Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass – a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
The City of Brass was one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, and still it took me until January 2019 to actually read it. I think that’s because I only owned a digital copy of the novel until January, and somehow the book seemed to intimidating on my Kindle. I find it easier to read fantasy tomes in paperback format for some reason. My brain is weird, I’m aware. Anyway, now that I’ve finally read The City of Brass, I’m kicking myself for not doing so earlier. It was brilliant.
If you don’t know what this story is about, it follows a woman called Nahri who lives in Cairo. To make a living, she cons other people through healings, palm readings, and zars – which are a kind of exorcism, if I’m not mistaken. One day during a zar, something feels off to her, and she ends up accidentally summoning a djinn. Someone -or something- has been trying to kill her, and she’ll need the djinn’s help to survive.
Sometimes fantasy novels can be a bit difficult to get into. At the start, the amount of new places and names can get quite overwhelming, and it often feels like you’re getting a crash course in this world before the actual story takes off. That was definitely not the case with The City of Brass. I was immediately entranced by the setting and atmosphere, and knew I’d love the main character from the first page. I absolutely flew through this book! It’s 544 pages long -at least, my copy is- so I thought it would take me a few days at the very least, especially since it’s more of a new adult/adult fantasy than a YA one (in my opinion). It actually took me only a little over a day to read this entire novel.
When the story starts, Nahri is living and working in 18th century Cairo as a con artist. She especially loves taking money from the Turks, who have ‘conquered’ Egypt. We don’t stay in Cairo for that long however, as circumstances for her on the road. The djinn she accidentally raised promises to take her to Daevabad, where she’ll be (relatively) safe. If you are familiar with my reading tastes, you’ll probably know that I love traveling stories. Give me all the quests, and roads, and obstacles along the way. I’m here for it! If that’s not your thing, don’t worry. A large part of the novel takes place in Daevabad as well.
There’s an interesting difference between the part of the story set in Cairo versus the part set in Daevabad. As Nahri is so familiar with Cairo, we simply have to assume she knows best. We follow her to places she visits often, and people she knows. Daevabad, on the other hand, is completely unfamiliar territory to her. Here, we get a chance to explore the world with Nahri since the reader knows just as much as she does. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and allowed me to imagine this grand city of brass as if it were real.
As if the setting and atmosphere weren’t enough, I also fell in love with all the characters. Like I mentioned earlier, I immediately knew I’d like Nahri as a protagonist. She’s a risk taker, smart, and cunning. She’s definitely a Slytherin (fight me on this), and I love her.
[…], the only thing they seemed to agree on was that the Egyptians couldn’t govern it themselves. God forbid. It’s not as though thee Egyptians were the inheritors of a great civilization whose mighty monuments still littered the land. Oh, no. They were peasants, superstitious fools who ate too many beans. Will, this superstitious fool is about the swindle you for all you’re worth, so insult away. Nahri smiled as the men approached.
I never once felt irritated or annoyed with our protagonist. While she isn’t necessarily likeable, she is still an intriguing and fascinating person. That’s exactly what I want from my main characters. I don’t need them to be goody-two-shoes. I want them to have a personality, I want to know they have a brain and actually know how to use it. Anyway, Nahri might end up as one of my favorite main characters of the year.
Another interesting character that was added to the mix is Dara. I feel like I can’t actually talk about him as a person without going into spoiler territory though. Suffice it to say, I wanted to wrap him up in a blanket and hug him for about 60% of the book.
“I was also once a young warrior from a ruling tribe. It’s a privileged position. Such utter confidence in the rightness of your people, such unwavering belief in your faith.” His smile faded; he sounded wistful. Regretful. “Enjoy it.”
I also have to admit I liked Alizayd. He’s a character I happened to both love and hate at the same time. He has strong beliefs, and is incredibly smart, but he’s also easy to manipulate because of it, and has a tendency to think he’s the only one who is correct. He’s somewhat self-righteous, and I often wanted to kick him off his high horse. All that made him seem like a real person, which is quite the feat.
“Alizayd fears he has already offended you,” Zaynab said as she led Nahri to a wooden pavilion that seemed to appear out of nowhere, perched over a clear pool. “I apologize. He has the unfortunate tendency to say exactly what’s on his mind.”
I was captivated by their story from start to finish, and found this novel has pretty much everything I want in a fantasy novel. It has a magical city, warriors, royalty, politics, action, magic, and more. I’m trying to review this book while saying as little as possible about it, because I think everyone will benefit from going into this pretty blind.
All in all, this was a fantastic novel. I can’t recommend it enough! If you somehow haven’t picked this series up yet, I urge you to change that right now. If you’re intimidated by the amount of pages, don’t be. I promise you’ll end up finishing it faster than you expected to. The City of Brass made me remember why I love fantasy so much, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that. I need to buy the sequel soon, so I can continue the series!