Anyone who has read The Arabian Nights will remember, at least dimly, that Suleiman the Wise—the King Solomon of the Bible—had power over spirits, and imprisoned many of the most recalcitrant in bottles, or lamps like Aladdin’s. In the West they are simply called 'genies,' but S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass makes the mythological situation clearer, if much more complex ... This is a great debut novel, with strikingly different setting and cast—nary an elf or an orc in sight. Not only does it open up an imaginative space we had all but lost, it raises important issues of inclusion and diversity with engaging flair.
The City of Brass is a well paced, entertaining and solidly researched (but never boring) historical fantasy that shifts the centre away from western folklore, with a strong denouement and a craftily set up epilogue that should segue well into the next installment of the trilogy. To most (western?) readers whose only experience of the djinn is Disney, The City of Brass is going to be a lush, entertaining fable inspired by Middle Eastern and Islamic folklore that has just enough familiar elements to not be considering worrying alien, and yet is exotic enough to thrill and entice and tick off diversity boxes in the right way. Within the dynamics of the various djinn tribes, though, are nestled valid socioeconomic politics for those who wish to read a little further past the surface of the narrative.
With this rich and layered novel, S.A. Chakraborty builds a fantasy world as intricate and intriguing as its Middle Eastern setting. Following the various subplots is like pondering vibrant Arabic design; readers will lose themselves in the wonder and complexity. A helpful glossary in the back of the book defines djinn terms and helps readers keep track of six djinn kingdoms that were divided and set at odds by a long-ago ruler. Chakraborty ends the novel without a simple resolution, which will no doubt lead deftly into the next book in this planned trilogy about a marvelous civilization built on strategy and tenuous allegiances, at the helm of which stand courageous and cunning heroines such as Nahri and brilliant, fierce heroes like Dara and Ali.