Welcome to our first edition of Your Mileage May Vary. This week I’ll be looking at City of Brass by S. A Chakraborty. Before we get into it, a reminder:
Ye be warned.
Alright, first, a confession: I actually read this book about ten months ago. Why am I reviewing it now? Well, because I didn’t finish the book I’m currently reading in time and thought City of Brass worthy of discussion in its place. That said, I’m sure I’m forgetting shit. Sorry.
But whew, I inhaled this novel. Started and finished in about 15 hours. I had set out looking for a fantasy with Middle Eastern themes and City of Brass delivered. The novel follows Nahri, a young con artist with a preternatural ability to sense illness in people, a skill she uses to swindle her patients in exchange for fake cures. I loves me a flawed hero. Her world is suddenly flipped upside down when she accidentally summons a legendary djinn warrior, who reveals to her the truth of her birth and takes her on a journey across the desert to her ancestral homeland, Daevabad.
Honestly, I was absolutely gripped by Nahri’s story from the moment she conned a rich idiot with a fake cure for a fake disease, to the revelation that she was negotiating her own marriage contract with Muntadhir. As she learned more about herself, Dara, and the world of the djinn, I, too, hungered for more, eagerly turning each page of her chapters. Would that the entire novel had been about her, you’d likely find nary a complaint from me.
Alas that is not the case. There is a second POV character City of Brass follows, and, for me, it was those parts of the story that bored the pants off me. Ali, the young princeling of Daevabad, came across as generic and uninteresting, without a real flaw I could sink my teeth into. I wasn’t intrigued by him at all, and I found myself impatiently flipping through his chapters to get to the next Nahri POV. Which is maybe ironic since I was so fascinated by the world he lived in, leaving me to feel that Ali just wasn’t the right vehicle to deliver the context I craved.
Pursuant to that, when Nahri and Ali’s friendship began to take shape, I felt there was actually a loss of tension at a critical time in the book. Though Nahri’s arc and her difficulties mastering magical healing despite her natural ability with human cures remained compelling to me (I’m such a sucker for when a chosen one is literally incapable of performing the task he or she was chosen for), her relationship with Ali (and the complications that caused with Dara) was decidedly… not. Or maybe I was just irritated that Dara, my favorite character, was put on a proverbial bus to feature someone I thought far less interesting.
And that right there is why I think that, though I consumed this novel at speeds I rarely achieve, I still haven’t picked up the sequel. Dara became my favorite character pretty early on and by the end of the book it felt… wrong to hold that opinion. Don’t mistake me though, if that was intentional (and I feel it was) then major kudos to S.A. Chakraborty. His behavior at the climax came as a massive betrayal, something akin, I imagine, to what Nahri must also have been feeling in that moment. And, although I know his death is likely only temporary, and that I can expect to see an expansion of his arc in the sequel, I was just so… disappointed in him that I felt my fervor for the story took a major nosedive. I hate to say it, too, but I feared that the next novel would feature Ali much more heavily in Dara’s absence and I just… couldn’t get myself excited for that prospect.
A final thought. To refresh myself on the story, I read a few Goodreads reviews and was surprised to learn that the beginning of the book is widely considered to be a drag. I could not disagree more. Nahri’s and Dara’s flight to Daevabad was my favorite part. Nahri is our audience surrogate, and I loved that Dara was just dribbling information to her, and therefore us, and that he himself was an unreliable narrator in the extreme. Honestly, I probably could have read an entire book just about that journey. Make the ifrit chasing them the whole villain, instead of just the act one baddie, explore themes of the potential Stockholm Syndrome situation going on between Nahri and Dara, make us cope with the fact that this wonderful antihero was a flagrant racist (the moment when they first reach the capital and confronted with the possibility that Nahri might actually be pureblooded, the way it makes Dara light up and how seeing that change in him affects Nahri; such a great poignant moment). Yeah, that’s a book I would read the hell out of.
All in all, though I enjoyed my time with this book, I just wasn’t tempted enough by the denouement to pick up book 2.
Final rating for City of Brass: 3.5 miles out of 5.
Thanks to those of you who came with me on that ride. What did you think of City of Brass? Are there any books I should read and review in the future? Tell me your thoughts! As always, I’ll be back on Thursday for your regularly scheduled post. Until then, may your writing (and reading!) be plenty and your struggles be few.