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Literature / The City of Brass

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The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty, is the first book in the Daevabad trilogy, a series that breaks with the tradition of Medieval European Fantasy novels by being distinctly Middle Eastern. Most of the characters, even nonhuman ones, are devout Muslims, and much of the story takes place in a hidden magical city in the highlands of central Asia.
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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.

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The second book in the trilogy, The Kingdom of Copper, was released in early 2019.

The third and final book, The Empire of Gold, was released in June 2020.


This work contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Hospital: Daevabad used to have a place of healing that was run by the Nahids. Nahri puts considerable time and effort into restoring it as a good faith gesture.
  • Abusive Parents: A mild(ish) example in Ghassan, and a considerably less mild example in Manizheh. Subverted in Manizheh's case when it turns out that Nahri's her niece, not her daughter, though granted she's still far from a model parent to Jamshid.
  • Alien Blood: Full-blooded daeva have distinctive black blood, while human-deva hybrids bleed red.
  • All Myths Are True: Those tales of genies and magic that Nahri thought were just fantasy? Yeah, turns out they're the real deal.
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  • And I Must Scream: What enslavement by the ifrit is like for a djinn. It is widely regarded as a fate worse than death. Most go insane after a few centuries.
  • Animal Motifs: Comparisons to cats seem to pop up a lot regarding the various otherworldly beings—Dara is likened to a tiger a couple of times, and the Djinn's and Ghoul's actions are sometimes described as cat-like. The Nahids are even said to have ridden winged lions into battle.
  • Anti-Magic: One of the basic powers of Suleiman's Seal is shutting down the magic of everyone but the holder, which Ghassan is only too happy to demonstrate.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: Despite being a story filled with genies, magic carpets, and the like, this trope is averted. It takes place in Egypt in the late 18th century.
  • Archer Archetype: The Daeva tribe pride themselves on their traditional skill with bow and arrow.
  • Arranged Marriage: Ghassan plans to unite the Qahtanis and Nahids by marrying Muntadhir to Nahri.
  • Berserk Button: Go ahead, taunt Dara about his sister's death. I dare you.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Muntadhir towards Zaynab and sometimes Ali.
    • Dara is haunted by his little sister Tamima's brutal death. The mention of it serves as a Berserk Button for him.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Qahtanis, royal family of modern Daevabad. The siblings Muntadhir (heir to the throne), Ali (slated to be Muntadhir's Qaid), and Zaynab (only daughter, dreading a seemingly inevitable political marriage) get along well enough at the start of the series, but after Dara returns things get complicated. By the end of the first book, Ghassan is willing to have his own son killed.
    • Then in the later books, the Nahids make the Qahtanis look like an absolute model of family harmony.
  • Blood Magic: The ifrit specialize in blood magic. Nahid blood in particular is revealed to have numerous magical properties, including being poisonous to the ifrit. Manizheh learns blood magic from the ifrit & uses the bodies of her ancestors from the palace crypt to resurrect Dara & re-enslave him.
  • Bodyguard Crush:
    • Dara's job as Afshin is to protect the Nahids. He and Nahri fall for each other during their trip to Daevabad.
    • Muntadhir is in love with Jamshid, who is the captain of his guard.
  • Brainy Brunette: Economics nerds Ali and Nahri.
  • Broken Pedestal: Dara was raised to serve the Nahids & revere them as gods. His loyalty persists even after they use him to commit atrocities on their behalf. It takes Manizheh's mass executions of Daeva nobles & re-enslavement of him for him to finally turn against her, & even then he can't yet bring himself to kill her.
  • Came Back Strong:
    • Djinn revived as slaves (usually by the ifrit) have powerful magic at their disposal.
    • When Manizheh revives Dara, he comes back with all the power of an original daeva.
  • Came Back Wrong: When Manizheh revives Dara again using the remains of past Nahids as a magical catalyst, it does not go so well. Not only is he re-enslaved (to Manizheh this time), but his magic has been tainted by the process.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nahri quickly learned to hide her healing powers when growing up in Ottoman orphanages in Cairo.
  • Celibate Hero: Ali, much to his brother's amusement. As the king's second son, he's expected to not marry and stay celibate so the line of succession is clear.
  • Clothing-Concealed Injury: In the second book, Prince Ali dresses to hide the fact that he's Covered in Scars from the neck down from a marid attack, which he only survived because he let the marid possess his body.
  • Cool Chair: The Shedu Throne, located in the palace of Daevabad, carved to resemble its namesake winged lion and encrusted with jewels, serves as the seat for the ruler of the magical world; first the Nahids, and then the Qahtanis.
  • Crapsack World: Eighteenth century Cairo was subject to a series of foreign powers cycling through with varying levels of brutality, and Daevabad, secret capital city of the magical world, honestly isn't much better if you're shafit, poor, or on King Ghassan's shit list.
  • Create Your Own Villain: The Qahtanis' treatment of Manizheh, controlling her life, keeping her as a virtual prisoner in the infirmary, and punishing her brother if she ever stepped out of line caused a deep hatred and resentment in her which ultimately lead to her faking her own death & plotting to overthrow the Qahtanis.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The trilogy explores this concept as a recurring theme. The Nahid clan of the Daeva tribe used to rule the magical world, and treated partially human shafit quite badly, culminating in the events that earned Dara his title, the Scourge. Then Zaydi al Qahtani led a rebellion to oust the Nahids and protect the shafit. This led to lasting resentment from the Daeva tribe as a whole, many of whom are still angry that the "jumped-up sandflies" are sitting on the throne of Daevabad centuries later. And then Manizheh, one of the last Nahids, leads an attack on Daevabad to take back the city she thinks belongs to her.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Dara was sent to Qui-Zi by the Nahid Council to send a message that breaking their laws would be dealt with harshly. They chose him specifically because he was young & not likely to question his orders. After he returned, the Council pinned the atrocity entirely on him & exiled him as punishment. As a result, Dara was not in Daevabad when it fell to Zaydi al-Qahtani & his family was massacred. He organized & led a rebellion against al-Qahtani that came very close to succeeding. Just as he was preparing to retake Daevabad al-Qahtani made a deal with the ifrit, who killed Dara & enslaved him. He remained enslaved for over a thousand years, forced to do horrible things for a succession of human masters. It's also implied that some of those masters used him as a sex slave. Unsurprisingly, he's not willing to talk about his past.
  • Deadly Scratch: The magical poison of zulfiqar swords is universally deadly and defeats even Nahid healing, so the Geziri fighting style emphasizes mobility and shallow slashes. At the end of Kingdom of Copper, Muntadhir is cut, but the Seal of Suleiman disables the magic before it can finish him off.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • Among the djinn, there are stories of making arrangements with the water-spirit marid that fit the general vibe of trafficking with ineffable malicious powers for personal gain.
    • Manizheh cuts a deal with the ifrit to have them on-side when conquering Daevabad.
  • Decadent Court: Ghassan's court is a minefield. The man himself is an unabashed tyrant with a fondness for lethal force and messy public executions, the established noble houses have held power for millennia at this point and are not interested in sharing, and each tribe is convinced the others are plotting something. They're, ah, not wrong.
  • Depower: Manizheh hid Jamshid's Nahid abilities shortly after his birth so Ghassan wouldn't discover his true identity. When the spell is later removed, his Nahid abilities return.
  • Disappeared Dad: Rustam dies shortly after Nahri is born.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Dara tricks Manizheh by luring her into a false sense of security & killing her before she realizes what's going on. She really should've paid more attention to his slave tattoo.
  • The Dreaded: Darayavahoush e-Afshin, a.k.a. Dara. Even centuries after the war he fought against the Geziri tribe and their allies he's regarded as a fierce warrior of legend, known throughout the magical world as The Scourge of Qui-zi. We find out why near the end of the first book, and the first time we see it in action is terrifying.
  • Elemental Motifs: Whether supernatural or not, living beings in the setting are associated with one of the classical elements. Humans are considered earth-based (adding an extra layer to calling the shafit dirtblooded), djinn are associated with fire, marid with water, and the peris with air.
  • Evil Chancellor: Kaveh, from the Geziri perspective. He actively plots to restore the Nahids to power & is the one who releases the poison that kills Ghassan & many other Geziris.
  • Faking the Dead: Turns out Banu Manizheh, one of the last Nahids, did not die with her brother Rustam.
  • Famed in Story: Dara. To the djinn he's the monstrous Scourge of Qui-Zi & The Dreaded, while to the Daevas he's a heroic & romantic figure who fought to free their tribe from foreign rule.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Manizheh reveals to Nahri that she's actually Rustam's daughter, making Manizheh her aunt and Jamshid her cousin.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • By djinn law, shafit (those with human blood) are not allowed to leave Daevabad. Once we see the City of Brass, we discover that there's a huge divide between pureblooded Djinn nobility and the shafit, with the former believing that the latter are incapable of powerful magic.
    • Dara isn't too fond of humans either, and there is intense animosity between some of the Djinn tribes.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Several examples: "Dirtbloods" for shafit, "sand flies" for Geziris, "crocodiles" for Ayaanle. Daevas are derided as "fire worshipers" by djinn for continuing to practice Zoroastrianism.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Jinn are universally terrified of being enslaved by the ifrit, to the point they wear relics containing a piece of the their body, such as a tooth, so they'll stand even a chance of being freed if they end up enslaved. When Dara ends up re-enslaved, his first response is multiple suicide attempts.
  • Fisher King: The palace of Daevabad was founded by Nahids and still responds to their emotions, shifting stones and restoring the wall art when Nahri comes to the city. It's also booby-trapped; historically, djinn who tried to remove the Nahid carvings melted into puddles of brass.
  • Flaming Blade: The Geziri tribe's signature zulfiqars are poisoned flaming blades.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Muntadhir, the elder, is the foolish sibling, and his devout younger brother Ali is the responsible sibling. Played with, in that Ali is completely unprepared for court life, and Muntadhir is more clever than he seems.
  • Forbidden Love: Between Rustam e-Nahid & Duriya, an Egyptian shafit servant working in the palace. Such a relationship between a Nahid & a shafit was unprecedented. Manizheh & Kaveh count as well, since they were unable to be together openly due to Ghassan wanting Manizheh for himself.
  • Fortune Teller: Nahri plays this up in order to make a living.
  • From a Single Cell: The process of freeing an enslaved djinn requires part of their former body. Djinn wear relics containing a tooth or lock of hair so they can be resurrected if they're enslaved.
  • God Guise: One of the things the ifrit did to earn Suleiman's ire was convincing humans to worship them.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Manizheh is terrible at being a queen.
  • Grand Vizier: Kaveh is Daevabad's Grand Wazir and happily fits into the scheming manipulator mold.
  • Healing Hands: The Nahids are known for powerful healing magic and advanced medical knowledge. Nahids themselves even have a Healing Factor.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Ali — he's torn between a family that he loves very much, and the atrocities that they allow (and encourage) towards those of mixed blood. And no one in Daevabad ever tells the whole truth.
  • Horse Archer: The Daevas are known for these. Dara in particular is a very skilled horse archer.
  • I Know Your True Name: Knowing a djinn's name gives you power over them, especially if you're an ifrit or marid. Manizheh invokes this when she gives the ifrit Nahri's birth name, allowing them to bind her.
  • Insistent Terminology: The Daeva tribe claim the ancient name for the whole djinn race as their own; the other tribes think it makes them look arrogant.
  • Jackass Genie: Jinn slaves are expected to kill their human masters, and get their victims' names written down their arm. Dara's arm is nearly full. Manizheh's final mistake is forgetting this.
  • Just Following Orders: Dara justifies his actions at Qui-Zi by claiming that he was just following orders. He did follow the Nahids' orders almost exactly, only disobeying their command to leave no survivors.
  • King of Beasts: The Nahids once rode winged lions into battle, and still use a winged lion as their symbol.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Dara's excuse for his multiple war crimes is that as an Afshin, he is a weapon for the Nahid. In the third book, Manizheh re-enslaves him, making him the perfectly obedient weapon he'd always claimed to be.
  • Last of Their Kind:
    • Nahri is, as far as anyone knows, the only living member of the Nahid family.
    • Dara, in turn, is the last of the Afshin line.
  • Legacy of Service: The Afshin clan of warriors served as the Nahid's strong right hand for generations. When Dara, their last and most well-known member, returns with a living Nahid (i.e., Nahri), many of the Daeva tribe see it as a miracle.
  • Like a God to Me: The Daeva tribe holds the Nahid clan in high esteem as the descendants of Anahid, the woman who laid the foundations for both Daevabad and the modern magical world. The marid, by contrast, hate her guts for stealing their sacred lake.
  • Long-Lost Relative:
    • In The Kingdom of Copper, we find out that Nahri and Jamshid are siblings.
    • The epilogue for the trilogy also reveals the Egyptian shafit working in the palace kitchens was Nahri's grandfather.
  • The Lost Lenore: Ghassan had unrequited feelings for Nahri's mother Manizheh and there are hints that he sees Nahri as a replacement. However, Manizheh considered Ghassan an Abhorrent Admirer. And is still very much alive.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Nahri gets this from Manizheh. Though it turns out she was lying.
  • Magic Carpet: Dara can turn any carpet into one of these.
  • Making a Splash:
    • Marid magic is largely water-themed and quite versatile.
    • Ali gains this power after the battle at the lake.
  • Master Archer: Dara, full stop. No one else is in his league, though Jamshid also deserves mention as a skilled archer.
  • Medical Monarch: The Nahids.
  • Memory Jar: A slave vessel functions as this. Nahids have the ability to see the memories of the djinn trapped inside the vessel. Dara's ring contains his missing memories of his time as a slave, & Nahri is able to see them on two separate occasions.
  • Missing Mom: Nahri's mother Duriya died when she was very young. She lost all memories of her mother after Sobek wiped her memory & only regains them at the end of the series. Manizheh is also a missing mom to Jamshid, who was told his mother died when he was born.
  • Murder Water: Daevabad's lake was cursed by the Marid to rip apart anyone who so much dips a toe in. The monarchy uses it for executions.
  • National Weapon: Zulfiqars for the Geziris & bows for the Daevas.
  • Omniglot: The other signature Nahid power. It doesn't work for reading, though, or for Geziriyya, which only Geziri can understand.
  • One-Drop Rule: A djinn with the slightest amount of human ancestry is considered a shafit and oppressed in djinn society.
  • One-Hit Kill: A single cut from a zulfiqar is enough to kill due to the poisoned blade. Not even the Nahids can heal zulfiqar wounds.
  • Our Genies Are Different: And HOW.
    • The Djinn in this series are a race of obscenely powerful magical beings who live in a world separate from humanity, and exhibit extreme Fantastic Racism towards those who mix with humans.
    • The Daevas from whom modern djinn are descended were nigh-legendary figures, riding the winds and living for thousands of years. They were punished by Suleiman for tormenting humanity, though, resulting in the loss of most of their power.
    • Ifrit are those daevas who refused to submit to Suleiman's judgment. They're all quite ancient at this point, not to mention vindictive and crafty.
    • The classic "trapped in a lamp" type of djinni is here known as a slave, reduced to such a miserable existence by the ifrit. It's a process that involves ritualistically murdering the djinn and reviving them in thrall to whomever holds their slave vessel (rings and necklaces being common).
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They're called ghouls here, and they're of a pre-Romero variety, primarily being dried out corpses of people who made contracts with the Ifrit in death. They can be very fast, however.
  • Playing with Fire: Djinn have fire-based powers, with most able to at least conjure flames.
  • Powers via Possession: Ali gains marid powers when he allows them to possess him. Some powers linger after the possession ends, which he's none too pleased about.
  • Proud Scholar Race: The bird-like peris are quite knowledgeable about most subjects, but getting them to act is usually an exercise in frustration.
  • Rags to Royalty: Nahri starts out as a thief & con-artist, then learns she's actually djinn royalty.
  • Really Gets Around: Beyond a certain point, it's easier to list which members of Muntadhir's party circuit he hasn't slept with.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: Nahri is quite surprised to learn that she's actually the last surviving member of an ancient and revered lineage. Jamshid gets one as well when he learns Manizheh is his mother.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Ali is sent into exile in Am Gezira at the end of the first book.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized:
    • In The Kingdom of Copper, Manizheh is willing to wipe out an entire clan of djinn to overthrow Ghassan.
    • The shafit rebels bomb a peaceful Daeva celebration that includes children.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Ali, the Djinn prince who sponsors an Imam of the often put upon mixed blood peoples and joins him in his efforts to stop the enslavement and trafficking of his people by the nobility.
  • Sand Blaster: Dara and later Nahri.
  • Secret Test of Character: Ali faces several of these from both his family and his revolutionary contacts. He fails most of them miserably.
  • Settle for Sibling: A rare double example when Muntadhir and Nahri are forced to marry. She's attracted to his brother, and he's in love with hers.
  • Shapeshifting: Once a common magical ability, now limited to more powerful Djinn.
  • Shedu and Lammasu: The shedu are winged lions and the emblem of the Nahid dynasty, who were the original rulers of the djinn. The Nahid trained them and brought them to their capital city, but they slowly vanished from the world alongside other magical creatures and haven't been seen for centuries by the time of the series.
  • Shown Their Work: The author put in a lot of research regarding Islamic folklore, and it shows.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Ali is diligent, responsible, socially awkward, and as tightly wound as a spring. His older brother Muntadhir is relaxed, jovial, charming, and gives an air of sybaritic indulgence. Both have a lot more going on, though.
  • Slave Market: During the second book, Ali is outraged and disgusted to find shafit being auctioned off in public under the paper-thin excuse of helping djinn find their shafit relatives.
  • There Is Another: Two more Nahid, in fact.
  • They Died Because of You: Dara's sister Tamima was brutally murdered in revenge for his actions at Qui-Zi. This is a major source of guilt for him.
  • Wham Line: The last line of The City of Brass reveals that Nahri's mother is still alive.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Ghassan and Manizheh will both murder children if it helps them.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Ghassan is a master of it. Near the end of the first book, he comes up with two possible cover-up stories for the incident at the lake, implicating completely different people.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: There's an organization called the Tanzeem which seeks to support and protect the shafit against the (many) excesses of the djinn nobility. To the shafit, they're the nearest thing to heroes; Ghassan, however, would like them all dead.

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