Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.
Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.
Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid, the unpredictable water spirits, have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.
And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve. – Goodreads
I think the five year time jump at the beginning of the book was a huge mistake.
I agree that some time passing between the end of book one and the start of book two was a good idea, but jumping five years and then having Nahri, Ali, and Dara all be the exact same people they had been five years earlier was aggravating and unbelievable. The three of them continuing to obsess over each other also rang false now that they have each spent at least FIVE TIMES the amount of time apart than they ever did together.
Before I get into my BIG issue with the book though, I want to focus on things I thought Charkraborty did well. I really liked the relationships between Ali, Muntadhir, and Zaynab. Of the multitude of relationships in the series, theirs feels the most realistic and therefore, to me, was the most interesting. Their individual relationships with their father also weren’t painted as black and white which I appreciated.
I am also very impressed that a book that spends 500 pages essentially having everyone stand around waiting for The Big Thing to happen at the festival, managed to not feel like everyone was standing around waiting. The pacing between the point of view chapters was well done and it was easy to switch back and forth. The villain for the book was a nice twist and I thought Charkraborty did a really good job of keeping within the character she had established during the end confrontation scene instead of trying to soften it.
My main problem with the book, and this is definitely the thing that prevents me from giving the book four stars, is the disconnect with Nahri. Nahri’s behavior shows the reader again and again what an incredibly selfish person she is. It is a consistent pattern of behavior throughout the book, but there are two instances that I will focus on.
First, Nahri wants to meet a doctor. She’s not allowed out of the palace and her bringing attention to this doctor could easily get them killed for nothing more than being Shafit and having Nahri’s attention. Nahri pushes herself into the doctor’s house, refuses to leave, and then starts going through the doctor’s things like she has every right to. The doctor calls Nahri out on this behavior, but Nahri doesn’t learn anything from the interaction and in fact is annoyed that the doctor isn’t nicer to her. Can you imagine a complete stranger breaking into your house and then having the absolute gull to be irritated that you aren’t nice to them?
Now, if Nahri was simply this selfish character, that would be one thing. Its the disconnect in the writing that has Chakraborty constantly showing us how selfish Nahri truly is, while simultaneously using other characters to tell us how special and kind and selfless she is supposed to be. It seemed to be some strange requirement that every character who knows Nahri has to wax poetic about how wonderful she is at some point in the book.
The conversation that stood out most to me takes place late in the book which Nahri has with her mentor Nisreen. Nisreen is probably the closest person to Nahri and has spent almost every single day with her working in the healing rooms for five years. Nisreen has been acting wildly out of character for weeks and Nahri has just been ignoring it. Finally, the conversation begins because Nahri forces Nisreen to sit down and tell her whatever she wants to say so she can “go back to normal.”
I phrase it like this because Nahri doesn’t actually care about what Nisreen has to say or why she is upset. Her being upset is making Nahri uncomfortable and she just wants that to stop. Nisreen has every right to be angry with Nahri, but the conversation is just used to tell Nahri how great she is and that nothing she does is wrong – or if it is, Nahri gets a pass because “its for the right reasons.”
At the end of this scene, Nahri has this revelation: “It suddenly occurred to Nahri that for all the times she had unburdened herself to Nisreen there was still so little she knew about her mentor.” How can you claim to be close to someone, that they are so important to you, work with them every day for five years, and know nothing about them? And then Nahri is not even ashamed. She learns nothing from this revelation and that is by far the worst part. She just tells Nisreen that she is happy the other woman won’t leave “because I could really use another Deava by my side.”
All of this is so greatly exacerbated by the five year time jump that it made me think the decision was a huge mistake for the book. In five years of being “trapped” in the palace Nahri knows little to nothing about anyone around her or the culture, customs, and history of the city and “her” people, despite being given lessons on these subjects and free access to people from outside the palace. Ali even mentions multiple times about “the exchange,” and each time he is visibly upset. Nahri notices this but then each time chooses not to ask about it since it doesn’t appear to directly affect her. She “can’t do anything against the king” to help people who are being killed in the streets or sold off as slaves – but the SECOND the king says that he might take away her hospital project? The SECOND it looks like she’ll be punished for her actions instead of someone else? She’s ready to fight him barehanded in the street.
I genuinely think Nahri could be an interesting character if Chakraborty stops trying to convince us that she is something she’s not.