Review of City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

4 Comments

This novel is a finalist for the 2018 World Fantasy Award. It’s released by Harper Voyager and billed as The Daevabad Trilogy #1. It runs 569 pages. The next novel in the series, The Kingdom of Copper, should be available 22 January 2019. This review contains spoilers.

Nahri is a con woman in 18th century Cairo who poses as a healer and palm reader to cover her real work as a thief. She sets up a zar to sooth a crazed girl, and while singing some old songs, accidently summons Dara, a magical djinn warrior. The girl turns out to be possessed by an ifrit, which attacks Nahri. Dara carries Nahri away from Cairo and takes her to Daevabad, the hidden City of Brass. He introduces her to the djinn King Ghassan as the last of the powerful Nahid family, and the court seems to welcome her. It turns out there are nasty undercurrents in the politics, simmering resentments between the six djinn tribes and the half-breed shafit. Nahri struggles to learn the healing arts they try to teach her, and Ghassan thinks she’s at most a half-breed human, but still plans a political union by marrying Nahri to his oldest son Muntadhir. He sends his youngest, the scholarly subversive Prince Ali, as a tutor to win her over to the plan. When Dara hears of it, he tries to carry Nahri away again, but Ali interferes and they are caught trying to cross the magical lake that guards Daevabad. Dara is killed, Ali possessed and banished, and Muntadhir’s companion Jamshid badly wounded. Ghassan is determined the marriage will go on as planned. Can Nahri turn any of this to her advantage?

So, counter to the depressive trend in the WFA finalists this year, this is a romance and an intrigue. All these people are lying to each other, and political groups are plotting right and left. Daevabad is exotic, the details of the city life, the temples and the palace very well assembled. I didn’t have any problems visualizing the people, the creatures or the scenery–the author has done a lot of research. She’s also done a great job in blending tradition with modern sensibilities. The characters are slightly flat, but the story is more focused on the action and intrigue than on revealing their deepest inner thoughts. The reader is left to deduce a lot of what’s going on from their actions.

In case you can’t tell from the synopsis, this is a cliffhanger, as everybody is at risk at the end, and the political tides are still rising. Nahri mostly lets people push her around in this book, but her political faction didn’t abandon her over the marriage, so she’s now well placed to be a power player in the next novel. Without Dara and Ali, she’ll have to find other protectors.

On the negative side, the magical world here was a little too complex for me to keep up with the way I read the book, which was a piece here and a piece there. Politics in the city was fairly clear by the time I was done, but a lot of other creatures seem to be circling Daevabad, just waiting for some chance to get in. I didn’t get a clear idea of the motives or alignments there. One other note: this seems to be an unfortunate choice of title, as it’s apparently shared with a successful video game. That means a search for the book turns up mostly the game info instead. However, I guess Chakraborty’s fans can tell the difference.

Four and a half stars.

Advertisements

Review of More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera

2 Comments

This novel is near future science fiction and published by Soho Teen in 2015. It runs 306 pages. Silvera is a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent. This was his debut novel.

Aaron Soto is pretty happy. He lives in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment with his mother and brother. He had a tough time after his dad committed suicide a while back, and tried it himself but he’s over the depression now. He’s got a great group of friends and a girlfriend that loves him. He runs into a new guy named Thomas in the neighborhood and the two become best friends. However, things start to go a little weird when Aaron begins to feel this friendship could be something more. He admits his interest to Thomas, but is rejected. When his friends find out Aaron is gay, they jump him and beat him up. He wakes in the hospital with two sets of memories because the beating has reversed his memory suppression procedure. Will he ever be able to get his life back on track?

The best thing about Silvera’s work is his entertaining humor. He also has a knack for writing dialog that takes the abject terror out of teen experiences and leaves the reader thinking everything is going to be okay, after all. Also on the positive side, Aaron provides a consistently positive role model for teens, even when things start to go really wrong.

On the negative side, there wasn’t any clear action line in this novel. This left it sagging badly in the second quarter, and Silvera’s long description of street games left me bored. Things picked up about half way through when Aaron recalls the memory procedure, but the plot still didn’t rise to the usual climax. This left the structure sort of muddled.

The most striking thing about this novel is the awful experiences Aaron goes through, mainly because of his sexual orientation. Is this standard for the Bronx?

Three and a half stars.

Bio of gay SFF pioneer George Brewster

Leave a comment

FeatherPenClipArt
George Brewster (1766 – ?) was born in England, and his date of death is unknown. He was a son of John Brewer, a well-known art connoisseur. As a young man, Brewster served as a midshipman under Lord Hugh Seymour and others, and sailed word-wide. In 1791 he became a lieutenant in the Swedish navy. After retiring from the sea, he read for law in London and established a practice as an attorney.

Brewster wrote his first novel Tom Weston when he was in the navy and by 1799 had become a playwright, essayist and writer of miscellany. In 1808 he produced his contribution to speculative fiction, the two-volume tale The Witch of Ravensworth. This book is still in publication, available on Amazon and described as “Gothic horror, fairy tale, and bizarre dark humour.” In writing about himself, Brewster noted that he felt “misplaced or displaced in life”, had “vicissitude for his tutor” and was luckless altogether.

This information is from Brewster’s article at Wikipedia. You can read more here.

David Levithan’s Every Day, take two

1 Comment

royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779
A couple of days into thoughts about the Hugo nomination process totally missing fringe publications, I’ve come up with a good example. David Levithan’s Every Day is a book I reviewed on the blog a little while back. I gave this one five stars, which is hard to get out of me. I think it is totally and awesomely brilliant.

Every Day was published in 2013 and received the Lambda Award for Best LBGTQ Children’s/Teen Book. It went on to feature on the New York Times Bestseller List. This means my opinion isn’t unusual, either from the literary community or the fan community. However, this book never made a ripple in the SF&F community because SF&F isn’t something Levithan normally writes.

I’m seeing quite a bit of activity out there just now in trying to work out a better system to locate award-worthy works. Let’s not forget the fringes, folks. That’s where genius really lies.

%d bloggers like this: