A rich Middle Eastern fantasy, the first of a trilogy: Chakraborty’s intriguing debut.
On the streets of 18th-century Cairo, young Nahri—she has a real talent for medicine but lacks the wherewithal to acquire proper training—makes a living swindling Ottoman nobles by pretending to wield supernatural powers she doesn’t believe in. Then, during a supposed exorcism, she somehow summons a mysterious djinn warrior named Dara, whose magic is both real and incomprehensibly powerful. Dara insists that Nahri is no longer safe—evil djinn threaten her life, so he must convey her to Daevabad, a legendary eastern city protected by impervious magical brass walls. During the hair-raising journey by flying carpet, Nahri meets spirits and monsters and develops feelings for Dara, a deeply conflicted being with a long, tangled past. At Daevabad she’s astonished to learn that she’s the daughter of a legendary healer of the Nahid family. All the more surprising, then, that King Ghassan, whose ancestor overthrew the ruling Nahid Council and stole Suleiman’s seal, which nullifies magic, welcomes her. With Ghassan’s younger son, Prince Ali, Nahri becomes immersed in the city’s deeply divisive (and not infrequently confusing) religious, political, and racial tensions. Meanwhile, Dara’s emerging history and personality grow more and more bewildering and ambiguous. Against this syncretic yet nonderivative and totally credible backdrop, Chakraborty has constructed a compelling yarn of personal ambition, power politics, racial and religious tensions, strange magics, and terrifying creatures, culminating in a cataclysmic showdown that few readers will anticipate. The expected first-novel flaws—a few character inconsistencies, plot swirls that peter out, the odd patch where the author assumes facts not in evidence—matter little. Best of all, the narrative feels rounded and complete yet poised to deliver still more.
Highly impressive and exceptionally promising.