Tag Archives: plotting

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

This series is adult fantasy written by a Muslim author for her ummah and contains Muslim characters. I think the series as a whole is definitely not YA, as the main characters would age out of the target demographic, but I think that book one could qualify. I’ve contacted the author to get her perspective on the matter, and will update this if I hear back. So why am I reviewing it? Because it is so good, and I’ve heard of a lot of people letting/encouraging their teens to read it, and honestly, I did as well. There is complex world building, implied physical interactions, one hinted at gay romance, alcohol, concubines, violence, djinn, ifrits, killing and one kiss/slight make out session. There is also Middle Eastern culture, Islam, and a fiery protagonist that make the 530 pages in the first book fly by. I’m only reviewing the first book, and I think 14 years and up can handle it, I know my 14 year old and I haven’t stopped talking about it, and it has been quite fun to fan girl with her over it.

SYNOPSIS:

Nahri is living in 18th Century Cairo. She is completely alone and always has been. To survive she relies on her healing abilities and her ability to steal, cheat, and con her way to food and shelter. She knows nothing of her past, but is able to pick up any language after hearing a few words. At a performance to con a family needing help healing their daughter, she accidentally summons a djinn, Dara, which in turn awakens a graveyard full of ifrit, and sends Nahri on the run. Not trusting Dara they are travel companions none-the-less as they make their way to Daaevabad, a protected home of the fire beings, and the only place Dara thinks she will be safe. Along the way on the month long journey, Nahri tries to learn about the djinn, called Daeva, and the creatures they are running from. She also learns that she is the last surviving Nahid, healer, and while she may be a shafit, a half blood, she has powers and lineage the kingdom desires. Dara isn’t forthcoming with information, as a result his dark past and incredible powers keep Nahri on edge. She is constantly plotting her escape from the magic carpet carrying them and the future that she doesn’t understand let alone know if she wants.

The book is told from Nahri’s perspective and from Ali’s as well. Ali is the second born son to the king of Daevabad and has been raised away from the palace at the citadel. With a soft spot for the shafit, second class citizens of Daevabad, he gets tangled up in a plot to free child slaves and gets called back to the palace to be watched and tested as his brother’s future Qaid, the top military official that he has been preparing for his entire life. Ali is already an outcast to his family, as a devout Muslim in practice, belief, and actions, unlike his family who identify as Muslim for political unity.

Once Nahri and Dara cross in to Daevabad and the two narratives come together, the politicking, deception, deceit, and historical complexities get intense. The king demands that Ali get to know Nahri so that she can be persuaded to marry the emir, Muntadhir, but Nahri is in love with Dara and struggling to learn how to be a healer in the mythical world. To say that the story gets messy with the djinn tribes, and the manipulation of power and historical atrocities would be a simplification. But the writing is superb, and the world building encompassing. The book doesn’t drag and even after reading all three volumes, you’ll find yourself thrilled to know that the author has some additional points of view online.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The author takes a lot of liberties with Prophet Suleiman’s story, but it is fiction and I don’t think that anyone would be mislead by the information given about him and his control over the djinn. The “Islamic” elements in the book are really just that, elements, they aren’t plot lines, or more than just a layer to the setting and the characters. The history and the cultural richness is made more complete by the foods, clothes, and salat times mentioned, but there is nothing Islamic fiction about the text.

I love the writing. Period. It is engaging and doesn’t lag or feel repetitive. The characters are very fleshed out: no one is good or bad, the entire cast is shades of gray, and their motives and intentions are often debatable. My daughter and I have argued and I don’t think we have tried this hard to convince each other about characters since Harry Potter, and it is so great!

FLAGS:

SPOILERS: Dara and Nahri have chemistry and they kiss and long for each other, but it isn’t the bulk of the story line. Ali starts to fall for Nahri, but he has poor judgement so it is by and large dismissed. Muntadhir is always drinking wine and courting courtesans and is never in his own bed, nothing is detailed, it is said in passing, or implied. It is also hinted that Muntadhir is in love with his best friend, a male, and pretty much everyone knows, and they just look the other way. It does not state anything explicitly about them, but it is hinted at, implied, and mentioned by the other man’s father that the prince has broken his son’s heart numerous times.

Wine is always present, as is stealing, and lying. There is a lot of violence, not overt gore, but occasionally graphic as Nahri is a healer and there is a war simmering in the current time line, and a historical one that wiped about a whole tribe that is discussed throughout.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t be able to do this for middle school, but perhaps closer to the end of the school year, I would suggest that the high school book club consider it. There is a ton online for this award winning debut novel, so I’ll just include the author’s website: http://sachakraborty.com

Happy Reading!

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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This 37 page culturally Pakistani Ramadan story is super sweet and fun.  There is so much I feel like my critical self should not like about the story, but by about page 15 each time I read it, I find my self full on smiling and thoroughly enjoying little Raza’s antics and his endearing grandma’s method for dealing with him.

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Raza is too young to fast, but with a house full of relatives gathered for Ramadan, Raza awakens to the sound of his uncle snoring before the siren to signal the start of fasting and the azan calling the worshippers to pray echo through Lahore.  Before he can go back to sleep, however, he hears the cook heading up the stairs to wake up grandma and then the smell of the food hits him and he wants a paratha more than anything.

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Raza embarks on a mission that involves him sneaking up to the roof, pretending to be a jinni and scaring Amina the cook through the chimney to convince her to send up food and a blanket.  

Scared out of her wits, Amina gets the grandma, culturally wards off evil, and delivers the goods to the jinni on the roof.  But the joke is on Raza who is out-witted by his grandma and gets the punishment of washing dishes for the rest of Ramadan, and learning that fasting a whole day will take a lot of will power, if he couldn’t even wait a few hours to get his beloved parathas.

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The book informs the reader that the following year Raza is able to successfully fast, that he is rewarded with gifts and that all is well and forgiven.  There is a glossary, information about Ramadan and a recipe at the end of the story as well.

I love that the plan just happens, it isn’t premeditated or considered, so it takes the reader along for the ride as it is unfolding.  It isn’t a deep story, but there is room for discussion as to whether Raza was naughty, or just caught up in the moment.

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The book is illustrated well and with big 8.5 x 11 pages, the book is engaging for first and second grade readers and listeners, as there is a lot of text on the pages.  The book takes a bit to find its stride as the author tries to use Urdu words, show their Arabic counterparts and then describe them in English. 

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There is a lot of cultural stage setting with everyone in grandmas house, the traditions of the family, of Ramadan, etc.  I think Desi familiar kids will get the most out of the book, but theoretically Muslim kids and non Muslims too could learn and enjoy it too.  I wish jinn and jinni were explained just a bit in the text, not just in the glossary, along with why an 8 year old wouldn’t be fasting or be required to do so. 

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My own kids, aged 8, 9, and 12, struggled on the first two pages, but when I told them to keep reading they zoomed through the rest smiling and ended saying it was good while giggling and shaking their heads.  We are Pakistani American and I think they enjoyed seeing familiar words and phrases in the book and sympathizing with Raza as well, and his sneaky plan that almost nearly worked.