This book suffered from next book-itis. I started reading it but got distracted by wanting to read other books when I realized that two more bingo squares would give me a second bingo (Between the Bridge and the River and Eleanor and Park). I half-heartedly kept reading City of Brass while waiting to get to my main city library where I could pick up both books. At the time of stopping reading, I was feeling so so about the City of Brass. I was having trouble keeping track of the difference between djinn and daevas, their various tribes, and how ifrits with their murderous ways were connected.
Bingo complete, I decided to start the book over again and pay closer attention, and I’m glad I did. The City of Brass is the first novel of S.A. Chakraborty. She crafts a world of Middle Eastern magic with characters that pique your curiosity and make you eager for answers to their mysteries and dilemmas.
Nahri is only a short step above street rat status living in the slums of Cairo during the French invasion. Raised in an orphanage with no memory of family, able to speak any language she hears (and one language that no one else does), a self healing body, an innate sense of disease in others, a small ability to heal others, and no knowledge of how she is like this. She is also suspicious, intelligent, cunning, a rogue who puts herself first, and has the desire to travel to Istanbul to study medicine.
In addition to using her magical healing skills Nahri also dabbles in in folk “magic” to earn money. During a fake ritual meant to appease a djinn spirit in a girl’s body, Nahri speaks using her unknown language as a way to thrill the crowd. Unbeknownst to her, Nahri has summoned Dara, a daeva warrior, or as she recognizes him, a djinn. But her casting has also drawn the attention of an ifrit, who is intent on killing Nahri. In the blink of an eye her life as she knew it is instantly over.
Alizayd al Qahtanni is a pureblood djinn and royal prince of the Qahtanni house that rules over Daevasbad. 1,400 years ago the Qahtanni, of the Geziri tribe, were usurpers, overthrowing the Nahid family and taking control of the city away from the native Daeva tribe. Currently there is political turmoil over the treatment of shafit, humans with djinn blood who are forced to live their lives in Daevabad so as not to create havoc with their magical abilities in the human world. The shafit are more easily able to reproduce than pureblood djinn and their population has grown over the centuries creating tension between the different peoples.
Alizayd is a shafit sympathizer using his royal wealth to fund the tanzeem, an organization trying to better the lives of shafit. He is also in training to become the head of the military when his older brother eventually takes the throne. Alizayd is torn between loyalty to his family and a desire to help those less fortunate and suffering under djinn rule. He is also devoutly religious to his tribes beliefs and at odds with those who are more flexible in their doctrine, and particularly those who still practice the old fire worshiping religion.
Characters are tangled together in romance, embroiled in complicated politics and religious beliefs, and maneuvering family expectations. S.A. Chakraborty has breathed life into a world where many things are possible through magic but is also ensnared in very human problems such as racism, religious intolerance, and income disparity. One small quibble, I wish there were more fully fleshed out women in the book. Nahri is the only main female character. When setting out to read City of Brass, I was hoping this would be a standalone book, but about three quarters through it became clear this is the start of a series and now I am eagerly looking forward to the second book being released in January of next year.