The city of brass

S. A. Chakraborty

Book - 2017

"Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty--an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and Uprooted, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts. Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she's a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone 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 and a reliable way to survive. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she's forced to question all she believes. For the warrior tells her an extraordinary 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 birds of prey are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass--a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. In Daevabad, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. A young prince dreams of rebellion. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say to be careful what you wish for"--

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SCIENCE FICTION/Chakraborty, S. A.
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Adventure fiction
Action and adventure fiction
Fantasy fiction
New York, NY : Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 2017.
First edition
Physical Description
532 pages : map ; 23 cm
Main Author
S. A. Chakraborty (author)
Review by New York Times Review

S. A. CHAKRABORTY'S novel, the first of a projected trilogy, opens with a veiled woman fortunetelling in what appears to be 18th-century Cairo. We quickly learn that Nahri earns her money as a thief and a leader of zars (rituals for the exorcism of bad spirits), and speaks a language, inherited from her long-dead parents, whose name she doesn't know. It seems we are about to be plunged into a cultural mashup of "The Thousand and One Nights" and any number of young adult novels with plucky female protagonists, but when Nahri walks through Cairo's spooky cemetery things take a speculative turn. Puff! A warrior in robes emerges from among the gravestones, flashing his scimitar, bows and arrows aquiver. Next come ghoulish zombies: "The tattered remains of burial shrouds hung from their desiccated frames, the scent of rot filling the air." Nahri and the warrior must escape, but how? A flying carpet, of course, and when Nahri responds, "A rug? How is a rug going to help us?" it's clear we're in the hands of a playful writer. The warrior is a type of spirit called a daeva, his name is Dara and, as luck would have it, he's "frighteningly beautiful," with the "type of allure Nahri imagined a tiger held right before it ripped out your throat." As kidnapper-rescuers go, he's hot as hell. Also, he knows the answer to the mystery of Nahri's origins: She's a shafit, descendant of an ancient half-human, half-magical tribe thought to have become extinct. A birdlike creature then explains that Nahri is in danger and that her handsome protector must take her away to the city of Daevabad. Thus their adventure begins, complete with snowy plains, forbidding mountain ranges and fierce confrontations. The city's name, Daevabad, with its Persian suffix of -abad, makes reference to exotic-sounding cities like Islamabad or Hyderabad and signals what comes next: the sound of the call to prayer, views of citadels and minarets, the bustle of grand bazaars. To Nahri, who sees "a man pass by with an enormous python settled over his shoulders," the people of the city look "wild." Its streets are full of strollers in glowing robes wearing headdresses of glittering stones; there are even shape-shifters among them. Chakraborty doesn't hold back on the Eastern glitz. The Muslim world is no stranger to speculative fiction, though that label wouldn't be used there. Islamic folklore and narratives are full of flying machines, impossible journeys, skewed time frames and stories that illuminate cultural or scientific theories. It's clear that Chakraborty has great fun alluding to these tales, though in storytelling terms "The City of Brass" is standard, fast-paced fantasy fare. On the journey, Nahri gains access to Dara's memories and figures out that he's a slave, even as her personal trajectory involves explorations of her own identity. Most enjoyable is the gusto with which everything is thrown into her story, from massacres to zombies to djinns. If there are stereotypes, they're consciously acknowledged and mischievously inhabited. At the moment, speculative fiction has an exciting relationship with protest fiction and feminist narratives, and while "The City of Brass" doesn't blow away cultural notions of difference or reconfigure the male-female divide, it does exploit the genre's penchant for inclusion. In fact, the novel feels like a friendly hand held out across the world. (I hope very much that it will be translated into Arabic and Farsi.) It reads like an invitation for readers from Baghdad to Fairbanks to meet across impossibly divergent worlds through the shared language and images of the fantastical. SUZANNE JOINSON'S most recent novel is "The Photographer's Wife."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 16, 2018] Review by Booklist Review

Nahri magically heals the sick and instantaneously learns foreign languages, abilities she uses to con Cairo's elite. During one ruse, she accidentally contacts an evil ifrit, and suddenly a smoking hot daeva (he literally emanates smoke and radiates heat) is flying Nahri to Daevabad, claiming she's the last of her race. Meanwhile, in Daevabad, tensions escalate between the daevas (pure-blood djinn) and shafits (half-blood djinn). Prince Ali, a shafit sympathizer, struggles between pledging loyalty to his royal family or to his heartfelt cause. Chakraborty's debut launches into full speed when Ali and Nahri meet. Matched in wits and candidness, they bicker at first, eventually evolving into unlikely allies. Through them, Chakraborty explores timeless issues: Does birth or experience determine a person's nature? How does one realistically help a suppressed group achieve equality? Vibrant djinn lore further complicates these open-ended questions. Vivid descriptions brass buildings, fine fabrics, spicy smells percolate the lush prose, and a final twist leaves room for a sequel. Recommend this scintillating, Middle Eastern fantasy to fans of thoughtful, mystical adventures.--Hyzy, Biz Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The familiar fantasy theme of a young person learning of a hidden supernatural legacy is given new life in this promising debut novel, set in late-18th-century Egypt. Twenty-something Nahri, who has the ability to sense illness in others and to heal some ailments, supports herself as a fortune-teller and con artist in Cairo. Her routine, if precarious, existence, is shattered when a girl she is trying to help is possessed by an ifrit. Nahri only avoids being killed through the intervention of Dara, a djinn, who reveals that Nahri is from a family of magical healers. Chakraborty combines the plot's many surprises with vivid prose ("The cemetery ran along the city's eastern edge, a spine of crumbling bones and rotting tissue where everyone from Cairo's founders to its addicts were buried"), and leavens the action with wry humor. There is enough material here-a feisty, independent lead searching for answers, reminiscent of Star Wars's Rey, and a richly imagined alternate world-to support a potential series. Agent: Jennifer Azantian, Azantian Literary. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

To survive on the streets of 18th-century Cairo, Egypt, Nahri, a young con artist, lives by luck and skill. While she carries out her trades of palm and tea leaf readings, along with healings, she knows them to be just tricks, not magic-until the night she summons a djinn warrior during one of her cons. She embarks on an unexpected journey to the fabled Daevabad, the City of Brass, where the six djinn tribes still reside. However, its magical brass walls cannot protect against the growing darkness that lurks within. Tied by blood to the city, Nahri is pulled into deadly court politics as divergent forces seek to use her magical abilities to their advantage. VERDICT This lyrical historical fantasy debut brings to vivid life the ancient mythological traditions of an Islamic world unfamiliar to most American readers. Chakraborty's grasp of Middle Eastern history, folklore, and culture inspires a swiftly moving plot, richly drawn characters, and a beautifully constructed world that will entrance fantasy aficionados. [See Prepub Alert, 5/22/17.]-KC © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by School Library Journal Review

Nahri, a common Cairo thief who can sense sickness in others and sometimes heal them, is thrust into a magical world when she accidentally summons a powerful djinn. The handsome Dara insists that he escort Nahri to the magical hidden Daevabad, the City of Brass, where Nahri will be protected by Prince Ali's family, who have the power of Suleiman's seal. Never sure whom to trust, Nahri must rely on her street smarts to survive the dangers of the beguiling city and the duplicitous natures of those who surround her. Chakraborty's compelling debut immerses readers in Middle Eastern folklore and an opulent desert setting while providing a rip-roaring adventure that will please even those who don't read fantasy. Though Nahri is in her early 20s, young adults will recognize themselves in her. The other narrator, Prince Ali, is an 18-year-old second son who doubts the current class structure of his kingdom. Chakraborty's meticulous research about Middle Eastern lore is evident, but readers won't be bogged down by excessive details. VERDICT A must-purchase fantasy for all libraries serving young adults.-Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A rich Middle Eastern fantasy, the first of a trilogy: Chakraborty's intriguing debut.On the streets of 18th-century Cairo, young Nahrishe has a real talent for medicine but lacks the wherewithal to acquire proper trainingmakes a living swindling Ottoman nobles by pretending to wield supernatural powers she doesn't believe in. Then, during a supposed exorcism, she somehow summons a mysterious djinn warrior named Dara, whose magic is both real and incomprehensibly powerful. Dara insists that Nahri is no longer safeevil djinn threaten her life, so he must convey her to Daevabad, a legendary eastern city protected by impervious magical brass walls. During the hair-raising journey by flying carpet, Nahri meets spirits and monsters and develops feelings for Dara, a deeply conflicted being with a long, tangled past. At Daevabad she's astonished to learn that she's the daughter of a legendary healer of the Nahid family. All the more surprising, then, that King Ghassan, whose ancestor overthrew the ruling Nahid Council and stole Suleiman's seal, which nullifies magic, welcomes her. With Ghassan's younger son, Prince Ali, Nahri becomes immersed in the city's deeply divisive (and not infrequently confusing) religious, political, and racial tensions. Meanwhile, Dara's emerging history and personality grow more and more bewildering and ambiguous. Against this syncretic yet nonderivative and totally credible backdrop, Chakraborty has constructed a compelling yarn of personal ambition, power politics, racial and religious tensions, strange magics, and terrifying creatures, culminating in a cataclysmic showdown that few readers will anticipate. The expected first-novel flawsa few character inconsistencies, plot swirls that peter out, the odd patch where the author assumes facts not in evidencematter little. Best of all, the narrative feels rounded and complete yet poised to deliver still more. Highly impressive and exceptionally promising. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.