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…
I loved the way this book started out. We really get a great feel for Nahri as a character right from the get-go. She’s resourceful, a bit judgmental of others at times, and kind of alone in the world. But she’s very good at making do with what she has by whatever means necessary, even if that means she’s a bit of a con-artist. So, when she accidentally summons a djinn, no one is more surprised than she.
The setting of this felt refreshing. I loved that we start out in historical Cairo, even if much of the book is set in a fantasy city populated by djinn, so I wouldn’t exactly call this historical fantasy since only a small part of it is set in ‘the real world’ so to speak.
One of the things I loved most about this book was the relationship between Nahri and Dara, and how much character growth Dara has over the course of the story. It’s not as if he’s completely cured of his arrogance by the end, but at least concerning Nahri he’s come to understand her and let go of some of his prejudices where she’s concerned. Honestly, the best thing about Nahri is that through her interactions with the other characters in the books, you get to see their real selves. Nahri is always Nahri and she doesn’t change all that much if I think about it. She experiences things, yes, but she’s pretty true to herself. Dara, and even Ali, on the other hand, we get to see who they are because of Nahri. There’s something about Nahri that makes them want to be better people. Dara, while my favorite, is probably the most trope-y character in the story–asshole turned love interest with a scarred past. I do love him though and I admit I have a certain weakness for these types of characters in fiction. 😀
I think where the story faltered for me was whenever we switched over to Ali’s POV. Ali, as the second son, has certain expectations put on him. Namely ‘don’t fuck up’ because, as a second son, he’s lucky he was even allowed to live in the first place. Every character in the Ali sections of the book were a mystery to me for almost the entire story, even Ali himself. He’s more than a bit wishy washy. What are you doing, Ali? Are you supporting the rebels? Are you supporting your brother or father? It makes sense, because he’s trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for and he’s got all these people pulling him in multiple directions, but it can feel a bit frustrating at times when he keeps wavering. Not to mention that he has such loyalty to his family, who maybe aren’t the best people in the world (but I don’t know because I can’t really get a read on them either!). There’s a ton of politics thrown at us in these sections as well, and because it’s so hard to tell who you want to root for since people are shown at times being both good and nefarious, I found myself not caring as much about all the factions and their struggles. Now, all that being said, much of this becomes very relevant at the end, so it does behoove one to pay attention even if your mind starts wandering a bit at these parts. I did like Ali though, especially later on in the story once he started being friends with Nahri, because I feel like that’s when we finally get to see who he is.
Because of some of the issues I had with the pacing, some of the story felt like it dragged a bit, especially the parts I wasn’t invested in. I thought for sure this was going to be a 3-3.5 star read for me. But then the last…10 percent or so of the book. Wow. All I can say is wow. The climax of this book is relentless and crazy and full of stuff happening that if I hadn’t been at my desk at work listening to this on audio I would have had to keep yelling ‘oh shit!’ out loud over and over as certain events went down. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any crazier something else would happen and I would be thrown again. Even when things started to wind down and I thought ‘how are there 45 minutes left of this?’ there were still surprises waiting–so many revelations.
So, yes, the ending of this book was perhaps one of the most exciting endings to any book I’ve ever read and for that I’m giving this 5/5 stars. Can’t wait for the next book.