Magical in every way

A review of City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

I was hesitant to review this one right now. Not because I didn't love it (I did love, love, love it), but because it's not due out until the fall and I feel like I'm just teasing everyone with news of this wonderful read. I'll assuage my guilt with the knowledge that you can at least get in early on the waiting list for what is sure to be one that tops a lot of 'best of' and awards lists later in the year.

Chakraborty's debut is a fantasy novel based in our history. Nahri is a young woman who lives in 18th century Cairo and has had to fend for herself her whole life. She ekes out a living with a combination of legal means (diagnosing the sick) and less then legal means (running cons as a fortune teller and exorcisor of demons). It is while she is performing an exorcism that she accidentally summons a daevish (djinn) warrior who, while not happy with Nahri, does save her from the Ifrits who are trying to kill her. Dara realizes there's a lot more to Nahri then she knows and insists the only safe place for her now is Daevabad, the city of the Djinn. 

As Nahri and Dara make the dangerous trek to the City of Brass, Ali, the second son of the King of the Djinn, Ghassen, is struggling as well. Ali has become tangled up in the cause of the Shafrit (half bloods born of daeva and humans) who are basically enslaved within Daevabad. He loves his father and knows that as King, Ghassen has had to be ruthless in order to keep order, but still he believes that the suffering of the Shafrit is unjust. His decisions and actions set in motion a series of events that engulf everyone around him, including Nahri and Dara.

The novel follows the progression of both Nahri and Ali as they try to navigate daeva politics in a world that is so fully realized by the author you can almost smell it. Not since The Goblin Emperor have I read a fantasy novel that has immersed me so fully. And as with that novel, City of Brass combines complex, complete world-building, complicated characterizations and political scheming with moral ambiguities to create a potent mix. Beautifully done.

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