The City of Brass is an adult book.
It doesn’t matter how many people will mislabel it as YA (because adult fantasy books written by women always get this treatment…), this is still going to be an adult book. It reads like an adult political fantasy tome because it is an adult political fantasy tome.
When the people on Goodreads will stop labeling all books written by women as YA, they won’t be surprised and bored when the books turns out to have ~too much worldbuilding~. Pick up any random adult high fantasy book and it will have as much worldbuilding as this one. The problem is, many weren’t expecting it here. I wonder why.
I loved the worldbuilding. Not only it is ownvoices Muslim high fantasy set in Egypt, it’s also one of the most interesting fantasy worlds I’ve read in a while. The City of Brass starts in 18th century Cairo and continues in a complex, layered magical city with its own history, secrets, internal politics and difficult relationship with the human world. This is Daevabad, the city of the Daeva, which went through many revolutions, dynasties and uprisings (…and Nahri’s arrival may cause another one soon).
I’m often disappointed by political intrigue because I can point out who is “good” and who is “bad”, who is going to be betrayed and who will betray them, but not here. Having two points of view – Nahri’s and Ali’s – made me see more than one side of the political scene, and how everyone is wrong and right at the same time. Also, how can a city be at peace when its inhabitants are centuries-old beings with centuries-old grudges? The worst part is, the main character is mostly unaware of them.
All of this made for a slow book, but for me it was totally worth it. I loved the ending so much and I didn’t expect half of the twists in it. Finally a book about political intrigue that isn’t completely predictable!
I loved Nahri. She does exactly what a teenage-or-just-a-bit-older street thief would do when thrown in a court full of political intrigue, backstabbing people and a history she does not know or understand would do: she gets everything wrong. And I still didn’t find her annoying, because her decisions made sense to me – when the main character doesn’t predict the ending and neither do I, I don’t end up feeling like she was too stupid to live.
Not that the other major characters fare that better! Daevabad is currently an awesome powder keg. I can’t wait for the sequel and see it explode. It will be fun.
Now, I do think this book had some pacing problems (…for half of the book, Nahri isn’t even in Daevabad) but they didn’t bother me that much, because more time meant more complex worldbuilding, exactly what I wanted. That being said, I could have done without the many descriptions of the palace, I didn’t need so many of them.
Also, the romance: I didn’t ship it, but I was totally here for it. It meant more conflict, and the political scene was falling apart because the people in the arranged marriage did not want that arranged marriage – I loved how everything played out.
My rating: ★★★★½