The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (a review) (Exploring The World of Adult Fantasy)
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
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I am someone who is a massive fan of YA fantasy. It's my favorite book genre and I myself write primarily within the genre. That being said, this year I've started to explore adult books. I've primarily been staying in the adult romance genre, but I wanted to venture into adult fantasy. Earlier in the year I read the adult fantasy Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett. I gave it 4 stars as I enjoyed its fast pace, but the world building was overwhelming and confusing.
I recently decided to give adult fantasy another try with The City of Brass I'd heard that this was a good transition novel for people who typically read YA. Having now read it, I most definitely agree with this. Other than some more explicit violence and some more extensive world building, the novel had a very similar feel to YA. This is helped by the relatively young age of the two protagonists (18 and 20) as well as there being a glossary in the back of the novel. So, if the reader does get confused by the world building there is something for them to quickly reference.
If you're interesting in hearing my full thoughts on this adult fantasy then keep reading!
LENGTH: 526 pages
RATING: 3.75 ⭐️
Nahri has grown up an orphan in 18th century Cairo unaware that she is part of a magical world. Then one day she accidentally summons a djinn who takes her to the legendary city of Daevabad. There she finds herself embroiled in the city's dangerous political games.
The two main characters are Nahri, a con artist who starts the novel knowing nothing of the djinn, and Ali, a prince of Daevabad. Other notable characters include Nahri's djinn ally turned lover Dara (a former djinn slave) and the Quahani family (Ali's family). I struggled to connect with any of the characters. I found Ali's character to be sympathetic, and I enjoyed the dynamic between him and his family. However, his loyalty to the shafit (human-djinn hybrids) was never really explained in a way that made sense to me.
I didn't feel Nahri and Dara had any chemistry. Dara once served Nahri's ancestors, which led me to believe that he was more enamored with her bloodline than he was with her as an individual. In contrast, she and Ali had a connection from their very first scene together and actually shared similar interests.
I do think it was clever on Chakraborty's part to have the two protagonists be characters from opposite backgrounds. Having Nahri be new to the djinn world and Ali having grown up in it gave us two unique, distinct perspectives of Daevabad.
The novel is told from the alternating third person perspectives of Nahri and Ali. I think this may have played a part in why I largely failed to connect with and understand the characters' motives. The novel starts off with a bang, wasting no time introducing the reader to the magic of the world. It then slows down significantly. Nahri and Dara don't even reach Daevabad until over 250 pages into the novel. Even once they reach the city the plot progresses rather slowly as the novel takes time to establish its world building. The ending picks up again to the point that it feels too rushed and chaotic. Overall, I do wish there had been more cohesion in the pacing, but I wasn't bored by any means.
The novel starts out in Cairo, but we don't remain long in the human world. At the center of the story is the legendary city of Daevabad, which is inhabited by the djinn/Daeva who are fire elementals. They exist within seven tribes and among them there also live the shafit. The city was once ruled by the Nahid family, but they were usurped by the Qahanis. The world building was the most solid part of the novel. Chakraborty did an excellent job of establishing the societal structure and political tensions and turmoil between the different tribes. The novel nicely balances both political intrigue and magical elements so that there is something to appeal to all readers of fantasy no matter their preference.
Despite not connecting with the characters, I found myself eager to return to read more everyday. As someone who writes fantasy I have an appreciation for well constructed worlds within novels. I feel like this novel is tailored to someone like me in that regard. I'm not running out to read the sequel, but I likely will pick it up at some point.
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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (a review): https://www.haleysbookhaven.com/post/we-hunt-the-flame-by-hafsah-faizal-a-review
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