THE CITY OF BRASS by S. A. Chakraborty – READALONG Week 4
Welcome to our Women In SFF Read-along!
For this year’s Women In SFF, the Hive have been 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’ve (somehow??) reached the final week of our read-along, and it has been epic!
Thank you so much, all of you, who have joined in and made our first ever read along such a great success. Also, a huge thank you to my partner in crime Nils – this has been SO much fun <3
If you want to join in with the conversation, or if you’ve missed the read along so far, check the links below:
- 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 4: Ch. 23 – End
What an ending! I don’t know about you, but we’re reeling. What are your feelings on reaching the end?
Beth: I read these last six chapters in one sitting (barring interruptions from children!). I couldn’t put it down from one revelation to one fight scene to more secrets! I don’t even know where to begin writing up the questions for this week! Or deconstructing my feelings…
Nils: Feelings Beth, I had MANY feelings, most of which I sent to you on WhatsApp whilst I was reading! But as I write this I’m still all abuzz with everything that happened. So much happened!
Beth: It was absolutely jam-packed wasn’t it! You know a book is doing something right when you have to immediately respond to what you just read and share it with someone.
All I can think about right now is picking up the next book and finding out what happens next. Which is great for a series I guess, and I’m lucky I have the next two books ready and waiting, but I’m not sure what that says for how satisfactory the resolution is at the end? Although saying that, it was extremely satisfying to see the Daeva tribe recognise exactly what was being done to Nahri, respect her for it, and see just how shaken it left the king.
Nils: *sobs* I don’t have the next two books yet, but they’ll be ordered soon! I love an action packed ending, one where you’re taken on a rollercoaster ride, and Chakraborty certainly delivered that. Perhaps if I had read this when the book was first released, and I knew I had at least another year to wait for the second instalment, I may have have been a tad grumpy that the ending left more questions than it answered, however in my opinion that’s not necessarily a negative aspect because it just means I’m eager for more, and that’s precisely what we want from a first book.
Beth: I’d have been in absolute torture if I had to wait a year to find out what happened to everyone! I can appreciate the need to ensure readers come back – Chakraborty really nailed that to be fair!
There were quite a few surprises in this culmination – what came as the biggest revelation to you?
Beth: Each chapter seemed to leave me gasping about one thing or another.
Nils: Same! Chakraborty never let us catch our breaths in those last few chapters.
Beth: This week’s reading began with Ali getting stabbed by Hanno from the Tanzeem, and the excitement and drama just built and built from there. Dara’s ability to know the wishes of other djinn was particularly intriguing, Ali’s bizarre reaction to Nahri’s healing and his need for water, Ali’s possession, Dara’s death, Gassan revealing that Nahri is actually a shafit? I think? Or was that a threat?
Nils: Yeah I think Nahri is half Nahid/half human and the curse was just something King Ghassan made up so that those who oppose shafit and those who support them wouldn’t start a war over her. Nahids were never supposed to mix with humans so you can imagine what they’d all do if they believed she actually was shafit.
Beth: Ah gotcha, thanks for clearing that up Nils! It makes a lot of sense, not to mention the fact Nahri’s mother seems really important to him, so he wouldn’t have wanted to damage her personal reputation either?
Nils: I agree, I don’t think he’d want to tarnish her reputation either.
I loved Dara’s ability to know people’s wishes! I also kind of liked Dara’s descent into his darker self, I found his attitude and unhinged demeanour quite entertaining. Hey, you can blame my years of grimdark reading for this! Even when King Ghassan revealed the extent of violence Dara put upon the Geziri tribe, there’s a part of me that still wants to defend him, I just don’t think his actions are simply ‘evil’, I think there’s more to it, but we’ll see.
Beth: Yeah I do worry sometimes what grimdark has done to us Nils. “HE IS MOST EVIL AND TWISTED AND NASTY” – is he though? I bet he’s a big softy inside. Who hurt him?
I have to say though, that epilogue. The Daevas have clearly been hiding a great deal! And it makes a great deal of sense now that Dara wanted Nahri to marry Jamshid! I think the fact that the Daeva have apparently been hiding Nahids definitely came as the biggest revelation to me!
Nils: Excellent point, Beth! That makes so much sense why Dara chose Jamshid for Nahri now. Especially if they are both of Nahid bloodline. And yes, the most exciting revelation for me was the confirmation that Nahri’s mother is still alive and the Daeva have known all along!! Beth, with her untrusting eye, suspected this early on, but I wasn’t sure!
Beth: I very rarely trust off-page deaths. Or on-page deaths actually *glares at Dara’s ashes*
Nils: I really hope you’re once again right there!
Do you have any theories on Dara at this point?
Beth: I have a couple! For a start, I don’t think he’s a “freed” slave at all, I think he’s still beholden to something or someone – whether Nahri specifically, as her wishes seemed to affect him, or the Nahids in general? Maybe this is why he’s been acting so strangely since he was back in Daevabad, being closer to the ancient magic of the Nahids? This would also possibly explain why he can’t remember things, if they only have their memories returned once they’re freed…
Nils: I really like this theory, and the ending left me thinking you’re right.
Beth: I really hope Manizeh can bring Dara back!
Nils: Beth… what if Manizeh owns Dara? What if he’s her slave? And that’s why he’s instinctively protective of Nahri? It will also be interesting to see how changed Dara is if they do manage to bring him back, will he have lost the feelings he once held for Nahri? Will he become more demon than Afshin? What do you think, Beth?
Beth: At this point I genuinely have no idea what to think! I really hope he comes back the same as he was, but wasn’t it mentioned somewhere how the Nahids created new bodies for slaves? Or some such? Surely this can’t be the last we see of him though. He’s a monstrous figure, obviously, and yet I really feel for him, his past seems so complicated – there’s a lot we still don’t know. Surely we’ll come back to this character and learn more about him??
Nils: We have to!!
Last week, Suzy suggested in our Discord chat that Nisreen is untrustworthy. Do you think she may have been deliberately sabotaging Nahri in the infirmary?
Beth: This is such an interesting theory! When Nahri returned to find her patient, who she had left improving, suddenly dying – I became quite suspicious of Nisreen. When she said the king wanted Nahri to fail, I began to wonder if she was working under instructions to ensure Nahri fails. However, after having read the epilogue, I’m now wondering if Nisreen was working under her own initiative, perhaps trying to discourage the Qahtanis from wanting Nahri, perhaps trying to convince them that she lacks the power of a true Nahid, that she can’t be Manizeh’s daughter?
Nils: Or she’s trying to mask just how powerful Nahri is, because if the king sees the extent of her true powers the Daevas will begin to worship her, and divine worship is a far more powerful emotion than being loyal to a king is. The people would turn on him, and he knows it. Nahri even knows it herself:
“She thought again of Ali, of the satisfaction she felt watching him sleep, the peace she’d felt after finally doing something right after months of failing. The favourite son of the djinn king, and she’d snatched him back from death. There was power in that. And it was time for Nahri to take it.”
Beth: OH that’s an EXCELLENT point Nils! Nahri exists on such a fine knife edge, doesn’t she. She needs to have worth so as not to be killed, but if she proves to have too much worth, to the wrong people, that could also get her killed!
Nahri has the worst taste in men. But it was kind of heart-breaking to see her torn between her love for Dara and her friendship for Ali. How do we feel about the love triangle that’s developing here? And who are we shipping, Dara & Nahri or Ali & Nahri?
Nils: Now normally I’d be against a love triangle, but to be honest I haven’t come across one in ages and also Chakraborty, the wizard that she is, has made me care for these characters and their relationships have developed over time, not instantly, so Nahri’s attachment to them both felt natural.
Beth: You’re right Nils, everything about their relationships felt so natural and believable. You could see Ali’s attachment coming, it didn’t come as a surprise, but sometimes it’s nice to expect something and know it’s coming – so that then you can sit back and enjoy (not to mention admire!) the build up.
Nils: I like both Dara and even Ali now, who I previously wasn’t attached to. So I could see myself being happy with her choosing either of these men, but perhaps I ship Dara a little more. OR let’s turn the gender roles completely on its head here and instead of the men being allowed to have multiple wives, let Nahri have multiple husbands! What do we think Beth? Yay or nay?
Beth: I don’t think either would have been right for her! I love Dara and Nahri’s interactions. The growth of their relationship over their journey was really fun to follow, but once they crossed the veil into Daevabad, you knew it wasn’t ever going to be the same for them again, that it couldn’t be. There’s just no escaping Dara’s past, or the fact that he is still a pawn to someone, so he can’t truly be himself with Nahri. He was trying to get her out of Daevabad to protect her, but who was helping him and what were their motives?
Nils: That’s a really good point, Beth. I hadn’t considered that Dara can never truly be himself while someone else is controlling his actions. For as long as he is being manipulated by someone else, Nahri can never trust him.
Beth: And then there’s Ali. Again, I loved his friendship with Nahri, how by the end, they became allies to each other – both alone and under pressure from those around them and utterly misunderstood, it was beautiful that they could begin to turn to each other. But if Nahri were to end up with him, it would be one and the same as her marrying his brother. She might be happier with Ali after their groundwork in friendship, but their marriage would still be a political one, would still have that pressure and meaning.
If I had to pick one of them for her to run away with and live in isolation and hiding somewhere, where they can just be themselves? Actually yeah, both of them, and then we could read them fighting over Nahri and being really catty to each other all the time!
Nils: Yeah that’s what I was initially thinking, more fight scenes over Nahri please!
Ok, but what is going on with Ali? Theories?
Beth: I THINK HIS MOTHER’S TRIBE ARE PART MARID AND HE’S PART MARID. I don’t think he was possessed by one exactly, I think he has some kind of natural affinity with them. After Nahri healed him, the water healed him further – long before the scene on the ship. And we were treated to that flash-back where we saw he and Zaynab manipulating water. Daeva and djinn are beings of fire. I wonder if Zaynab knows more about this and is keeping a huge secret from the rest of the family?
Nils: I’m completely with you on this theory, Beth. That flashback scene, which was brilliant, confirmed it for me. Ali has Marid powers innately in him, he, like Zaynab, could manipulate water from childhood and I think now his powers are manifesting more because whilst he was under the water near death, the Marid learnt who he was and unlocked them.
Beth: Or, they were able to possess him because he had powers?
Beth: Either way, this is a mystery I’m really looking forward to learning more about in the next book!
What do we think Nahri is going to do now that she’s deeply embedded in the Qahtanis family? Will she marry Muntadhir?
Nils: Nahri is going to play as much of a devious game as King Ghassan has, of that I have no doubt now. I really think he’s met his match with her. In fact, in a way I think he quite likes Nahri, I think he likes the challenge she presents.
Beth: I’m not so sure. I got the impression that he’s really scared of her, that this marriage is all about control. I really did love how Nahri decided right, if I’m going to be forced into a marriage, then at least I’m going to assert as much control over the terms as I can. She recognised what aspects she could control, and absolutely made the most of it. I definitely think that will be a theme for her going forward.
Nils: Absolutely Beth, I also loved how right at the last minute, she took control over as much of the situation as she could.
Now Nahri has the respect and sympathy of the Daeva, she has allies who pose such a threat to the Qahtanis’ rule, because rightfully Nahri should be upon the throne, and I hope to see her there. Whether she’ll marry Muntadhir to achieve this, I’m not sure, and I kind of hope not. It would be such an ill matched marriage, with both of them longing to be with someone else and hating each other.
Beth: I really don’t want her to marry him, but from here, I can’t see how she’d have any way out of that! I agree with you, I don’t think either of them will be happy with each other! I just really hope that, in that position, she can actually be a beacon of light for her tribe?
What are your overall impressions of the book?
Beth: I have absolutely loved this book, Chakraborty has thoroughly swept me up in her world, and I am not exaggerating when I say as soon as I’m done here, I’ll be picking up The Kingdom of Copper. I need to find out if Dara is brought back, if Ali plans a rebellion, if Nahri can bring down the Qahtanis from within…
This book has been a page burner, it hasn’t let up for a second. The fantasy elements have been truly magical, thoroughly and utterly scratching that itch for fantastical creatures and unbridled magic – and flying carpets!
And the characters! I really connected with Nahri, and I was impressed by the depth to the other characters. I loved how clear it was that they had plenty going on outside of the story that we weren’t witness to, it give them a strong sense of realism for me.
I cannot wait to discover more of Chakraborty’s wider world in the next books!
Nils: I was swept away by this book, from the very moment our main protagonists Nahri and Dara travel on the magic carpet escaping ifrit, to meeting our second main protagonist Ali and watching him use his flaming sword, to the explosive ending, I was captivated. Chakraborty’s prose is a wonderful blend of atmospheric, richly detailed and highly emotive. Her worldbuilding is complex with much politics, religion and culture presented to us, but it always kept me intrigued. The highlight of the book for me was the characters though, each have their flaws but they are easily likeable. Nahri is strong-willed yet caring, Dara is fierce, tortured, and Ali is naive, and idealistic but his heart is big. I’m so excited to see where their journeys will lead in The Kingdom of Copper, and then how it will all end in Empire of Gold.