Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publish Date: November 14, 2017
Raiting: 4.5 Stars
Synopsis: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. 
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.  After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…

Wow. Can someone invent time travel, so I can go back and shove this book into my own face when it was first released? I am pretty damn cross with myself for sitting on it for so long.

S.A. Chakraborty created a rich world the likes of which I have never experienced. This book is part magic realism and part fantasy, but the world is centered Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures that I have very little knowledge of.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to walk through this story from the eyes of characters who are very different from me.

The story is told from two perspectives: Nahri, a street criminal with magic and mysterious heritage, and Alizayd (Ali), prince of Daevabad who is equal parts awkward and bad ass. While I loved Nahri more than Ali, they both irritated me at times. But really, people aren’t perfect and fictional characters shouldn’t be. Dara is the grumpy Daeva that Nahri accidently summons at the beginning of the book and hot damn I loved him. It’s no secret that I love grumpy male characters in books and Dara is no exception to that. Really, all the characters in this book, even the side ones, are very well developed and they all stuck with me.

One of the problems I had with this book was the world building. It was SO MUCH. I love books with good world building but I felt like this book took it one step over the line. Each scene felt like it added another layer to the world, but sometimes I just wanted a break. I felt like it was hard to keep track of the history in the world too. Each character had their own perspective on what happened in the past and I felt like the story’s history got a bit muddled by this. I get that there are always two sides to history and all that, but I just felt like I couldn’t tell you what actually went down in this world to bring us to where it currently is. The pacing was really thrown off sometimes by the world building too.

But, at the end of the day, this book was damn good. I remember when I first read the synopsis last year I knew I’d like the book. It still took me by surprise just how much I liked it though. What I think it really boils down to is this book is not like any other fantasy book I’ve read. Sure, it might have similar story elements to a lot of fantasy books: female main character (with some kind of hidden past) teams up with broody male and takes on some kind of corrupt system. But the setting and cultures represented brought out new elements and gave this story a richness that other fantasy books can be lacking. When people ask for fantasy book recommendations, The City of Brass is what I’ll be telling them to read for years to come.

Book Review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase

The Afterlife of Holly ChaseHolly Chase
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 24th, 2017
Genre, as told by Kibby: YA contemporary with a dash of weird magic/science-y realism
Rating: 5 Stars!
Synopsis: On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.
She didn’t.
And then she died.
Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge–as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.
Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable. But this year, everything is about to change. . . .

Let me start by saying that I DO NOT like YA contemporary novels. qG2h9G9NMRRE4I’ll read them only in the most exact of situations (The Charlotte Holmes novels, for instance), but this book was the selection for my Bookstagram Book Club (GO #TEAMKINGWHALE) and the synopsis had just enough vague magic-y/science-y weirdness to intrigue me.

But The Afterlife of Holly Chase melted even my cold, dead old lady heart.

The novel follows failed scrooge, Holly Chase, through…you guessed it: her afterlife. There is no heaven or hell for her, just the life as a sort of ghost/zombie vagueness that works for Project Scrooge. I felt like some of the intricacies of Project Scrooge could have been fleshed out more, but this novel is about the human aspect, not the technical. I can forgive it leaving out that part of world building.

I was worried that I would hate Holly Chase. There is nothing I hate more than a “poor rich girl” but Cynthia Hand deftly wrote Holly as flawed human that has depth and the ability to grow. I did dislike Holly at first, but very quickly I was drawn into her loneliness. Not the loneliness of her rich, teenage life, but the loneliness of her afterlife. I felt for her and found myself rooting for her to somehow get a happy ending (which is surprising since I’m usually a fan of tragic endings).

There was a fairly large supporting cast in this book and while some were not well explored, I felt I was able to get enough about them to work within the story. I think Boz and Stephanie were my favorite of the supporting cast. And while we got quite a bit of Stephanie’s backstory, I wish we’d gotten to know Boz a bit more. But at the same time, the unknown gives the novel the right feel.

I think what I liked most about the book was that even though I knew something was going to be all plot-twisty, I never could quite put my finger on it. It kept me invested and constantly wondering where this was all going. There were some bits that could be classified as clichéd but they were written in a way that I enjoyed and therefore didn’t care about the cliché.

And then there was the ending…

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I will not say any spoilers but I will say that I cried a lot because even though I try to hide it, I am a total sap. I called one thing about the ending, but not everything. And regardless, I loved everything that came to pass.

At the end of the day, this was not a perfect book. But it made me cry AND it made me happy, which is what I love in a book. So 5 stars on enjoyment alone, 4 stars if I was being critical about clichés and some lack of world building.