THE CITY OF BRASS (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) - by S. A. Chakraborty

THE CITY OF BRASS - S. A. Chakraborty
Published: 2017 - Harper Voyager.
Genres: Young adult / romance / fantasy / historical
Pages: 528.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Fantasy violence, some gore, and trauma.
Format: eBook ARC.
Source: Thank you so much to the publisher for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty—an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and One Thousand and One Nights, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts. Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

People, I feel absolutely and honestly terrible about writing this review. Firstly, I didn't like the book. Secondly, everyone else seems to adore it - judging from the Goodreads reviews. And believe me when I say I was SO EXCITED to read it. I thought it looked perfect.
But unfortunately I'm in the minority with this negative review.

The writing is a huge disappointment. It's a mix of the styles of Amanda Hocking and Marissa Meyer - styles, not storytelling - and it's extremely 'childish' and lighthearted. That wasn't what I was expecting. The sentence structure isn't clever, the word choice isn't astounding, the writing is juvenile (not necessarily in a bad way, but it just isn't a style I personally go for) and even the characters feel younger than I imagine the author intended for them to be.
The dialogue is typical. It's fun and quirky, but never incredibly profound, witty, or entertaining. I was frequently bored by the conversations, and wish they'd been more original and creative.

I love the world building. The culture is so rich and effortless, and the amount of depth and detail is exquisite. This isn't an author saying "Oh, I want to make this Egyptian so I'll throw in an Egyptian word or two and research their food", no. Chakraborty goes all in. The result is a vast, deep, diverse, and refreshing world brightly coloured and sparkling with originality.

“The haughty daeva warrior and scheming human thief were not the most natural of pairings…”

The story and plot let me down. It feels too happy and 'fun', mostly due to the writing, and I just could not be convinced by that, considering the things that happen in the story. There are tragic incidents and ghastly deaths and fights, but the book still maintains that lighthearted tone. It just doesn't fit. Only at the end is there real horror and darkness, but I wish the seriousness of that horrific ending could have spread into the rest of the book as well; it would've been so much stronger. As it was, I struggled to work out whether this was supposed to be a fun book, or a heartbreaking, serious one. It leaves your emotions in a tight, frustrated mess.

The plot is too complex and messy. I respect the author so much for the depth she puts into every aspect, but on the other hand it's impossible to absorb all the details. The world has a huge history and most of the characters have such complex back stories, that it is absolutely overwhelming and confusing trying to take all this stuff in. Most of it went right over my head. There's too much information, too much depth, too much history explaining why this happened to this person and why this person hates this person, and at times I honestly just wanted to give up reading the book. I know that all this info gives depth and complexity to the world and characters, but couldn't the author have slimmed it down a bit? It's too much.
The story is also very boring. The whole middle of the book lags, and I found any scenes not involving Nahri and Dara extremely boring. The little action there is, is amazing, but such action scenes aren't common.
It's also immensely political. For someone who doesn't love politics, I struggled to get involved in all the political dynamics and power wrestling. It went straight over my head - although I did try my best to concentrate.

Nahri pressed her lips together; she hated when people asked after her heritage. Though she wasn’t what many would call beautiful—years of living on the streets had left her much thinner and far dirtier than men typically preferred—her bright eyes and sharp face usually spurred a second glance. And it was that second glance, the one that revealed a line of midnight hair and uncommonly black eyes—unnaturally black eyes, she’d heard it said—that provoked questions.

Overall, I love the characters. Nahri is a feisty, sly,  wonderfully capable and witty heroine who's just as arrogant as she is soft-hearted. I love her character, and I love how unique she is - she's definitely not your typical YA fantasy badass heroine.
I adore Nahri's slow-burning friendship with Ali. Ali himself is a complex, endearing hero, and I especially like how his character grew over the course of the story.
And the character development is superb. All of the characters are incredibly three-dimensional, flawed, and morally grey - which I LOVE - and they genuinely change, learn from their mistakes, and rise up into mature, much more competent people by the end of the story.

One disappointment regarding the characters: there's too many of them. The secondary cast is huge and slippery, and I struggled to grasp who everyone was when it came to Ali's family.

I love the romance. It's so swoony and sweet, and Dara and Nahri have fantastic chemistry. For those worrying about a love triangle - never fear. Ali and Nahri's friendship never turns to a romance, and it's clear to see that Nahri will only ever be love with Dara.

The City of Brass isn't my kind of book. The plot's boring, the history of the world is impossible to get a grip on, and I don't love the writing. 
But I like the characters. And the world building is rich, and the story astoundingly and refreshingly unique.
I feel like while this wasn't the book for me, it's definitely something many other readers will adore. 

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