Cover image via Amazon.
I know reading and travel quotes can be a bit cliche, but reading a great book can sometimes take you on journeys that rival those in real life. I found just that in S. A. Chakraborty’s novel The City of Brass. It’s an adventure in time, religion, and the fantastic, and I loved every single word.
Before going on a trip – the best time to find new books – I swung by my local library to browse. Except I had forgotten that my library is running with limited services right now as it’s being remodeled. While the children’s section is open, there were only three little library carts of new releases. Having made the trek, I figured I could browse what was there and if I didn’t find anything, I could run to Half Price Books instead.
On the middle library cart was a book with thick spine with a unicorn sticker that categorizes it as Fantasy. I snatched it up and read the inside cover. I was a paragraph in when I started walking to the check-out desk. The premise: It’s 18th century Egypt, and Nahri is a con-artist with some peculiar healing abilities. When she accidentally summons a fire djinn – a daeva, he’ll insist you call him – and they fight off an ifrit, the daeva realizes Nahri must be part-djinn and whisks her unceremoniously off to the djinn capital, Daevabad. And that’s just the first couple chapters. The journey there, and the palace intrigue when they reach Daevabad and Nahri befriends Prince Alizayd, is completely page-turning. I couldn’t put it down.
Really solid world-building is almost a character in and of itself, and when it’s completely unfamiliar to me I love it even more. I love that The City of Brass is not only set in 18th Century Egypt and spans further east to modern-day Iran/Afghanistan/Pakistan, it celebrates all the cultures in between. The clothing, weapons, and mythical beings all stem from Middle Eastern tales and history, and it was fascinating to read more about them. There are several characters who are also Muslim – Prince Alizayd being particularly devout – and it was lovely reading about Islam through a fantasy lens in a world where there is magic.
I’ve said it on Twitter and Facebook a few times, but I’m sick to death of Anglo-European-based fantasy novels. Even if the world is completely made up, having lore and creatures and even just names from diverse locations in the real world is refreshing. The City of Brass was like a full spa day, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
If you’re looking for a great, thick fantasy novel to curl up in, I highly recommend The City of Brass.