Daevabad and the Hot, Moody Djinn

by Gurpreet Sihat

A few months ago, I hadn’t heard of S. A. Chakraborty. I hadn’t heard of The City of Brass or The Kingdom of Copper. I hadn’t even known there were books out there about the djinn, other than The Golem and The Jinni. Then came two days in August. Two days where my phone kept going off. Messages from writers caught in Chakraborty’s spell. Writers who wanted me to join them. 

You need to read this! 

This book is amazeballs!

Poppy Wars was good. Jade City was good. City of Brass was EXCEPTIONAL.

I finished it last night. Basically read it in one sitting. 

Such good political intrigue, detailed world, a heroine with fight in her. 

You’re going to LOVE the hot, moody djinn.

Wait. What? Hot. Moody. Djinn? 

That was what it took. Hot, moody djinn. And not literal heat (which, you know, is expected from the djinn). Curiosity sufficiently piqued, I ordered myself a copy.

I learnt quickly that Chakraborty’s spell was quick working. Her words pulled me into a narrative that, despite all its intrigue and danger, felt comforting. It reminded me of the stories my dad told me and my sisters growing up. It felt like home. 

We’re introduced to Nahri, an Aladdin-like con artist living on the streets of 18th century Cairo. Swept away by her latest con – a zār to exorcise a spirit from a possessed young girl – Nahri sings a song in Divasti, a language that, unbeknownst to her, is that of a specific caste of djinn, the Daeva. To her horror, it results in an ifrit (a demon from Arabian folklore) hunting her down with an army of the dead.  Enter the djinn warrior, Darayavahoush e’Afshin (usually called Dara – the name is way too good not to say as often as possible), angry that someone’s dared wake him from his slumber and armed to the teeth with scimitar, bow and arrows, daggers, and a disposition that had me stifling a smile. 

“You mean there’s a chance these things might get out and start feasting on everyone in Cairo?”

He looked thoughtful. “That would provide a distraction…” 

Dara is the last descendent of the Afshins, a military caste that served as the right hand of the Nahid Council, the original rulers of the djinn kingdom, Daevabad. Realising that Nahri has the ability to heal and has an incredible aptitude with languages like the Nahid, Dara chooses to protect her. He helps her flee Cairo and return to Daevabad, now ruled by the Qahtani family, descendants of the man that led the rebellion against her family. 

As Dara and Nahri begin their journey, the chapters start to alternate between Nahri and Alizayad al Qahtani, the second crown prince of Daevabad. We quickly discover that in this Kingdom, pure-blooded djinn are favoured by the law, the shafit (mixed bloods) are looked down on, and those fighting for equality are traitors. Ali? He’s a shafit sympathiser, helping the rebel leader, Anas. Once you understand the basic set up of Daevabad and know which character belongs where in the caste system, the politics of Daevabad are really intriguing. It becomes a story of oppression and freedom, of forced beliefs and the consequences of not standing up. And despite its 500+ page count, you find the book coming to a close far too quickly. 

The king lifted his dark brows. “This should be an interesting story.”

Chakraborty weaves a magnificent tapestry, rich and beautiful and incredibly well thought through. Daevabad seeps from the page. You can hear it, smell it, see it. You can even feel the heat oozing from the pages. And if that’s not enough to pull you into the narrative, the characters definitely are. To put simply, the djinn are traditionally the Fae of the East. They are the ultimate grey characters – neither inherently good nor inherently bad – the lines between them and demons blurred. Every single one of Chakaborty’s characters falls on this grey line which, alone, makes them interesting. 

For me, Nahri was the perfect character to follow through the story. On a personal level, she has grown up in a culture where stories of the djinn, the ifrit and Sulieman are the norm, making her relatable. But she’s thrown into this fantastical world that feels like home but is far from it and we learn right alongside her. This extends into her relationships with people. Discovering that Dara is enslaved – tied to a green ring much like the Genie in Aladdin is tied to a lamp – by accidentally accessing his memories, Nahri walks through parts of Dara’s tormented past. Upon reaching Daevabad, she realises that these memories are the tip of the iceberg. Still, like us, she judges him on his actions since she woke him. Similarly, despite knowing that Ali is part of the family that overthrew her own, she refuses to take part in the generations-old feud and gets to know him. She’s strong willed, she makes up her own mind and she has made the decision to make decisions on her own!

A lot of the tension comes from Ali and Dara. They’re from two pure-blooded tribes with strong opinions on different ends of a battlefield littered in hate and darkness. Still, they’re incredibly similar. Ali has spent his entire life training to become Qaid for his brother, Muntadhir, the future King. He’s selfless and stands by his beliefs, going so far as to argue for the shafit to his father. Dara is the greatest warrior to have ever lived. He has his beliefs, his prejudices, his regrets. But he, too, is a soldier, and soldiers obey. While we start to see who Ali really is without the pressure of following orders from his father, I’m looking forward to seeing Dara’s story progress in a similar way. I want to see Dara without the ties of servitude, be that servitude attached to his ring or his role as Afshin. Without the orders and the expectations, who is the real Darayavahoush e’Afshin?

“You don’t stop fighting a war just because you’re losing battles.” 

After finishing The City of Brass, I devoured The Kingdom of Copper in just two days. To avoid spoilers, I don’t want to go too far into it, but what I love most about this sequel is that it feels like a completely different book while still remaining true to the foundations its predecessor lay. 

I may have only begun Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy because of a text message about a hot, moody Djinn (say the name Darayavahoush e’Afshin three times and feel the way it rolls off your tongue, readers!), but both books have become lifelong loves and I cannot recommend them enough. With both excitement and grief (I don’t want this trilogy to end!), I eagerly welcome the third and final book, The Empire of Gold, releasing February 2020.

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