The City of Brass (2017) by S. A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass tells the story of Nahri, a young girl in 18th Century Cairo, Egypt who discovers that the powers that have kept her alive all these years prove that she might be related to Djinn, creatures of immense power from Islamic folklore.

The world that Chakraborty builds from here on forth is to say the least, unique. As an avid consumer of fantasy literature, this book was a refreshing departure from magic systems and creatures common to western literature. It is filled with fashion, food, monsters, animals and magical items that are all uncommon in the west. The spaces explored truly feel unique and exotic because of this, further deepening the sense of wonder.

Chakraborty supports this intriguing world of Djinn and Ifrit she builds with a range of characters with long histories and conflicting motives stuck in a political drama. While the characters are well crafted, diverse and deep, the plot they go through leaves something to be desired.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole, it felt like it needed a stronger editor. There were instances where some information was exposed poorly, often right in the middle of action and others where it felt painfully repetitive. There were questions setup that were supposed to drive our primary interest along with a central conflict. However, it feels as if the author went to great lengths to ensure we didn’t get the answers we wanted or that they were always subverted with new information.

As for the central conflict, the book moved at a good pace for the first half but then began going in circles with no characters really committing to any path of action. I think this happened because the protagonist(s) did not have a clear need or when she did, she did not act on it in a decisive manner.. Consider a few of her counterparts from other stories, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Vin (Mistborn), Syenite (Fifth Season); these are all protagonists thrust into foreign worlds and burdened with impossible odds. They are all, despite their insecurities and limited skills, decisive. And when they are not, that inaction is used to propel the story forward and give them more motivation. It feels as if in ‘The City of Brass’ the second half spends most of its time working to motivate Nahri to act. Which despite the many amusing battles of wits and Zulfiqars (look it up) leaves one wanting.

Despite this, I had a good time reading this light and refreshing novel and would recommend it to anyone interested in changing their fantasy setting up.

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