THE CITY OF BRASS by S. A. Chakraborty – READALONG Week 2
Welcome to our Women In SFF Read-along!
If you caught our Read-along Announcement, you’ll know that for Women In SFF, the Hive are hosting a read-along of S. A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass.
Although it’s been on our TBR’s for some time, it’s the first time reading Chakraborty’s magical debut for Nils and myself (Beth).
We’ll be sticking to a reading schedule, which I’ll post below; we’ll be posting discussion points and questions every Wednesday via social media, and then Nils and I will be sharing our responses to these every Saturday. Be sure to follow our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to catch our Wednesday posts.
- Week 1: Beginning through Chapter 6
- Week 2: Chapter 7 – Chapter 14
- Week 3: Chapter 15 – Chapter 22
- Week 4: Chapter 23 to the end
SPOILERS AHEAD: This post is a book-club style discussion of the novel, rather than a review to tempt new readers in.
We do discuss plot points, character motivations, and twists – if you have not read the book and do not want it spoiled, please do not read further!
You can check out our reviews and interview with S. A Chakraborty here instead.
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…
Week 2: Ch. 7 – Ch. 14
This week’s reading opened a scene in which Nahri and Dara appear to connect over a shared meal… until the moment descends into a heated argument. In a later chapter, things get heated in a very different sense. What’s our long-term forecast for this tempestuous pair?
Nils: Things got very heated, didn’t they Beth?!
Beth: fans self
Nils: I find their fiery temperament very entertaining though! You’re never quite sure whether Nahri is going to kill Dara or kiss him! Just kidding, I know she’d never kill him, but he certainly does a lot to boil her blood.
“She stomped towards the forest. If I die out here, I hope I come back as a ghoul. I will haunt that arrogant, wine soaked daeva until the Day of Judgement.”
Beth: You say she’d never kill him, I’m not sure. If it came to the point where she felt she had to, and she knew the full capabilities of her Nahid powers… that’s what I love about these two, their emotions are intense.
Nils: You might just be right there. They are unpredictable!
I thought the scene where Nahri and Dara flee from the rukh on one horse was a brilliant way to show how their attraction was intensifying, and then the scene in the cave was the perfect point when they both finally give into it. Chakraborty sure loves to tease a reader!
Beth: I LOVED the one horse bit, and of course the part in the cave was steamy – but I have to say I really appreciated how Nahri took the lead? Like Virginia McClain said in last week’s discussion [in our Discord chat! Come join the conversation!], these kinds of romances between young women and super old immortals can get kind of weird coughsparkly-vampirescough, but there isn’t really a sense that Dara is leading her or encouraging her.
Nils: Oh absolutely! Nahri knows what she wants and, erm… is grabbing it with both hands!
However, thinking ahead, I don’t know how their relationship will fare. With them both having reached Daevabad, a place where Dara faces imprisonment, I feel they will find themselves separated for quite some time. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed they find their way back to each other.
Beth: With the nature of what and who they are to consider, I don’t think they’ll have an easy time of it. I don’t think their arrival in Daevabad will herald a good time for either of them; Dara may well be facing imprisonment or worse, but I don’t think Nahri, as the last Nahid, is going to be welcomed back with open arms like Dara told her she would. In fact, omg, is he going to use her as some kind of bargaining chip?! Is he going to betray her??
Nils: Noooooo Beth, wait up! You might actually have a point there!! I hadn’t considered that. What if he betrays her?!
Beth: What if he betrays her Nils?!
We get to see Ali interact with his siblings, Mutandhir and Zaynab more in this week’s chapters. What are your impressions of them? How different from each other are they?
Nils: In comparison to his siblings I find it amusing how naïve Ali is.
Beth: Yes! Is it an age thing? Or is it because he’s been raised differently?
Nils: I think maybe a combination of both, and perhaps he’s just a bit socially awkward and therefore doesn’t quite see situations for what they really are. For example the scene where Mutandhir implies that his ‘business deal’ with someone wasn’t quite all about business and the way the sexual innuendo goes completely over Ali’s head made me laugh. Even his sister Zaynab is very playful of Ali’s naivety and although we only briefly meet her, I already feel like she’s going to be a fun character. I’m looking forward to more from her.
Beth: I’m hoping she makes more of an appearance too! There’s definitely a marked difference in the way the siblings perceive court life and rulership. I’m finding it interesting that the King has fostered this difference between his sons.
Nils: Yet on a more serious note, the contrast between the two brothers is also very striking and at the moment I have to say I loath Mutandhir. Whether it’s a facade to show off to the other men of the imperial court or whether it’s his real personality, I’ve not decided yet, but his objectifying of women, his lack of empathy for the shafit, his general lack of interest for anything other than his own self enjoyment made him instantly unlikeable. I wonder if I’ll change my mind later on.
Beth: I think it’s a mask Nils. There was that moment in the salon or pleasure house where it seemed to slip; Khanzada insulted Ali, and Mutandhir was very quick to put them all in their place. They way he did it gave me the inclination that he is playing a game of expectation. He is playing at being the person everyone else expects him to be, perhaps so no-one has cause to be offended by him. Is their rule as secure as it appears? Is he playing the affable drunken womaniser so that the other tribes do not see him as a danger, or as someone to rise up against?
Nils: Good point! He certainly has enough reason to want to hide his true nature.
Beth: Exactly. It’s coming back to this theme, again, wherein I suspect things are not what they seem.
We’ve been treated to a fair few fantastical creatures in this week’s reading – the peris, the rukh, the ifrits, the marid… What were your reactions?
Nils: Beth have I ever mentioned how much I love monsters and fantastical creatures?
Beth: You do?! How have you never mentioned this??
Nils: I’ve only mentioned it 100 times, I’m sorry Beth I’ll do better to mention it more! Chakraborty honestly gave me such a treat in this week’s chapters as I was thoroughly entertained by all the creatures who were in pursuit of Nahri and Dara.
I think the one I found the most interesting was the rukh – a sort of giant ebony-eyed bird. After the rukh is killed, Nahri notices it held her possessions in its talon, and that raised a whole myriad of questions. Who had sent it? Why had it been to her home? Was it really a danger to Nahri or was it trying to deliver her ring? Is that Suleiman’s seal? With events fastly taking more unexpected twists after this occurrence, we have yet to explore this, but I’m on tenterhooks to find out.
Beth: With everything else that happened in this week’s reading, I completely forgot the rukh was actually tracking her and had her belongings! There’s so much in this story that I suspect isn’t going to be as straightforward as we first thought. The peris control the rukh, so they appear to be hunting her, as do the ifrit. I can’t wait for this to unravel and for the truths to come out!
But to focus on the creatures, my favourite was the marid! My heart was pounding as they were trying to get across the riverbed before the giant snake-like river was aware of them!
Nahri and Dara have certainly had an action-packed couple of chapters once again. What do you make of Charkraborty’s structure of Nahri’s action narrative, and Ali’s more political one?
Nils: I personally feel it balances the novel out. I tend to like action packed reads, but when there are two story arcs full of action then the worldbuilding can suffer for it. I always want politics, religion and general worldbuilding weaved in too, so it was nice to see Chakraborty use two very different protagonists to simultaneously fulfil both aspects.
However, I think this week I was more invested in Nahri’s story arc than I was with Ali. Nahri’s journey with Dara held so much tension and mystery, I was always eager to return to her chapters. Whereas in Ali’s story arc we see him navigate life within the palace whilst also struggling to put aside his prejudices and his involvement with the Tanzeem.
Beth: I’m definitely enjoying Nahri’s narrative a lot more. Ali’s is interesting, and the political weaving and build-up of secrets is intriguing… But I find myself drawn to Nahri herself as a character a lot more.
Nils: Whilst Ali’s parts still held my interest, I did become slightly confused by the history of the world. With terms like djinn and daeva universally used to name the beings, and also being used for the Daeva tribe living in Daevastana, it was hard to understand which was being referenced and who was on whose side.
Beth: I’m with you on this one! Dara keeps calling himself a Daeva, and sets himself apart from “djinn”. But all the beings living in Daevabad call themselves djinn, and they’re separated into tribes, one of which is the Daeva tribe… but I’m not sure if Dara is of that tribe or if he’s from a separate now-extinct one? I’m finding myself getting tangled up in these terms.
It’s also just dawning on me that the djinn in Daevabad don’t seem to practice as much magic as Dara does?
Nils: Yeah as of yet I’m not too sure either, but that’s a great point, the Daeva’s in Daevabad don’t tend to use a lot of magic at all. In fact we only saw a bit of magic from them at the beginning when Ali used the flaming sword when he was fleeing with the Tanzeem.
However, I thank Shannon Chakraborty for giving us extra information on her website though, it was extremely useful in distinguishing the different tribes Ahh where they came from.
Having said all that, the last chapter where Ali and his brother are in the crypt where the Nahids were buried was very captivating, and I’m already full of theories as to where that story will lead.
Beth: That was quite the revelation, wasn’t it! Particularly that comment regarding Nahri’s mother, and the fact she could break someone’s bones from across the room??
It seems Ali is not going to be able to escape the Tanzeem as easily as he thought. What do you think he should do?
Nils: Ooh this is a hard question!
Beth: Yeah, I keep forgetting we’ve actually got to answer our own questions.
Nils: Haha, at least we are making ourselves think!
I don’t believe the Tanzeem are only after equality for the shafit, I believe they know their population is strong and their end game is to have an all out war and overthrow the Daevas. I’m hoping that Ali is beginning to see that.
Beth: I have to confess, I haven’t really spared them as much thought as, say, Nahri’s storyline. I haven’t considered implications, as much as I’ve focused on their plight. I’m very much reeling at the injustice of their situation – that they’re not permitted to leave Daevabad, but then also they have no rights in the city. It stands to reason that that’s a catalyst for trouble.
Nils: Yep, nothing sparks rebellion more than the oppression of one race.
As for what he should do, well he can’t really fund them because it’s clear now that the money will go towards acquiring more weapons for an uprising, yet to give them nothing at all puts himself and the city in danger anyway as the Tanzeem will just resort to other tactics. Therefore, I think telling the Tanzeem he will give them support during his meetings with the Emperor and trying to win them small amounts of freedom is probably the only way to placate them for now. How easy that will be given his father’s stubbornness and cruel streak remains to be seen though.
Beth: I really feel for Ali in this situation, as I really struggle to see what I would do in his position. There is a clear need to do something to change the gross imbalances in their society. Yet Ali doesn’t seem to be in a position to orchestrate any change, like the Tanzeem believe he is. He doesn’t have his father’s ear, and if anything is in danger himself from that quarter.
Let’s focus our attention on some of the revelations of this week, as there were some pretty major ones.
First of all – what are our theories on this pact the ifrit made with Nahri’s mother??
Nils: I have no idea! That came as quite a twist for me as I had never suspected that the ifrit and Nahri’s parents would have been connected. I know Nahid blood runs through her, but does this now mean ifrit blood does too? I haven’t thought of any theories of what this pact could be though, have you Beth?
Beth: Dara seemed very keen that the ifrit were lying, which makes me believe they were telling the truth… I hadn’t even considered her mother could be alive. I thought she was genuinely the last one, so that in itself was a huge revelation to me. If anything, the events with the ifrit kind of support my theory about Dara – what if they were trying (in their convoluted way) to rescue her from Dara. What if Nahri’s mother had made a pact with them to prevent Nahri from being delivered into the hands of her enemies in Daevabad?
Nils: Did the ifrit mention that Nahri’s mother was alive? Could this be a pact they have to fulfil even if Nahri’s mother is dead?
Beth: Oh! Now that’s an interesting theory, I just assumed it meant she was still alive!
Secondly, has your opinion of Dara altered in any way after learning hints of his rebellion and his scourge of the city Qui-zi?
Nils: Now Dara’s story arc took an interesting twist this week, didn’t it?
Beth: It certainly did!
Nils: He’s definitely much more sinister than I perceived him to be, but looking back now there were hints of it. On our Discord chat Neelam pointed out that Dara killed Baseema, a young child possessed by an ifrit, without hesitation.
Beth: Yes! When Neelam brought that up it really struck me that I hadn’t noticed it at the time!
Nils: Exactly! Neither had I! (We’ve read too much grimdark Beth, we expect a few killings without even questioning it anymore!!)
However, even if Baseema was possessed she was still a child and Dara showed no remorse. This was such an excellent point, I hadn’t considered that he never showed any remorse. I’m now wondering whether a further twist will be that Dara actually becomes a ‘villain’, I mean he seems to be well feared in Daevabad, so will he live up to that reputation now that he has entered the city? I’m very curious to find out!
Beth: I really hope he doesn’t, I like him! If he ends up betraying Nahri I’ll see it as a betrayal against us too and it’ll break my heart.
Nils: As for whether this changes my opinion of him? Well, I’m a fan of morally grey, complex and dark characters, so as of yet I still really love Dara. However if he hurts Nahri, well then that might cause me to change my mind.
Beth: It’ll be such a great twist if he does though Nils…
Finally, in our first week we learned that there were strange occurrences in the palace: the Nahid’s fire upon the altar suddenly rekindles itself, a weed choked garden suddenly starts blooming and a statue appears out of nowhere.
Do you think this has any connection to Nahid bodies buried in the depths of the palace? Do you believe, like Ali, it’s haunted?
Nils: These occurrences remind me of similar events which started happening in The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart when the eyes on the Alanga paintings suddenly started opening. They both give that element of creepiness and mystery to the story, and suggest that perhaps the big bad enemy is stirring.
Beth: Yes! I was thinking the same thing Nils!
Nils: So here’s my theory: the closer Nahri gets to the palace, her presence will cause the Nahid bodies within the crypt to slowly come awake and return to claim their rightful place in Daevastana. The closer she gets the more their power grows and that’s why all these strange happenings are becoming more frequent in the palace. I believe her Nahid blood has the power to bring her race back into existence.
Beth: Oh my days Nils I love that theory! It’ll be interesting to read her reaction to the Nahid too, considering she’s been led to believe they were noble healers… what if they wake up, and they’re evil and start murdering everyone? Is Nahri going to have to go to war against her own ancestors and tribe? I’m very aware that most of my responses end in asking more questions..
Nils: It’s that kind of book though, there is so much wonderful mystery to question!
Nils: I loved these scenes of light hearted banter between Dara and Nahri:
“Someone steals from me, I steal from others, and I’m sure the people I stole from will eventually take something that doesn’t belong to them. It’s a circle,” she added wisely, as she gnawed on the chewy bread.
Dara stared at her for a good few heartbeats before speaking. “There is something very wrong with you.”
“Relax,” Dara urged, looking embarrassed. “The lake knows to behave. We’re perfectly safe here.”
“It knows… Do me a favor,” Nahri seethed, glaring at the Daeva.”
We hope you enjoyed this week’s discussion – there was even more action and romance; and it looks like next week, the threads will start coming together!