City of Brass Review: Exploring a Story of Magic, Curses, and Djinn

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Photo Credit: Goodreads

What happens when a con-lady in 18th century Cairo takes on an exorcism job, only to realize her client is legitimately possessed by an evil spirit of the undead?

That question can be answered by reading bestselling author S. A. Chakraborty’s book, City of Brass (2017).

With a 4.15-star average rating from over 105,000 reviews on Goodreads, Chakraborty’s novel has been well-received by audiences worldwide.

For readers looking to embark on a fantasy adventure, or those who may have heard of the series but remain on the fence about starting it, here is a spoiler-free review and recommendation for book one.

Synopsis

City of Brass is a story about Nahri, a 20-year-old apprentice apothecary living in Cairo. As an orphan with nothing but an affinity for languages and an unusual skill for healing, she runs cons to make ends meet.

Things are going well for Nahri, until one day she is asked to perform an exorcism to get rid of an evil spirit. Not thinking much of it, she accepts the job — only to discover the girl has actually been possessed by an ifrit, a cursed djinn.

Soon after, the angry ifrit seeks out Nahri and sends an army of the dead after her. Desperate and afraid, Nahri accidentally summons a being for protection: a hotheaded warrior who is not quite human.

From then on, the story really kicks off as the warrior reveals to Nahri a whole new world of magical creatures, including tribes of djinn — also referred to as Daeva — who populate the city of Daevabad.

For these characters, reaching Daevabad soon becomes an urgent goal, as dangerous forces have become aware of Nahri — and she is beginning to realize she might not be quite human after all.

Characters with Depth

Be they human or Daeva, Chakraborty makes sure that each character she writes comes alive on the page in an unforgettable way.

For the main character, Nahri, this means cunning in navigating an unfamiliar magical world — and seeing how her tricks on the streets of Cairo can be used to further her survival in Daevabad.

For the hotheaded Daeva warrior, it comes in the form of blasting onto the page and easily annihilating a band of the evil undead.

As for Ali, the other character through which readers watch the story unfold, his mark is made through his compassion and the potential danger it draws him to because of his position of power.

Most importantly, these characters are more than just a grifter, a warrior, and a prince; they come off as actual people with clear motivations, backstories, and imperfect judgment, which only makes them all the more intriguing to follow.

Action and Excitement

While there are moments over the course of the plot that are of a slow or leisurely pace, the action and battle scenes are not among them.

Right from the beginning, the first incident of the possessed child kicks off an epic action scene that sets the tone of the book, cementing that this is no lighthearted or simple tale of sleight-of-hand and street cons.

Other battles and conflicts throughout the story serve a similar purpose — especially when the focus of the plot shifts from heart-pounding battles to stressful political struggles.

Readers will come to both anticipate and fear these action-filled moments, as they have the power to change the entire course of the plot — and not only to the benefit of the main characters.

There are no guarantees when it comes to these battles, which makes it all the more exciting to try and predict how they will unfold.

Worldbuilding

Perhaps the most widely-praised aspect of City of Brass is its worldbuilding. For readers who enjoy losing themselves in a fantasy world that feels properly lived-in, the secret city of Daevabad is the perfect choice.

Even before that, the settings of Cairo and the untamed desert beyond are written in such a way that readers feel they are right beside Nahri in alleyways or in flight from magical monsters.

In terms of the city of Daevabad, readers are thrown in headfirst alongside the main character. With context from Ali’s chapters, it has the distinct feeling of walking into a pot about to boil over.

Complete with its own rules, political unrest, and incomprehensible maladies — which are a particular challenge for Nahri — Daevabad is an intriguing setting for a large portion of the story.

That being said, it is ironic that part of what makes the world so appealing is how it has its roots in the familiar — just enough for readers to have a mental framework for their imagination.

The in-world history of the book draws from the story of Suleiman and his ring, which granted him the ability to control djinn. From there, however, Chakraborty takes the story into her own hands and creates something truly fascinating.

As such, this book is a great read for people who appreciate touches of realism in their magical stories.

Final Thoughts

At 532 pages, City of Brass is somewhat of a commitment. Admittedly, my biggest criticism is that it can be slow-paced at times with long chapters that can be hard to remain engaged in. For that reason, I would caution casual or non-fantasy readers about getting into it.

That being said, I think it has just enough in the way of action, in-world prejudices and discrimination, plot twists, and just a hint of romance to draw most other readers in — particularly those who enjoy the fantasy adventure genre.

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