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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 Iran.
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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:

  • All Myths Are True: Those tales of genies and magic that Nahri thought were just fantasy? Yeah, turns out they're the real deal.
  • 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.
  • "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.
  • Arranged Marriage: Ghassan plans to unite the Qahtanis and Nahids by marrying Muntadhir to Nahri.
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  • Big Brother Instinct: Muntadhir towards Zaynab and sometimes Ali.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Qahtanis. By the end of the first book, Ghassan is willing to have his own son killed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: Played with. If they fly sufficiently high enough above the running water, Djinn can cross just fine.
  • 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.
  • 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 short list.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Faking the Dead: Turns out Banu Manizheh, one of the last Nahids, did not die with her brother Rustam.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Fortune Teller: Nahri plays this up in order to make a living.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • King of Beasts: The Nahids once rode winged lions into battle, and still use a winged lion as their symbol.
  • 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.
  • Long-Lost Relative: In The Kingdom of Copper, we find out that Nahri and Jamshid are siblings.
  • 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.
  • Magic Carpet: Dara can turn any carpet into one of these.
  • Making a Splash: Ali gains this power after the battle at the lake.
  • 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 Suleyman for tormenting humanity, though, resulting in the loss of most of their power.
    • Ifrit are those daevas who refused to submit to Suleyman'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.
  • Really Gets Around: Beyond a certain point, it's easier to list which members of Muntadhir's party circuit he hasn't slept with.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shown Their Work: The author put in a lot of research regarding Islamic folklore, and it shows.
  • 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.
  • 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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