You know when you find a book that you can’t stop thinking about, and no matter where you are you think about the characters and muse over what will happen next. That was The City of Brass for me this weekend! I came into work raving about S.A. Chakraborty’s book, a story that includes history, magic, politics, and the supernatural. What a fun read!
I found this book on a Calgary Public Library list and was interested. I can’t remember the list, but I seem to find some great books on their lists. Librarians are amazing people! That’s also true in the book: Nahir loves to learn and eventually gets access to a library (and even lessons so she can learn to read the books in the library). There is a define love of learning and reading shared by a few characters in the novel, so I felt at home.
But that’s about as far as homey this book felt; it took place in the desert, in Cairo’s bizarre, and in Daevabad, the city of brass (and the city of her ancestors).Speculative/fantasy fiction is so fun to read because it takes something that the readers are familiar with (or at least mildly familiar with) and twists it a bit. In this case, there are beings of fire, water, air, and earth all living together in a veiled world, next to the human world. Very interesting!
As someone who is curious about world religions and wants to learn more about the Muslim faith, I appreciated Chakraborty’s seamless inclusion of Muslim culture in her novel. She didn’t dumb it down and explain it for readers: she gave the faith tradition an important place in the setting and in the lives of the various characters. Yet I couldn’t help but think, how has religion been used over thousands upon thousands of years to create divisions and other-ness. In the novel, Nahir struggles with others because she doesn’t fully support the religion of her people and she often lets her altar fire burn out. She is often chastised for not fully religious customs, which makes it obvious that she doesn’t fully belong in the city of brass, Daevabad.
Politics and religion aside, this novel made me want to start reading the classic One Thousand and One Nights where this story got its inspiration from. The supernatural characters, the location, and history of a complex city, and the intrusion of new outsiders made this a fascinating book. I knew it was the first in a series, but this is a lovely stand-alone (although I can’t wait to read the next book when it comes out!).