Ever since I finished the City of Brass, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. It didn’t grab me right away, I’ll admit, but reading it was like rolling down a hill; by the time I realized I was falling fast, it was too late for me to do anything else.
Chakraborty’s story is one of boundless adventure, unbelievable energy, and incredible love. The phrase I’ve been using when I recommend it to friends and family is “bright and shining fantasy”. There’s a richness to the experience of reading Chakraborty’s story. While reading, I’ve never before felt more like I was sitting around a campfire on a beautiful late summer night, snuggled in blankets and licking melted chocolate off my fingers while a dear friend tells me a wondrous story. Somehow, that’s the City of Brass.
In the City of Brass readers meet Nahri, a young woman scraping by on her sharp wits and a miraculous knack with healing, right as her world is blown apart when she meets people straight out of her fantasy (and ours) – the djinn. A world away, a prince (Prince Ali) is struggling with his own changing world, as royal traditions butt heads with a crisis of “citizen’s rights” and Ali feels the pull from both sides. Both of these characters have their flaws, but are believable, relatable, well-rounded characters. In contrast, Nahri’s new djinn “friend” who calls himself Dara is made of mystery – not just for Nahri but for us, the readers. As the story unfolds, getting to know Dara is one of the great pleasures of this book.
In an article about writing historical fiction (which I’m not sure I buy that the City of Brass is, but perhaps that’s a thought for the comments section), the author commented that “People are messy, complicated creatures; … no matter the titles and vast treasuries.” I really think that viewpoint speaks to how she wrote this book, and why people have found it so thoroughly engaging; her characters (human or not) are all people. They are all clearly the heroes of their own stories, even when they’re not the hero of this story. Chakraborty displays an incredible gift in this regard, of writing compelling and rich, dramatic and challenging, relatable and confounding characters. And then, of course, she sets them against an impossibly real magical world and puts them to work telling her story.
There are some small parts of the City of Brass that had me rolling my eyes, I will admit. Nahri moons over an attractive male a little too many times for my taste, and Prince Ali does have a sidekick named Abu, and Nahri’s sharp wits are traded a little too neatly for trusting innocence when it fits the plot – but this IS a book designed for a young adult audience. After all is said and done there is not a flaw in this book I haven’t been blinded to by its wonderful, bright and beautiful story.
Many of the supernatural characters and traditions Chakraborty weaves together in her book may be familiar to readers. The way she brings them to life, however, is wholly new. In her skilled hands, the djinn are not just a trope but a people with a rich history and complicated living society. Under her care, magic and human frailty and aching want combine to create a story that will inspire readers for ages to come. I am so grateful that this book is the first in a series. I think my heart would truly have broken had this been the end of my literary journey into the world (and with the characters) Chakraborty has created.