Among the bustling markets of eighteenth century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles and foreign invaders alike.
But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert, full of enchantment, desire and riches. Where magic pours down every street, hanging in the air like dust.
Many wish their lives could be filled with such wonder, but not Nahri. She knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes…
Okay, this book is a lot to take on in a review. So much happened here, from the creation of an entire world and mythology to the introduction of magical djinn (or Daeva, depending on who you ask), to characters who seemingly change loyalty and likability with every other breath, I don’t even know where I stand.
The incredible characters have to be the best part of The City of Brass. Nahri won me over right away with her attitude and her independence. From the first few pages, I wanted to learn more about her and where her natural abilities came from. Dara is a bundle of contradictions, he blows hot and cold, hides his dark history while spilling the secrets of others around him, and he holds Nahri close while pushing her away. His arc in this book is a goddamn rollercoaster. Alizayd is the naive, idealistic young prince. His inexperience and sheltered upbringing have him make terribly dangerous decisions to do what he believes is right. His awkwardness is both endearing and frustrating, you want to shake him and tell him what to do, but then give him a big hug right afterwards. I could go on forever here, there is a giant cast of characters and they’re all multidimensional and their motives and actions are constantly forcing the main characters to change and adjust. First impressions here are so misleading, I kept changing my mind about the characters and my allegiance to them every other chapter as new sides were revealed in ever-escalating situations. Even now, I still don’t truly know any of these characters and I know there is so much more to come.
Next, the worldbuilding is awe-inspiring. So many mythical creatures, magical clans, historical wars, and centuries of bad blood and politics. Thankfully, the world is new to Nahri as well, so there are lots of chances to get caught up. Parts of the world seems to be unknown even to those who actually live there, so there are a lot of prime opportunities for surprise. Of course, there are a lot of parallels between this fictional world and the real one, allowing for commentary on the treatment of those forced or born into the lower rungs of society. Unfortunately, for a magical world which is incredibly advanced compared to the human realm in the 18th century, there’s still a double standard when it comes to men and women. And although the religion here is fictional, it shares a lot of suppressive similarities with those that are more familiar. Just like the real world, if the people here were more willing to treat others as equals and with respect, there would be a lot less hardship and loss for everyone involved.
I’m very much looking forward to continuing this trilogy. The City of Brass was a solid start and it did an impressive job of covering a massive backstory and introducing a new world while keeping the story interesting and moving quickly.