Book Review: THE KINGDOM OF COPPER by S.A. Chakraborty

Title: The Kingdom of Copper

Author: S.A. Chakraborty

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: January 2019
Hardcover: 640 pages

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—”the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind” (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Daevabad Trilogy

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print

Review

I rarely gush over books–or series, for that matter–but for the Daevabad Trilogy? I am a pile of slack-limbed giddiness. City of Brass had been languishing on my TBR for over a year, until last fall when I thought, what the hell, let’s give you a go. From the first description of occupied Cairo, and heroine Nahri’s pragmatic scheming, I was placed under author Chakraborty’s thrall–a spell that deepened with each new chapter, as Nahri’s world expands from Cairo to the magic-shrouded city of Daevabad after she accidentally conjures of a djinn warrior and discovers that Nahri herself is a Daeva of a powerful lost bloodline and that the world contains real, true magic. But all magic comes at a cost, and for Nahri, the last surviving Nahid, Daevabad holds many enemies.

Fast forward to this year, and one of my most eagerly anticipated books of 2019.

The story is thus: after the dramatic events of City of Brass and her failed escape from Daevabad, resulting in the death of her beloved Afshin, Dara, Nahri has played the hand she has been dealt and agreed to marry emir Muntadhir al Qahtani. (She’s negotiated the best possible deal for herself in terms of dowry, taking king Ghassan for as much as possible before closing the deal, of course.) Kingdom of Copper opens on Nahri and Muntadhir’s wedding night, and the uneasy strain between the two characters, who don’t really care for each other but who are both under Ghassan’s orders to unify their two people for “peace”–Nahri is a Daeva and Muntadhir a Geziri, two different pure-blooded tribes of djinn with a dark history of hate and blood between them.


A Quick Refresher

“I told you before that Suleiman was a clever man. Before his curse, all daevas were the same. We looked similar, spoke a single language, practiced identical rites. When Suleiman freed us, he scattered us across the world he knew, changing our tongues and appearances.”

from City of Brass

The city of Daevabad is under the rule of the Quahatanis, of the desert-origined Geziri people–but as its name suggests, Daevabad was the seat of power and home to the Daeva tribe before the Geziri uprising that murdered the “rightful” rulers of the realm, the Nahids. The Nahids were the djinn who were entrusted with Suleiman’s seal, a magical ring that can nullify magic (Suleiman being the human prophet who scattered the djinn across the world and compelled their magic by using his ring, all to protect his fellow humans from further cruelty). A generation before the start of City of Brass, the Geziri stole Suleiman’s seal and the city of Daevabad itself, and while the Daevas are allowed to live and practice their beliefs, they are no longer in power and are mocked, jeered, and slighted. But what the Daevas have to deal with is nothing compared to the mixed blood race of the Shafit–half djinn, half human–who are seen as abominations and reviled by Daeva and Geziri alike.

Daevabad is full of Shafit, most who cannot pass for human but aren’t powerful enough to live outside of the magical protection of the city, for beyond its borders roam other evils, such as ifrit and ghouls, and a life of being discriminated against and poverty in Daevabad is better than no life at all.

The end result: Daevabad is a tinderbox of frustration and violence, primed and ready to explode.

(For more about the different daevas and their origins, check out “The World of Daevabad” on the author’s website.)


Kingdom of Copper follows the same three main characters from book one–Nari, Ali, and Dara–as they wage battles on three different fronts. For human-raised Daeva and former-thief-turned healer Nahri, Daevabad has never been more dangerous. Married to the Qahatani emir, shocked by the betrayal of Ali (the Prince she thought was her friend) and the more cutting loss of her sworn protector and lover, Dara (who also betrayed Nahri’s trust in irreparable ways before his death), Nahri has never felt more alone. But she is determined to survive and bide her time–she may be a piece in the tyrant Ghassan’s game, but Nahri knows how to play. And while she doesn’t care much for the marital expectations of producing a Nahid-Qahatani mixed blood heir, she does care about learning how to use her innate magic as the Banu Nahida (the title bestowed upon the female Nahid healer and leader of the Daeva), healing her fellow djinn and building trust amongst her new people. Nahri’s great ambition is to restore the Nahid hospital, to treat all of Daevabad’s sick and injured–be they Daeva, Geziri, or Shafit. Of course, such a thing is anathema–but Nahri will stop at nothing to get her way. Especially as tensions mount in Daevabad between the pure blooded clans and the Shafit, and Ghassan’s rule grows increasingly cruel.

For exiled, stubbornly idealistic Qahatani prince Ali, returning to Daevabad is the last thing he wants, yet fate (and the schemes of his mother, Queen Hatset) bring him home. And things are… tense. His brother, Muntadhir, is determined to hate and avoid him for his role in aiding the Shafit rebellion and defying his family time and time again for his unyielding ideals–which sound great in principle, but in reality end with so many dead. Nahri pushes Ali away at first, but soon the two are back in cahoots, working together to build the hospital Nahri so yearns for.

Ali has another problem, though–since the night of the battle on the lake, when he fell into the Marid-cursed waters and inexplicably survived, strange things have been happening. Ali can control water, and has strange, terrifying dreams–he fears the worst, and that something the Marid did to him in the water is changing him.

Meanwhile, beyond Daevabad’s borders, the warrior Afshin Dara is alive. Conjured back to life by Manizeh (Nahri’s mother who has long been presumed dead), Dara becomes a key piece in the Banu Nahida’s plan to take Daevabad back from the Geziri–no matter the cost.

Suffice it to say, there is a LOT going on in Kingdom of Copper, the second entry in S.A. Chakraborty’s mad awesome Daevabad trilogy. And I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say, this book is almost certainly going to maintain a spot on my top 10 books of 2019 list (even though it’s barely the second week of January). This is a sweeping tale of jaded characters making the best decisions they can in an impossibly hostile world bent on cycles of revenge and bloodthirst. This second novel is so much more than a bridge book–it is the rare second novel that outshines its predecessor, and builds on an already powerful, complex web of events, machinations, and rules. All this, while building towards an inevitable climax between characters who are so many shades of gray, resulting in what I can only fairly label as a masterpiece. Kingdom of Copper is that good.

The two things that truly stand out to me in this novel are the increasingly nuanced characterizations of Daevabad’s heroes and villains, as well as the complex themes of tradition and duty, idealism and pragmatism that define so much of the story. In City of Brass, readers are introduced to familiar archetypal characters: Nahri, the orphaned chosen one AND pauper-turned-princess; Ali, the naive Jedi Knight-style prince with a conscience, despite his father’s cruelty; Dara, the tortured, brooding mystery man with a Dark Past (but promise of a future with Nahri). In this second book, all of these archetypes–and more, including the villains Ghassan and Manizeh–deepen and become so much more than their superficial parts. Nahri learns quickly that political maneuvering in the Palace and amongst her own people requires force and finesse; she also is far more aware and understanding of the ever-increasing danger she is mired in, with few friends and so many enemies. It’s wonderful to see Nahri grow into her abilities and wield the strength she has as a Nahid and Daeva and woman, in particular. Similarly, Ali and his relationships reveal different sides to his family–his brother’s anger, his mother’s love, even his father’s weaknesses. Ali more than any other character is dangerous in this novel–as Muntadhir points out, the boy’s unwillingness to yield or compromise and his undying sense of right and wrong can be twisted, dangerous things that cost others their lives. Frankly, of all the characters, Dara is the least interesting in this installment, though his path and decisions to support Manizeh are believable and heartbreaking in equal measure.

And I’ve said nothing about the rich tapestry of lore and intricate history that Chakraborty has created! The djinn are a long-lived race, and their history full of power struggles, wrongs that are continually avenged and the cycle starts all over again. I am in awe of the world that Chakraborty has created, alongside our own human realm, and cannot wait to return to it in book three.

Absolutely recommended.

Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfection, and I need the next book in the series like immediately

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