Review: The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A Chakraborty

I ended up binge reading this entire series in the span of 4 days so the events of each book have blurred over for me. I will say that overall, this series was a solid five stars and has risen its way to become one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. Easily Top 5. The writing is beautiful, the characters are very well developed and the world Chakraborty creates is fantastic (literally and figuratively).

Chakraborty has said that she wrote this series for her fellow Muslim fantasy geeks (hehe that’s me) and it shows. I think any fantasy lover would appreciate the world she crafted but it was extra special to me because of all the references to Islamic folklore. I grew up with djinn stories, passed down over generations from family members or through my own extensive research (sometimes to the point where I would scare myself to insomnia), so this world felt almost personal to me.

**I’m reviewing all three books here. If you haven’t read the first book and don’t want to be spoiled for the later ones, don’t read past the first review.

The City of Brass (Daevabad #1) by S.A Chakraborty

Rating

Synopsis

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…

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“Greatness takes time, Banu Nahida. Often the mightiest things have the humblest beginnings.”

This is actually my second time reviewing this book because I had read an ARC of the first one before it released and I did not fully appreciated it then. If anyone cares to read my review from four years ago, here it is.

City of Brass starts off slow. Because the world itself is so intricate with so many tribes and centuries of history, sometimes it feels like it’s too much. I have had to read certain paragraphs of explanations multiple times because I couldn’t grasp the dumps of information. But after you get used to the general sense of the world, the history lessons feel less like history lessons and more like conversations that are meant to be there.

We’re introduced to Nahri, an Egyptian woman with the power of healing, a power she uses for her schemes as a thief and a con artist. It took me a long time to love Nahri, among the two POVs, hers was the weaker one for me. Nahri in the beginning almost acts as a stand in for the reader because she is also finding out about this djinn world with us, she’s reacting to the world instead of being a part of the world. The first couple of chapters with her is mostly Darayavahoush, the Daeva warrior she accidentally summoned, explaining the djinn world and the history to her.

And then we have Ali, our second POV. Ali is the prince of Daevabad, the second son of king Ghassan. He is a soldier and a scholar, self-righteous, pious, and wants things to be better for the kingdom’s shafit citizens (those who have both djinn and human blood). Through Ali, we get to know about the current state of politics in Daevabad, what the city is like now and how the citizens of the different tribes are treated. This, in a way, juxtaposes what Dara has been teaching Nahri about the history of Daevabad from his time centuries ago. With Ali, we’re also immediately thrust in the middle of action because the book starts with him smuggling money from the treasury to an underground shafit organization.

The book picks up once Nahri and Dara get to Daevabad. It’s not action packed but it’s not really supposed to be, there are a lot of action scenes, but it mostly shines in characterization and world building.

Something I really appreciate about these books is how prejudice is portrayed and how you can very slowly see the characters gradually shift their views. Ali being a pious Muslim man has a deep-seated distaste for the Daevas, the tribe of djinn who worship fire. Dara, who has been trained as a soldier for the Nahids (the most powerful Daeva family) to do their bidding holds an enormous hatred for shafits and for the other djinn tribes. Most djinn (Daevas included) think less of the shafit because of their human blood. These feelings don’t go away but we do get to witness small changes in the characters when they start to question these deep rooted beliefs they’ve held all their lives.

The Kingdom of Copper (Daevabad #2) by S.A Chakraborty

Rating

Synopsis

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in  The City of Brass conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

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“I’m tired of everyone in this city feeding on vengeance. I’m tired of teaching our children to hate and fear other children because their parents are our enemies. And I’m sick and tired of acting like the only way to save our people is to cut down all who might oppose us, as if our enemies won’t return the favor the instant power shifts.”

As I’ve said earlier, the events of the books have kind of blurred for me. As far as middle books go, I thought Kingdom of Copper was fantastic in continuing the story from the first and setting up the events in the final. The book also did a great job expanding the universe from the first book.

The book takes place about five years after the events of the first one. Nahri is now married to Muntadhir, the future king of Daevabad. Ali is in exile but has found a djinn village to be a part of and they love him because wherever he goes, water springs mysteriously appear (a miracle to the formerly barren wastelands). And Dara, who everyone thought of as dead, was pulled back to life by Banu Manizheh. Although the five year time skip surprised me at first, it was a smart move since a) djinn have a longer lifespan anyway and b) it allowed for a lot of character growth and off the screen development so we could pretty much jump straight into action.

This was the book where Nahri won me over. She has been working as a healer for the past couple of years now. She’s a lot more sure of herself, more mature and a whole lot more powerful. She went from being my least favorite MC in the first book to my favorite character in this book. The least favorite character mantle was taken up by Dara who just frustrated me to the core in this one. I will say though that everything Dara did made sense from a character analysis perspective but frustrating nonetheless.

I also loved the added layers to the side characters, especially Muntadhir, Jamshid and Zaynab.

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad #3) by S.A Chakraborty

Rating

Synopsis

The final chapter in the Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt. 

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“If you rule by violence, you should expect to be removed by violence.”

The last book wasn’t really what I was expecting but it was a satisfying ending. I thought it ended well with the most immediate strings wrapped up but also a lot of room left up to interpretation. I don’t know if Chakraborty is ever planning on writing more stories in this world but if she did, there’s definitely a lot of room to explore more.

Like I said in the beginning, I read these books in about five days (that’s quick for me) so entertainment wise, they were gripping. I couldn’t put Empire of Gold down. I needed to know how the book was going to end, I needed to know what was going to happen to these characters. And because of that, I couldn’t give the book less than five stars despite some of my complaints about the ending.

I don’t really think I can review this one without spoilers. So the following will contain spoilers so be forewarned. Overall, it was a fantastic read and well worth my time and I highly recommend.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

I’m gonna start by talking about what I think the book was lacking. After finishing the book, my first thoughts were that I wanted more. And yes that had to do with the fact that I just wanted to spend more time with these characters but also that, I think there should have been more. Especially more POVs. I think this book really missed out on showing a lot of the political intrigue that I loved in the first two books by a) having Ali not be in Daevabad when he was usually our window into the politics and b) by not having perspectives from any of the characters who were dealing with the politics (and the aftermath of what Manizheh had done when she invaded). Dara is the only one of the three POVs in Daevabad for a majority of the book and he’s not a politician so we don’t really get a lot of insight from him, only what he hears from Manizeh and Muntadhir. Not having more of an insight of Daevabad when it’s the conclusion of the Daevabad trilogy wasn’t what I wanted.

I wanted more of Daevabad, of how the Zaynab got the shafit and the djinn working together, of how Muntadhir was able to plan the attack against Kaveh, the inner conflict the Daevas must have felt when Manizheh – their beloved Banu Nahida – just slaughtered so many innocent Geziris for the throne. I wanted more.

But for the record, I loved what we did get. Especially Nahri’s POV. Nahri shines in this book. Most of my favorite scenes were her scenes and I was rooting for her from start to finish.

More random thoughts:

  • Gotta say I wasn’t a huge fan of Ali’s subplot of going to the marids, marids just confused me in general
  • though Ali showing up with the hundreds of ships with the marid’s help was pretty frikkin cool
  • I liked how Ali was improving and questioning the prejudices he had though I do think he could have gone further with it
  • Zaynab and Aqisa were a team that I didn’t know I needed until it happened (also I ship them hard)
  • Jamshid and Muntadhir getting the happy ending they deserved!! But also, would’ve loved to see the whole “I killed your father because your parents invaded the kingdom and killed my dad along with hundreds of innocents” conversation between those two
  • The Egyptian shafit cook in the kitchen being Nahri’s grandfather made me BAWL
  • Also so happy to know Nahri is actually half-Egyptian since that was such a big part of her identity
  • Nahri made the peris mad, is this maybe a setup for a future book series??
  • Love the idea of Ali and Nahri making a new representative government from scratch
  • I actually really like Ali and Nahri as a couple, to me their relationship makes a lot more sense than Nahri’s and Dara’s did. Ali and Nahri are comfortable with each other, they both have a mutual thirst for knowledge and they are always trying to save other people
  • Dara’s whole character arc was beautifully done and I love that he was the one who ended up killing Manizheh
  • That ending with the Qahtani siblings gave me life!!
  • The fact that the book ended with “Nahri always smiled at her marks” had me smiling from ear to ear

I am sad to leave this world. And very excited to see the next world Chakraborty builds.

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