The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

the city of brass

The basics

Title: The City of Brass

Author:

Series: The Daevabad Trilogy #1

- The City of Brass (2017)
- The Kingdom of Copper (2019)


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Goodreads Summary:

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.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for...

Read a full summary of The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty below. If you can’t remember what happened in The City of Brass and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place. This recap was written by Teresa Schultz.

in short

The City of Brass tells the journey of Nahri, a young con woman from Cairo, discover her true heritage as the lone descendant of a ruling class of the super-powerful beings called daevas, known by humans as djinn, as she’s pulled into the power struggles of their city, Daevabad. After accidentally calling a warrior, Dara, to her aid, she flees an attack from ifrit, former daeva cursed for eternity. Dara reveals she must be part Nahid, a family of daeva healers thought to have died out 20 years ago when the final brother and sister, Manizheh, were killed by Ifrit, with Manizheh likely her mother. Still on the run from the ifrit, Dara helps her flee to Daevabad, only for them to fall prey to the current ruling family of Qahtanis, who overthrew the Nahids from the throne more than a thousand years ago. The king wants to ensure peace and his rule by marrying Nahri to his son and future king, but Nahri has fallen in love with Dara, who turns out to be an old daeva warrior with a violent reputation for slaughtering whole cities but was tortured after the ifrit caught him and sent him to slavery for more than a thousand years. Nahri befriends the king’s younger son, Ali, who’s gotten into bed with shafit, who are mixed blood humans and daeva and are treated like second class citizens. Dara and Ali hate each other, partly because they’re from dueling tribes but also partly because of jealousy over Nahri. When he finds out Nahri has agreed to marry the king’s older son, Dara forces Nahri and Ali to leave, hoping to run to mysterious allies, but the king’s men are ready for him. Ali is able to kill Dara after he’s possessed by a water creature and seems to now be part water creature. His father finds out his full support of the shafit and condemns him to a likely death by exiling him, and Nahri seems to have no choice but to follow through with plans to marry the king’s son – until she reveals she’s been using the king as a mark and won’t go down easy. Meanwhile, the city is unrest as both shafit and the Nahids’ larger tribe start to revolt, and we learn Nahri might not be the only Nahid left and that her mother, Manizheh, is still alive, and might be able to bring back Dara.

what went down

  • The book starts in the street booth of Nahri, a 20ish year old fortune teller in 18th century Cairo, “helping” a man by telling him he’s cursed, which is really part of a swindle him. We learn she does have the ability to sense he’s actually healthy and that his companion is the one actually ill, although he doesn’t know it yet.
  • We also learn she has a gift for languages, to understand them without having to learn them, and that she doesn’t quite look Egyptian, although she believes she is.
  • Later that evening, Nahri attends a zar, a ceremony to drive djinn spirits out of women. She uses these events to earn extra money, leading the singing and music. She doesn’t really believe in the spirits or magic, though.
  • During the zar, Nahri decides randomly to sing one of the songs in her natural language, one she’s never heard another person speak (we also learn she’s an orphan who knows little of her origins). This gets an odd reaction from Baseema, the girl who’s supposedly possessed. She then hears a voice say “Who are you?” from seemingly no one.
  • Nahri heads home, cutting through a local cemetery when she sees Baseema is following her. Baseema (who seems to actually be possessed) seems to know who/what Nahri is, talking about testing her blood, and then confused when Nahri doesn’t seem to know what she’s talking about. She mentions the marid.
  • As Baseema gets aggressive, a mystery warrior appears out of nowhere speaking Nahri’s native tongue (which we learn is called Divasti) and he calls her a shafit. He also sees her heal herself where she got scraped by an arrow. We learn Nahri unknowingly called him when she sang the song in Divasti during the zar. She admits she’s healed others before, although it doesn’t always go well, and this seems to interest him.
  • The dead start rising and attacking Nahri and the mystery warrior/djinn, now lead by Baseema, who had run away before. Baseema calls Nahri the newest Banu Nahida, who are all supposedly dead, and calls the warrior Afshin. The two are able to escape by enchanting a carpet to fly.
  • When Nahri wakes up, they’re at an oasis, and she starts quizzing the warrior. He’s insulted when she asks if he’s a djinn and says he’s a Daeva, saying djinn are traitors. He also won’t give her his name, saying Afshin is a title.
  • She tells him about her odd powers – understanding languages, healing, etc – and how she doesn’t know where she comes from. He seems to think she’s part Nahid, but that the Nahids would never have consorted with a human. He explains shafit means someone with mixed blood between daeva and humans. The Nahid were a family of Daeva healers.
  • He tells her he’s taking her to Daevabad, her true home, because it’s against their laws to let her go back. Plus, the ifrit are probably hunting her (we don’t know why).
  • A weird birdlike animal named Khazyur shows up, called by the warrior to help. Khazyur is a peri, and calls the warrior Dara. They discuss what to do with Nahri, who doesn’t seem to be safe from the ifrit, but Dara doesn’t want to take her himself to Daevabad, talking about an old feud. Daevabad is safe from the ifrit. He finally agrees to take her back, and they get on the flying carpet.
  • We then switch perspectives to Prince Alizayd al Qahtani in Daevabad, an island covered in enchantments, who’s gotten mixed up with shafit rebels mad about how they are treated as less than, with women being forced to have sex and men being blinded for perceived slights.
  • We learn Alizayd (Ali), who is very religious, has been giving one of them, Anas, money but only for charitable goods like education but is upset because rumors say they’re buying weapons to revolt.
  • We learn the daeva were split by a human prophet king Suleiman into six tribes so they would fight each other and leave humans alone, and Ali’s parents are royalty from two tribes. The tribes are spread out, some in Africa, Middle East, etc.
  • He meets Anas and another shafit, Hanno, that night, and learns there’s a long-running baby trading ring where Daevas steal a shafit baby and sell it to Daeva who struggle to conceive. Again, the shafit have no rights in this and go to Anas’ group for help buying back their babies, including one they’re after this night.
  • Royal guards show up, and the men, taking the baby and a shafit slave girl, run, but Anas sacrifices himself so the others can escape. He firsts implores Ali to help the shafit.
  • Back in Nahri’s POV. They’re still traveling, and we learn Dara fears water and is comforted by fire. Nahri plans to escape by going to a river because she doesn’t want to live in Daevabad.
  • But firsts she decides to steal his ring. When she touches it, though, she has a vision of Dara’s when he was enslaved by a human and forced to help destroy a city. Dara wakes up and her plan to escape is botched. He’s surprised she wants to go back and says she’s needed in Daevabad because she’s the last of the healers.
  • After another close call with the Ifrit, they’re on their way again. Dara tells his full name, explains daeva have souls but are created from fire instead of earth. Each element has its own creature. Peris are air, marid, water (so mermaids?). Ifrits are former Daeva.
  • He explains the history of Daeva, who were once the most powerful creatures on earth and could be anything they wanted. They didn’t like humans and saw them as weak playthings, messing with them.
  • A human, Suleiman, finally got some mystical ring that allowed him to suppress the daevas’ powers and strip them of shape shifting abilities, making them take human form, and shorter life spans (now only a few centuries!). He also ordered them to work for humans as slaves. Those who didn’t obey became ifrit, stuck in bodies that don’t age but without the powers. They went mad and want revenge on humanity and the daeva who submitted.
  • Suleiman gave his ring to the Daeva he trusted most – Anahid, the first of the Nahids. The Nahids then became the rulers, even named their tribe the Daeva. They were afraid another Suleiman-like ruler would come along again and destroy them if they congregated in any way with humans, so they became notorious for killing any shafit and discouraging mixing with them at all. We learn the Afshin (which Dara is) were warriors for the Daeva.
  • And because the Nahids were the ones who enforced Suleiman’s rules, the ifrit hated them and sought to kill all of them. Because Nahri is their descendant, they also want to kill her.
  • As they keep traveling, sparks fly between Dara and Nahri until he admits he plans on just leaving her at the gate to Daevabad.
  • He explains more of their history – 1,400 years ago, the Geziri, another Daeva tribe that was much more open to mixing with humans, revolted against the Deava tribe and overthrew the Nahids, taking power, and setting up the current king, Prince Ali’s father.
  • Nahri says good for them for protecting the shafit, and Dara gets mad because they killed his family, and he stalks off in the middle of the night.
  • Meanwhile, in Daevabad, Ali learns that Asan was captured and tortured for info. When he doesn’t tell, they decide to kill him for punishment and make a show of it in a very gruesome manner.
  • After, we meet Ali’s brother and future king of Daevabad, Muntadhir, a bit of a playboy. Ali is training to be his Qaid or leader of the guard.
  • The king demands harsh rules for the shafit to kill any further revolt. Ali at first argues for the shafit, saying they just want to live and that their religion and history as protectors of the shafit demand they get better civil rights. His father argues there’s not enough housing and jobs for everyone, though, and he must appease the Daeva, whose land they’re on. At the same time, they can’t let them leave because they can cause trouble for the humans, which in turn might bring another Suleiman.
  • The king then announces they found boxes of weapons on shafit rebels, and Ali starts to turn against them as he thinks of his guard friends that could have been killed.
  • The current Qaid must leave, so Ali becomes interim Qaid and moves into the palace.
  • He takes on a new secretary, who turns out to actually be working for the shafit rebels, who try to get Ali to keep helping them.
  • Meanwhile, back with Nahri and Dara, a giant peri attacks them and eats Dara. He’s able to knife his way out, but he’s close to dying so Nahri tries to heal him and discovers the ifrit actually drowned him to enslave him, so it’s not clear if he’s actually alive (no heartbeat).
  • Sparks keep flying until they start making out. They’re interrupted by some ifrit who say they actually made a bargain with Nahri’s mother, Manizheh, who everyone believed died 20 years ago with her brother as the last Nahids, to taker her. She’s able to kill one by stabbing it with a knife covered in her blood (Nahid blood is poisonous to them).
  • Then a marid attacks, sending the ifrit running. Nahri and Dara look doomed until Khazyur saves them, dying in the process because he evidently broke some law. Just before he dies, he says the peris and marid are after Dara, not Nahri.
  • Dara and Nahri finally make it to the ferry to take them to the island of Daevabad. Dara explains they can’t touch the water in the lake because it’s cursed by the marid to destroy daeva.
  • Ali goes to his father, who accuses him of not going after the shafit. A messenger comes in saying a Daeva slave with an Afshin mark is on the ferry, but the king dismisses it, upset with Ali, threatening to send him away. The king hints at something he’s set up to causes the shafit to riot, which would allow them to arrest the shafit.
  • After the meeting, Muntadhir yells at Ali, suspecting he’s sympathetic to the shafit cause. He takes Ali to a crypt under the castle where all the bodies of the Nahid are buried – a cruel fate for beings from fire that are normally cremated when they die.
  • Ali says this is because the family are so scared of the Nahid, who could break someone’s bone just by snapping their fingers, they wanted to ensure they were dead. He mentions Manizheh, who he says the king cremated.
  • Muntadhir then shows Ali a relic that all daeva have that allow them to be returned to a body if they’re enslaved by the ifrit.
  • The relic is Dara’s, which Ali realizes means that it was his family who turned Dara over to the Ifrit to be enslaved. Muntadhir says they had to do it because Dara would have destroyed them all during the war when Ali’s family took over.
  • The Nahid might be gone, but other Daeva remain, so the king must do all he can to appease them to keep the peace, which means being harsh to the shafit, who the Daeva hate, Muntadhir says.
  • Muntadhir says the man in the ferry can’t be Dara because without the relic, he shouldn’t have been able to return to a body.
  • Torn between his support for the shafit and his family, Ali tells his brother he’ll give up the shafit.
  • Nahri and Dara enter the city right as a riot is starting between the shafit and Daeva. Dara goes to protect the Daevas, and city guards seem to realize who he is so they take them to see the king. When the king looks upon Nahri, he calls her in Manizheh in surprise.
  • The king realizes she’s not Manizheh, but says that she’s clearly a pureblood and there must be an enchantment on her if everyone else thinks she looks like a shafit. Nahir claims fealty to him in exchange for Dara and her being treated well.
  • We also learn that Manizheh and her brother died while en route to some other part of the country. The king now suspects Manizheh only wanted to go because she was pregnant and, wanting to hide it, give birth where people wouldn’t find out.
  • Interestingly, Dara admits this was around the same time he was mysteriously freed from enslavement, although he doesn’t know how. He has no memories of his time as a slave. But people are shocked he was a slave for so long (almost 1,400 years) without going mad.
  • Some deals are made and she’s given over to her mother’s old assistant, Nisreen, who will train her to be a healer. Dara goes off on an expedition with Muntadhir to track the ifrit hunting them.
  • The king confronts Ali, saying he knows he’s been funding the shafit revolt (although it’s clear the king isn’t aware of the other stuff he’s done) and says if he wants to live, he has to help get Nahri on their side. The king wants her to marry Muntadhir so they can have peace between the two tribes.
  • Nahri and Ali start hanging out, with him teaching her how to read, and they get friendly. Meanwhile, she struggles to heal people, causing more harm than good.
  • Dara returns and isn’t happy with how close she’s gotten to Ali, but she claims he’s a mark.
  • Ali gets attacked by one of the shafit, upset he’s abandoned them, but he’s able to kill the shafit and go to Nahri for healing. She helps but notices he’s oddly thirsty and the water is pouring out of his wounds, seeming to help heal him.
  • Dara knows the king wants to arrange a marriage between Nahri and Muntadhir, so he tries to point her to Jamshid, a Daeva who’s the son of the wazir and guard to Muntadhir (they only hint at it, but it’s pretty clear Muntadhir and Jamshid are actually in love with each other).
  • She gets mad because she wants to marry Dara, but he says it can’t be – it’s unlikely he can have children as he’s basically dead, and the Nahid need to come back. She’s pissed because people keep telling her what to do.
  • After struggling more at healing and learning the king doesn’t want her training to become a good healer because he wants her weak, she makes a bargain with him – a marriage contract in exchange for more time and money and protection for Dara.
  • When Dara finds out, he goes to Nahri late at night and says they have allies and other places they can go to. She resists, mad he hasn’t said this before and saying she made a promise to the king.
  • Ali shows up at her door seeking medical help, but Dara gets jealous and they have an epic fight. Dara reveals he has powers Daevas shouldn’t have like being able to change stuff into other items entirely. He’s able to overpower Ali and threatens to kill him if Nahri doesn’t come with him. She agrees.
  • He takes the two of them to a boat on the edges of the island and they set off. Ali tries to get Nahri to question Dara and it seems to be working until they realize a bunch of war ships are waiting for them, which Ali knew about but didn’t say a word.
  • Nahri tries to make a deal to save Dara, saying she just wants him to live. Suddenly Dara goes crazy killing people with blank eyes, and Nahri thinks he’s doing it because she wished him to live – so he’s still an enslaved djinn? Anyway, he starts killing everyone, going after Muntadhir who’s on one of the ships.
  • Ali goes to save his brother and Dara shoots him with several arrows, and Ali goes overboard into the cursed lake – so it looks like he’s dead.
  • Dara snaps out of his zombie-like state, realizing what he’s done and that Nahri will likely hate him now for killing Ali. Suddenly Ali climbs back on the ship, but he’s clearly not normal – he’s been possessed by a marid and now has Suleiman’s seal on his cheek.
  • This allows him to stop Dara’s power and cut off the hand with the jeweled bracelet on it – this is what was used to enslave him, and without it, his spirit dies and his body turns to ash. Now Nahri is devastated over losing Dara.

how did it end?

Ali next wakes up in the infirmary to discover although he’s not possessed anymore, the marid left its mark and he’s definitely part one of them now. We learn the king’s family only took over the throne becauses one of the other tribes made a deal with the marid to go after the Nahid, something that is an act of betrayal against their kind, so the king’s family has to keep it secret.

His father, who has realized the full extent of his betrayal, tells him he is stripping him of his titles and will send him to their family’s land. Ali realizes that instead of an immediate death, he will wait there for an assassin to kill him. The king says he’s doing it this way because he can’t bring himself to give a death order, so he’ll let others do it.

The king then meets with Nahri. He still wants the marriage to go forth to bring the Daeva tribe back under control (they started to revolt after Dara was killed) and blackmails her into doing so by threatening to reveal that she really is a shafit – he made up the enchantment because he wanted people to accept her for his own purposes. She agrees, seeming to have lost the battle, but when she follows his plan to make it look like Dara was trying to basically rape and kidnap her, we see the Daeva stand by her and she calls the king her mark.

In an epilogue, we see the wazir, Kaveh, go to see his son, Jamshid, who was gravely injured during the battle on the boat. The king has refused to allow him to be treated until the Daeva turned over whoever helped Dara plan his escape. Kaveh starts to scrape a tattoo off his son and we learn Jamshid must be a Nahid becauses he can heal himself – the tattoo is to stop this power so people wouldn’t realize who he is, but now it’s keeping Jamshid from healing himself. Nisreen appears and stops him, saying he’ll still live and they can’t let the king find out about Jamshid. She reveals she has an iron ring with an emerald in it – looks to be Dara’s ring – and implies he can still be saved if Kaveh can get back in the king’s good graces, get permission to go to their homeland and take it to Manizheh to revive Dara. She’s still alive, and they know it!

glossary

Daeva – This term refers to the whole class of beings that are born of the element fire (also known as djinn) and to one of the six tribes of these people.
Djinn – A term for Daeva used by the tribes that were OK mixing with humans and who went on to usurp the Nahid.
Ifrit – Daevas who refused to surrender to a human who had a mysterious ring that allowed him to stop their powers. They’re now cursed and hunt all the daeva whose families surrendered.
Marid – Creatures that come from the element of water.
Peri – Creatures that come from the element of air.
Afshin – A warrior that served the Nahid family.
Qaid – Leader of the Royal Guard
Shafit – People of mixed human and daeva blood

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