EMPIRE OF GOLD by S. A. Chakraborty (BOOK REVIEW)
“Nahri found herself pressing her knuckles against her temple, hard enough to hurt. Was this a dream? Or maybe Daevabad had been the dream. The nightmare. For surely it was more likely she was a human back in Cairo, a poor thief, a con artist taken in by her own scheme rather than someone who had lived the past six years as the future queen of a hidden kingdom of djinn.”
From the moment a con artist in Cairo is swept away on a flying carpet by a magical warrior, to her entering the fabled land of Daevabad, meeting two very different princes, magical creatures and a tyrant king, then discovering her true powers, her turbulent heritage and an age old war between the Qahtani and the Daeva’s, Shannon Chakraborty kept me entranced in this brutal yet beautiful tale of finding hope and courage when all seems lost. I have found that each book has surpassed the last and I have to say Empire of Gold delivered an astounding conclusion in the Daevabad trilogy. In this last instalment everything falls to pieces, truths are revealed and scars are formed. Each character develops in incredible ways and is left a very different person by the end.
Daevabad, once an illustrious magical place, has fallen. Thousands of daeva’s, djinn and shafit now hide in fear whilst their homes and businesses lay in ruin. Manizheh has played her hand and her vengeance has brought everyone to their knees, yet there were some who resisted. Banu Nahida Nahri, horrified by her mother’s actions, refuses to join in her conquest and taking Alizayd with her, she unwittingly finds them both transported to Cairo. At the same time magic is stripped from them all, Daevabad falls into a brutal civil war, and each of our characters have to face some difficult choices.
We spend a large proportion of the beginning of the book in Cairo with my beloved Alizayd and Nahri, and these were some really enjoyable scenes. Alizayd’s complete awe at the bazaar and the wonders he finds there, his first taste of authentic Egyptian food, then seeing Nahri performing successful surgery on a young boy, watching the calm wash over her and seeing her realising she can heal even without her Nahid powers. The growing bond between these two after so much animosity in the previous book was a welcome sight. Especially the sexual tension and awkwardness, which led to some very amusing dialogue between the pair. They make for a fantastic duo; both grow in strength and maturity, Nahri begins to realise just what she’s capable of and Ali begins to embrace his Marid abilities, they see the greater good before their own wants and needs, they show complete trust in each other. I felt myself longing for them to be together.
“The sight stole his breath. Forget the royal finery she’d worn as Daevabad’s next queen. Sailing down the Nile in a dull second-hand dress with the Egyptian sun shining on her face, deadly medical tools in her hands, Nahri was radiant. What Ali would do to sink his fingers into her hair, to pull her close …”
I was swept on a wave of emotions by one particular character. Dara has consistently been a character I have had a lot of sympathy towards because he’s been enslaved, manipulated and used as a weapon from a very young age. Yet in certain scenes, I felt Dara was making excuses for his ruthless killing in Empire, for someone who so desperately didn’t want to kill, he sure kills a lot. Then on the other hand, I understand that this is all Dara has ever known, it’s what he’s been conditioned, even tortured to do. Therefore it is no surprise that Dara falls apart, that he numbs himself to the atrocities he commits. I very much appreciated Chakraborty’s exploration of conditioning and brainwashing with Dara’s character. Can a person ever come back from their ordeals? Or looking at it from the other point of view, how long can they keep using their past as an excuse for their present destructive behaviour? Having said all of this, Dara is still one of my favourite characters and his final few scenes broke me, I sobbed my heart out and wished nothing but to see him find happiness.
Although Zaynab and Mutandhir are not at the forefront of the narrative this time around, they were both characters who I began to see in a different light. Mutandhir was always Alizayd’s wayward drunk brother, and Zaynab always seemed passive and happy to do as her father bid her, however in Empire both of them take on their responsibilities and try to put the people of Daevabad first. It was delightful to see the spotlight fall on Jamshid in the second half of the book. His growing revelation of his parentage, his relationship with Nahri, and his longing to be with Mutandhir illustrated just how much of a selfless and tender character he is, even when faced with hardships. As for a new addition, well who could not love our feisty pirate, Fiza!
I had thought The Kingdom of Copper was much darker than City of Brass, yet this book surpassed even that. So much blood is spilt, there’s anger, frustration and a good dose of desperation and loss too. At the end of my review of the first two books, I stated that I expected to feel a whole lot more in Empire of Gold, well I was not wrong. Chakraborty is yet another author who knows how to invoke emotions from her readers. When the characters are hurt, angry, confused I too mirrored their feelings. I found myself very connected to Nahri, Ali and Dara’s characters, their interactions between each other spoke volumes and Chakraborty’s prose effectively conveyed their underlying meanings without falling into ‘telling’ the reader too much. There also wasn’t much miscommunication between characters or conflict for the sake of plot.
The conflict between Manizheh and well… everyone else alone was more than enough. Manizheh and the ifrit make for such well-written, complex villains. As much as you hate them, as much as you rage at the horrendous things they put your favourite characters through, in some way you understand why they are doing it. Chakraborty lays down a rich and complex layer of history within the first two books, but during Empire of Gold we discover even more clearly that the Nahid’s, Marid’s, shafits and ifrit’s have all been wronged during Zaydi al Qahtani’s first invasion. They all suffered losses and betrayals. We see their desire to set those wrongs right, we understand the rage that spills from Manizheh, yet as Nahri herself says “that doesn’t justify” the bloodshed she inflicts. It does not give Manizheh an excuse to become a bigger tyrant than Ghassan ever was. It also poses the notion – when it comes to who should be the rightful ruler, the lines are always blurred. Should a land ever be ruled by one person alone? It’s these kinds of complexities within characters and politics which I love to see, I love to delve into their psychology and philosophy.
“There were a dozen flocks of peris flying above her. Scores. Perhaps hundreds, the creatures dipping and diving and soaring in formation. Avian bodies with silver scales flashed and cut through the clouds, here one moment, gone the next. Wings were winks of color: bright lime and peacock blue, burnt saffron
and indigo night. Colorless eyes were everywhere, all focused on
Nahri, pinning her down in a temple of ice and air.”
One aspect of this trilogy I have loved the most is Chakraborty’s worldbuilding. My favourite fictional worlds include Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings, and Roshar from the Stormlight Archives series, but now I will happily add Daevabad to this list. It truly is magical in every sense. I’m always fond of all kinds of mythology and I loved the way Chakraborty integrated Egyptian/Middle Eastern mythology, culture and politics into a highly fantastical tale. All these elements blended so well together and with each book, it deepened. In Empire we get some spectacular scenes such as the wonders of the Marid’s world on the seabed, their history and their conflict with the Daeva’s. We meet creatures like a Shedu, we see a closer glimpse into the peris’ world and finally we witness a host of monsters during the final battle.
I must be drawn to authors who cause me pain because by the end of Empire Chakraborty left such an ache in my heart. I was glad to have buddy read this trilogy with Beth, at least we could be each other’s shoulder to cry on. Overall I feel that our characters are given satisfactory conclusions to their arcs, whilst also leaving the door open for more. This is an almost eight hundred page door stopper, yet I was so entranced by this world and it’s characters, I could easily have read more.
“Find your happiness, little thief. Steal it and do not ever let it go.”