost romance, and political intrigue. The book shifts between two perspectives. Nahri is a con artist who accidentally summons a djinn warrior. Ali is the second son of a king, destined to be royal guard to his older brother. Both have their flaws and strengths, and I loved getting to know them again with this re-read.
Nahri lives in Cairo in the 19th century. She has healing abilities, but uses this to scam people out of money. One night she starts speaking in her native language (one of many languages she knows) and she summons a djinn named Dara. He is sworn to protect her because of her family (who she doesn’t even know). Dara immediately saves Nahri from a Ifrit djinn (bad djinn set on revenge) and decides to take her to Daevabad, The City of Brass, since she’s the last of her kind, a Nahid, a healing djinn. During the journey, Nahri tries to escape, but eventually she beings to trust him and they fight their way through the desert on a flying carpet to Daevabad narrowly escaping attempts on their lives. Once Nahri arrives in Daevabad, she begins learning about her family history, and also Dara’s history. He started a rebellion and killed thousands of Djinn, then he became enslaved to an Ifrit, and went on other killing rampages to serve his master. The first half of the book is Nahri and Dara in the desert, then the last half is Nahri and Dara in Daevabad. Dara stirs up a lot of controversy with his presence. It’s been 1,400 years since he’s been seen or heard of, but djinn hold grudges!
Ali has dark secrets of his own, he’s secretly funding a sect of djinn called Shafit, which just means they have human blood in them. The Shafit are oppressed in Daevabad and he’s been funneling money to them in an attempt to give them food and medical supplies, but he finds out that they have also been using the money to stop human trafficking and buying weapons. The king, Ali’s father, is determined to keep the Shafit community oppressed, and Ali is directly undermining him.
I really loved the pacing of the book. There were moments were the action was slowed down to make sure readers had a moment to catch their breath. I felt like I read this book very quickly, despite being a bit over 500 pages. All of the characters were interesting and well rounded, too. Even Ali’s siblings all share different personality traits, which I felt was very intentional. Nahri is smart and clever. She picks up languages really quickly, and with her street smarts she can easily manipulate those around her. Plus, the mystery that is Dara. If this was ever turned into a movie, I’d loooove to see the casting for Dara. He’s full of contradictions and brooding and could be a great hero or the villain. He’s a great character to follow.
As Nahri spends more time in the palace as a guest of the king, she starts medical training, since she’s the only djinn in the world with healing abilities. She works with an assistant who used to work for her mother. She also starts to spend more time with Ali. I think they have a very fun dynamic of enemies to friends, hinting at the possibility of more. I wish I understood if Ali, Dara, and Nahri are set up as a love triangle. Before entering the city Dara and Nahri kiss, but they dance around their feelings for each other—especially Dara who likes to remind Nahri that he’s technically not alive (since he was killed as a slave—this part is a bit fuzzy for me, I’m not sure what it means exactly in terms of the plot). Whereas Ali won’t even acknowledge that he has feelings for her. I’m not exactly sure who I should be rooting for here and that is OK! There are three books to figure it out! haha
The deception, history, and rivalry all comes to a head at the end. It’s quite tumultuous! Since this was a re-read I had basically forgotten all of the details, including the moment on the boat. OMG. But then after the boat where Nahri makes a promise to the king. I’M DYING. And then in the epilogue! WHAT DOES THAT MEAN!? It’s such a set up! Nothing is resolved. I’m very concerned and need answers! Looking forward to the sequel if it’s just as entertaining as this first novel!