“They shall control the winds and be lords of the deserts. And any traveler who strays across their land shall be doomed.”
This is going to be a difficult review to write because I was really not into a huge chunk of this book but then the good parts got really good.
Our story begins in early nineteenth century Cairo in the middle of the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt. Our main character, Nahri, has grown up on the streets with no knowledge of where she comes from or who her parents are. She thieves and lies to make a living with dreams of saving up enough to send herself off to study to be a physician. After a ritual that she thought was made-up goes awry and she accidentally summons an ancient warrior to her side and monsters on her trail, Nahri must race to the magical city of Daevabad for safety.
The setting is honestly what sold me on this book. While I have read urban fantasies and other magical stories that take place in a more contemporary setting, I have never come across one that pulls you into Egypt. The story pretty quickly pulls away from that Cairo setting and moves to the fictional city of Daevabad but it also has a very distinct Middle Eastern/Egyptian feel to it.
There was only one thing that killed a lot of this book for me but it was a pretty big thing: the characters.
I felt like there was a lot missing from the characters and their development and the development of some of the relationships. There was some good foundation for Narhri’s character in the beginning of the story. She is strong-willed, intelligent, and ambitious but still at the bottom of the food chain. She is very much a person that is ready to blaze her own path in life once she finds her footing. But once she got on the way to Daevabad, it seemed like all character development stopped.
Her travelling to Daevabad with Dara took up I would guess maybe close to 200 pages (divided between her POV and the second POV character, Ali). That is a pretty high page count and I honestly don’t feel like it was well-used. I felt like that time was intended to be spent setting up Dara and Nahri’s romantic interest in each other but I never felt any chemistry between them.
Because of this a very large part of the book dragged a lot for me and I almost DNF’d because I just did not care about the people. This is a very character driven story so for the characterizations and developments to be lacking hurt the quality of the book a lot.
What makes this book difficult for me to rate and review is that for a lot of it I was convinced it was going to be a very low rating. Then there was the last 100-150 pages which were AWESOME. Everything came together and so many things were pushed way further than I ever expected them to be pushed and I loved every single page there at the end. Where I was forcing myself to read a few pages at a time for most of the book, suddenly I was sucked in and could not put the book down.
Some of my frustrations at the characterizations can almost be forgiven with this section because, after reading it, I felt like the characterizations as they stood worked really perfectly for setting up those final scenes. This goes especially for Dara, who I felt like his character could use some work early in the book because I was oddly getting a bit of an Edward Cullen vibe from him (“ugh, I’m such a monster, don’t love me Nahri, ugh, I’m so horrible but oddly super attractive, uuuuggghh”). But it just worked with the way the ending unfolded.
If I am going off of how eager I now am to read the final book in this series, The City of Brass gets all the stars. But seeing as I did struggle through a lot of it, I am going to meet somewhere in the middle.