I needed this to be good and not only did it come through, it came through with big brass bells on! Honestly, it had me from the scene where Ali was staring at the courtesans and his companion steps between them and admonishes him to look away because OH MY GOD, S. A. Chakraborty understands Islam and I just wanted to reach through the pages and hug her and thank her for not writing a book that would make me angry or impatient or just sad about how my religion is depicted. Because the Islam of The City Of Brass is not just the strict Sunni strain that forms the (slight) majority of the Islamic world’s teachings: it also encompasses less mainstream sects, even if none of these are ever mentioned by name. I feel as if this is the first fantasy novel, indeed perhaps the first novel of any genre, based on Islamic history and mythology (that I have ever read, at least) that takes all of that rich plurality into account instead of using just a small corner of the planet with its idiosyncratic culture as the defining viewpoint of the book’s Islam. I don’t quite know how to explain, if you don’t understand it already, why that’s such a big deal but it is. Islam and Muslims aren’t just one thing. We are, we contain multitudes, and it’s nice to have that represented.
Religious feelings aside, I was concerned that a book about a street healer who didn’t believe in magic but suddenly realized she was not only magical but powerful in many ways, including political, would make me cringe for other reasons. Pauper to princess novels are often handled poorly, or at least simplistically. I should not have doubted tho: Ms Chakraborty weaves a complex tale of bloody history and warring perspectives that is breathtakingly and sympathetically humane. The book is a lot like Game Of Thrones in that sense, tho it is also similar in that there is a fairly large cast who pop in and out in ways that aren’t the easiest to keep track of: if this is the kind of thing that confuses you, then you may not care for this book. But if you do like sprawling sagas written from differing, limited viewpoints; if you like epic fantasy based on real human history; hell, if you like good, absorbing fiction that leaves you begging for the next book in the series, then I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s hard to believe that TCoB is Ms Chakraborty’s debut novel given how well-written and sophisticated and accomplished it is. My very soul shivers with anticipation at how good the rest of this trilogy will be.