Review: The City of Brass

S.A. Chakraborty enters the fantasy genre with a captivating series opener set in a magical realm peopled by djinn, marids and other creatures from Middle Eastern mythology.

On the streets of 18th-century Cairo, Nahri lives by her wits, reading palms and performing exorcisms for the gullible and desperate. Though drawn to healing, Nahri has no access to training and cannot read, so she peddles magic she doesn't even believe exists. Called upon to exorcise a demon from a young girl, Nahri's nonsense ritual produces astonishing results when she accidentally summons the ferocious and drop-dead gorgeous djinn warrior Dara, who protects her from the ifrit possessing the child. An ancient creature with his own tangled past, Dara believes Nahri is a shafit, a hybrid born of human and djinn parents, and resolves to take her to Daevabad, the enchanted city of brass.

Because of her power to summon Dara and her gift for healing, Nahri must be related to the Nahid, a prestigious family of djinn healers believed to have been completely wiped out. Though Dara treats her with condescension at first because of her human heritage, and Nahri finds him attractive but insufferable, the two gradually develop a grudging respect that ripens into more. However, the family that destroyed the Nahids now rules Daevabad. The city awaits them with a labyrinthine mess of political subtleties neither are prepared to navigate. Young Prince Ali, the king's second son and a mighty swordsman, is already entangled in it, risking charges of treason to support a resistance cell that opposes the unfair treatment of shafit. A host of religious, racial and dynastic tensions lie below Daevabad's surface like a time bomb, and Nahri's arrival is a spark to the fuse.

A complex tapestry of fiery personalities, capricious creatures and grudges that span millennia, Chakraborty's debut dazzles. It digs into strong source material, relatively underused in the genre, and its richly detailed world charms with an array of fascinating magic. Scrappy Nahri and noble, damaged Dara make for an engaging if conflicted pair of leads, while Ali and his social justice crusade contribute a sympathetic viewpoint to the opposing team. First in a proposed trilogy, The City of Brass takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster, leaving them with an open ending that will have them desperate for the follow-up. Majestic and magical. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: Nahri, a con artist in 18th-century Egypt, enters a world of magical intrigue when she accidentally summons a djinn warrior during a fake exorcism.

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