Nahri is a talented conwoman on the streets of 18th century Cairo. She knows better than anyone that the trades she uses to get by – palm readings and exorcisms – are all tricks. But when she accidentally summons a mysterious djinn warrior 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 tale of a legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
It was the setting that drew me to this book, and the setting was definitely the best thing about reading it. Chakraborty does a fantastic job of conjuring a magical but believable Middle Eastern setting replete with hot sands, unexpected oases and flashes of gold. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to recommend this book.
The main problem I had was that dreaded cliché: the love triangle. I could see it coming from the moment the main characters were introduced but still I hoped I was wrong. How disappointing then that Chakraborty throws away much of her previously inspiring and original ideas to make room for a male/female/male love triangle. If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the men involved is a magical immortal being. Didn’t we learn from Twilight that relationships involving immortal men and teenage girls are just plain wrong?
Chakraborty has created some interesting and original elements in her fantasy world, but she fails to explain them in a clear and concise way. It’s all very confusing and it gave me a headache trying to keep track of all the different groups, why this one hated that one, and what their motivations were.
My favourite character was Ali, the son of the king of the magical city of Daevabad, destined to become captain of the city’s army. While his older brother is the typical clichéd prince – spoilt, flirtatious and more concerned with pleasure than politics – Ali is devout, compassionate and flawed. Unfortunately, I never really warmed to Nahri. She spends so much of her time being helplessly bounced around between various characters that her own personality never really develops much. The only special thing about her is her supernatural abilities; apart from that she’s pretty much your average whiny teenage girl. And for an immortal being who has certainly been through a lot, Dara – the djinn warrior mentioned in the synopsis – is about as interesting as a beetle.
The story starts off with so much excitement, with chases through Cairo’s streets and across the hot desert. But the plot runs out of steam pretty quickly and seemed to wander about for a long while – and at over 500 pages, I mean a long while.
I’m conflicted about whether I’m going to read the sequels in this trilogy. I loved the setting so much that I’m tempted to read them, but nothing else intrigued me enough to keep me coming back for more.