Not to jump the gun or anything but I think this is my new favourite fantasy series.
Where do I even begin???–there are so many things to love about this book. For one, the worldbuilding is just incredible; Daevabad is such a richly detailed and intricate world. From the historical traditions of the djinn tribes, to their various languages, to their religions and political beliefs, to the clothes and their many forms and designs, to the grand buildings of the city–everything is so very vivid. The worldbuilding we get is not just the bare minimum needed to move the plot forward, but instead actively enriches the book’s setting and makes it feel so lived in. (I especially loved how much attention was paid to the clothes–all the embroidery and beading and colours!!!!! Just *chef’s kiss*.)
Then we have the characters, who surprised me in the best ways. What I love so much about City of Brass is that it begins with characters who seem to fit into clear and predictable archetypes: Nahri the strongminded, witty female character; Dara the seasoned alpha warrior; Ali the naive, inexperienced young prince; Muntadhir the playboy older prince who drinks and sleeps around. But then as the story goes on, Chakraborty disabuses you of the potential preconceptions that you might’ve had about these characters. You get to see Nahri–who could’ve so easily been a Not-Like-Other-Girls female character–be intellectually curious and insecure and vulnerable. You get to see the Ali who is a fierce warrior and a scholar. You get to see Dara try to contend with the traumatic past that led to this image of him as a “seasoned alpha warrior.” And you get to see a Muntadhir who deeply cares for and loves Ali, and takes his responsibility as his older brother very seriously. And it’s just so gratifying to have a book surprise you like that, to give you characters that become more nuanced and complex as you read on, less easy to define or pin down to a couple of traits.
I also want to take a second to talk about Ghassan, because Chakraborty does such an excellent job of writing him. So often villain characters like him–tyrant kings–tend to be caricatured and stale, just the Evil Guys Who Do Evil Things. And don’t get me wrong, Ghassan is awful, but there are also many moments in the novel that speak to him as a person, rather than just a one-dimensional Villain Figure. Here is a man who loves his son fiercely, and will go a long way to protect that son, but will also put his son through absolute hell if he disobeys him.
Thematically, the City of Brass is just fascinating. I think more than anything, this book is about split allegiances. The characters in the novel constantly have their loyalties pulled in different directions: do you do what you think is right or do you stick by your family? how much injustice has to occur before your loyalty to your family is no longer possible or tolerable to you? how do you reconcile your moral and political beliefs with a family whose beliefs actively run counter to yours–especially when you deeply care about and love your family? These questions are especially evident in Ali’s POV, since his father is the king, but I think they’re also evident in the book’s plotlines more generally, particularly when it comes to the hostile relations between the djinn and the shafit. And the best part about all of this is that Chakraborty refuses to give you an answer: there is no one purely Good or Bad side that is easy to root for or against; of course there are worse and better characters, morally speaking, but that is exactly the point: everything is on a moral sliding scale, and it’s up to you to decide how to navigate the murkiness of that moral complexity.
Political drama! Complex characters! Fascinating themes! City of Brass just checked all my boxes, and honestly I am thrilled to have found a new fantasy series that I love so much.
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