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“The Empire of Gold” by S.A. Chakraborty

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The final volume of S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy substantially ups the stakes for the main characters. Nahri and Ali are stuck in the human world without their djinn magic, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Ali’s marid-granted powers come at a cost. Meanwhile, Dara is becoming ever more conflicted and disillusioned with his sworn ruler Manizeh.

With the stakes being so much higher, it’s no surprise that the conflicts are bigger. There are some truly jaw-dropping action sequences and a few stunning plot twists. But Chakraborty doesn’t lose sight of the importance of character. There are quieter moments that show the characters coming to terms with these revelations, and the denouement features one scene that made the room get rather dusty.

In addition to resolving the arcs of the main characters, a couple of new players are introduced. At first, I was skeptical of the idea of bringing in new plot-relevant characters so late in the story, but Chakraborty did a great job developing them. I especially enjoyed Fiza, to the point where part of me was hoping she’d end up with Ali.

One of the Daevabad Trilogy’s major themes has always been the difficulty of resolving longstanding conflicts. The Daevas and the other djinn tribes have been fighting for so long that neither side’s hands are clean anymore, and both sides have some legitimate grievances. The narrative in Empire of Gold makes no bones about the fact that this situation can’t be resolved easily or quickly. It will take work and require both sides to listen and make compromises. And since most of the action is of course being driven by the main characters, this will require them to make some changes as well. The culmination of Nahri, Ali, and Dara each gradually learning to address the traits that have held them back occurs here, and sets the stage for a hopeful ending to the trilogy. In addition to providing a satisfying conclusion, it makes The Empire of Gold a book that, despite its fantastical setting, speaks to our present moment in the real world.

I’ve enjoyed the fun and moving ride that the Daevabad Trilogy has been. Chakraborty has said that her next book will likely be a more grounded historical fiction novel, but I hope she returns to the world of Daevabad someday.

“The Kingdom of Copper” by S.A. Chakraborty

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S.A. Chakraborty’s debut, The City of Brass, was one of my favorite books of last year. I was eager to read the sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, as soon as it came out. The sequel more than lived up to my expectations, but most of what I want to discuss requires spoilers, so proceed with caution.

Throughout the first book, Nahri was caught in something of a love triangle between Dara and Ali. Kingdom of Copper adds another vertex to this with Muntadhir. Neither he nor Nahri wanted to be married in the first place, but after the timeskip that opens the book, they seem to have at least come to an understanding. But their hard-earned amity starts to fray around the edges when Ali returns to Daevabad. One of the things I liked about this book is the way it gives additional depth to Muntadhir. Despite his outward appearance as a happy-go-lucky, wine-women-and-song hedonist, we increasingly see him portrayed as a trapped man. On some level, he’s aware that the things Ghassan does are wrong, and he doesn’t want to become that kind of man, but he genuinely doesn’t see any other way to keep the powder keg that is Daevabad from blowing sky-high. On top of that, the royal duty to produce an heir means that the man he loves can never be more than a clandestine affair. One of the most enjoyable scenes in the book is when Muntadhir, Ali, and Zaynab agree to try and check their father’s power. Seeing them all on the same side for once, even if temporarily and in a limited way, was great.

I also liked learning more about the marid. The descriptions of them and their possession of Ali were both evocative and eerie. There have been a few hints of the peri being involved as well, at least as messengers/prognosticators, and I’m hoping we see more of them in the future.

Kingdom of Copper also continues examining the political and philosophical questions raised in the first book. How does a country or a people move on from a conflict in which neither side can claim the moral high ground anymore? Where does the line fall between justice and vengeance, and where are the bounds of loyalty?

My one complaint was with the revelation that Jamshid is Manizeh’s son, and thus Nahri’s brother. One implication of this is that Kaveh—whom Nahri was at odds with by this point—is her father. One would expect this to provoke some complicated feelings from Nahri, but we don’t really see that in the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this installment in the Daevabad Trilogy just as much as the first. It will definitely have a spot on my Hugo nominations ballot next year. The final volume, The Empire of Gold, is due out in 2020, and I’m confident that Chakraborty will be able to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

“The City of Brass” by S.A. Chakraborty

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.