In S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, a young woman in 1700s Cairo accidentally summons a djinn. After getting over the initial shock that supernatural beings exist, she’s faced with one more: she herself has djinn blood. The last descendant of a line of powerful healers long believed extinct, Nahri finds herself drawn into an escalating political conflict in the djinn city of Daevabad.
The worldbuilding in City of Brass is wonderfully rich. Aside from the different tribes of djinn, there are other sapient beings inspired by Arab/Middle Eastern folklore: ifrit, peri, and marids. The different groups living in Daevabad each have their own culture, which makes the city truly feel like a bustling metropolis. The setting has a long and complex history, with the consequences of major events still being felt today.
This complexity extends to the political situation in which Nahri finds herself embroiled. The ethnic group of djinn to which Nahri and her family belong (the Daevas) once fought a war against the group currently ruling Daevabad (the Geziri). As tends to happen in long conflicts, both sides committed atrocities against each other at various points, such that both groups now have completely legitimate grievances. This sets up a situation in which there isn’t a clear good side and bad side.
The love triangle that emerges between Nahri, the Geziri crown prince Alizayd, and the legendary Daeva warrior Darayavahoush was also engaging. The two men are very different, but Chakraborty makes it understandable why Nahri would fall for each of them. Moreover, their antagonism towards each other puts Nahri in a difficult situation, and I was drawn into her attempts to reconcile two people that she cares deeply about.
City of Brass is the first book in a trilogy, and the end of the novel sets up a compelling cliffhanger. The second installment, The Kingdom of Copper, is due out in January 2019, and I can’t wait.