For me, few things make winter more tolerable than a curling up with an immersive fantasy, and The City of Brass was a the perfect December read. The novel follows Nahri, a con artist in eighteenth-century Cairo who exploits her marks belief in magic. But it is her lack of superstition that gets her in trouble, when during a con she accidentally summons Dara, a mysterious djinn warrior who reveals to her a hidden magical world of djinn, magical beings of fire and their city of brass, Daevabad, a place she is drawn to because of her own magical heritage. But Daevabad is far from a djinn paradise and instead is a simmering hotbed of tribal dissent and political underworkings. As she learns more about Daevabad, the six tribes, Prince Alizayd, Dara’s history, and her own heritage, she is drawn into a conflict with no easy way out.
Wow. I rarely expect fantasies to get so intricately political, but City of Brass kept surprising me. The narration switches between Nahri and Prince Ali as we come to understand their perspectives on the politics of Daevabad, each with their different biases and experiences that define their ideologies. But neither one of them have the whole story, nor even half. Throughout the novel, we come to see them both as unreliable narrators, not out of bad intention, but out of a lack of information or their own prejudices. The various decisions Nahri and Ali face feel weighty, with ripping consequences that create more choices. The history of Daevabad and the djinn is also similarly intriguing, though I got lost at a few moments among all of the details. But once I hit the middle of this non-Western-centric fantasy, I couldn’t put it down.
What are your favorite winter reads? What new fantasy should I add to my list? What Christmas books do I need to review for next week?