Genre: YA, fantasy
First published: 2017
Author: S. A. Chakraborty
Synopsis: Among the bustling markets of eighteenth century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles and foreign invaders alike.
But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert, full of enchantment, desire and riches. Where magic pours down every street, hanging in the air like dust.
Many wish their lives could be filled with such wonder, but not Nahri. She knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes…
Be careful what you wish for.
I definitely enjoyed this more than I thought I would. I was apprehensive about picking this up. I’m not sure what it was about it that made me not want to read it, I didn’t even know much about it going in, but there was something. However, there was a really good Kindle/Audible deal so I ended up getting both the ebook and narration for like £5, so I went for it. I’m glad I did. Even though I didn’t love the first novel and I had some issues with it, I think I might enjoy subsequent books more.
I really loved the setting and world building. I love desert settings and I love middle eastern mythology. So this was like a balm for my soul from that perspective and one of my complaints is that I wanted more of that world and mythology than we got and I’m hoping we’ll get more in the sequels. The atmosphere was so good, both in Cairo (even though I’ve never been to Cairo) and in Daevabad, which is the magic city. I ate it up. I loved it and it was everything I want from this kind of setting. It was rich, I could almost smell the scents and feel the heat. I just loved it.
Similarly, I loved the political plots and subplots, the layers and complexity there was to that were great. The way the different factions interacted and how they each had pretty good motives for what they did. It was really good tension, especially that we followed different characters who were on opposing factions and had opposing ideologies, so we got to see all of the sides and it was hard at times to decide who to root for. So I thought that was really well done and I look forward to seeing where that goes.
What I didn’t really like were the characters. They all kind of annoyed me. I felt like they were all acting like 16 year olds, even though they were in their 20s. I didn’t really like any of them and that often took me out of the story. Nahri was sometimes really annoying and frustrating in my opinion. I just found myself yelling at her “GIRL WHYYYY? Why are you like this?”. She frustrated me. And same goes for the other two main characters. I just got so frustrated with them. I liked some of them more than others, but overall, I just didn’t enjoy the characters.
Same goes for the relationships. I didn’t like the romance elements. I’m not sure if there’s a love triangle hinted or if that’s just supposed to be a friendship. I can’t tell, but either way, one of the characters involved is my least favourite character, so I just don’t like the relationship either way.
Another thing that bothered me a little bit is that the author says that she’s a convert to Islam and that that’s brought her a lot of joy, but then she goes on and makes the most devout character in her book also the most obnoxious and self-righteous. To the point where everyone finds his devoutness annoying and is, rightly so, in my opinion, rankled by his self-righteousness. And I’m like… on the one hand, you claim that Islam is so important to you, but on the other hand, you’re making the one character that truly cares about it in your book be so insufferable. I don’t like hypocrisy and that bothered me, it doesn’t have that much to do with the story and it may well not have been intentional. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me that finds this character this insufferable.
Overall, I ended up enjoying this more than I expected and I will be continuing with the series.