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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Kingdom Of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty (reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order The Kingdom Of Copper over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The City Of Brass

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Can you ever make a new world that properly addresses the wounds of the past? - from Lightspeed Magazine interview

The Kingdom of Copper is the second in S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, and it must be trying harder, as the first was amazing and this one is at least as good. I suppose you might pick this book up and have an entirely fine time reading it, but I would not advise it. If you have not read the first one, The City of Brass, jump on your flying carpet and dash off to your local bookstore. (Oh, and could you pick up some lamp oil at the bazaar on your way back? Thanks.) I suppose you could use one of your wishes to just make it appear, but really, that would be cheesy. It’s like Game of Thrones. Yeah, you can jump in at some point and catch up bit by bit, but, really, you have to be there from the beginning to get the most from it. Ditto here. Come back after you have read volume one, ok? And if you have already read #1, then Salaam and good evening to you, worthy friend.

So, when we left our heroes, Nahri, an orphan of a hustler from Cairo, who discovered she had skills, is stuck in Daevabad, the nominal city of the series title. Her buddy of a prince, Ali, had been banished from the kingdom for opposing his pop, the ruthless, genocidal, king Ghassan, and Darayavahoush (Dara to you and me), a complicated Djinn sort, monstrous warrior, hottie, and decent guy, was done in by said Prince Ali, although Ali may not have been entirely in charge of himself when it happened.

We are several years on. Nahri is married to Muntadhir, Ali’s older brother, the heir apparent, handsome, smart, and the epitome of Mr. Wrong. More of a political alliance than a love match. (Marry my son, or I will start slaughtering your people. Well, since you put it that way, sure.) Ali is making a life for himself in a desert town, using his newfound talent for things aqueous to locate underground water, or make it appear, or something. He is reluctant to make too much of a life for himself, as he remains the target of occasional assassins, and would spare potential family members the discomfort of having to plant him, or maybe get caught in the crossfire. Dara, who we thought was gone, is only sort-of gone. He is brought back from some plane of existence where he was wandering by forces that are less than divine, but hey, he gets to live a bit more, so whatev! On the other hand, Dara is enslaved again, made to take on a mission he would probably be happier skipping. (Mass slaughter is sooo last millennium) And he is stuck in a material form he is not thrilled with. So, a mixed bag. All three must contend with not only external hostile forces, but internal moral crossroads. (yeah, like Grand Central Station)

In The City Of Brasswe alternated between Nahri and Ali’s POV. This book adds Dara’s, although for far fewer pages than the other two. There is overlap, of course, as combinations of the three engage at diverse points. Political intrigue continues to be a major feature here. Very Game Of Thrones, as sundry tribal groups (even within families) vie for influence, power, and turf. Instead of the Seven Kingdoms with their associated Targarians, Lannisters, and Starks, et al, there are tribes. The Geziri are the current ruling class, to which Ali, Muntadhir, and Ghassan belong. Nahri is of the Daeva group. Her ancestors used to rule in Daevabad, until the Geziris drove them out with extreme prejudice. Since you read the first volume, (you read it, right?) you know, it gets complicated.

The motive force for the story in Book #2, Nahri has discovered the remnants of an ancient Nahid hospital in less than wonderful shape, and seeks to have it restored so she can expand her work. In addition, she has learned of non-magical healers in the city, and looks to join with them to broaden her knowledge base and treat all the city’s residents. As one might imagine, this notion meets considerable resistance from those in power. (No, not Steve King) But with the help of Ali, whom she hates, by the way, for killing Dara, (Ali had gotten suckered into coming back to the city, wondering if he would be slaughtered when he arrived.) there is some hope of gettin’ ‘er done. It takes a village, though. Others are brought in to the attempt and politics are played. (Can’t we all just get along?)

There is a big centennial event planned for the city, called Novatetem, Mardi Gras on steroids, parades, floats, feasts, competitions, and, well, there are folks who are planning some unpleasantness. The action accelerates as we get closer and closer, the November 1963 moment in Dallas, the coming hurricane, the ticking bomb. You know the deal. Michael Bay cum White Walkers cum ILM magnificence, and great fun. But also, with characters you care about trying to make it through.

There are secrets aplenty, double-crosses, and some pretty neat magical tech. Toss in a few nifty large-scale monsters for good measure. One of the really cool things about the fabulous environment Chakraborty has created is that buildings constructed by the Nahid respond to Nahri, who is now the #1 Nahid in the place, so is referred to as Banu Nahri e-Nahid, (aka Banu Nahida) or Lady Nahri of the Nahid people, which comes with perks. Pictures on the walls of Nahid buildings animate when she passes. Things like that, and some that are more substantive. Pretty cool.

In addition to the internal struggles with which each of the characters must cope, there are broader-scale motifs. The notion of Occupied People is a strong one in the book.

[In medieval history] so many of these cities and civilizations were the products of waves of conquest. How does that shape the societies that survive them generations later? How do conqueror and conquered influence each other and how do their stories and legends of what happened get transmitted? Can you ever make a new world that properly addresses the wounds of the past? - from Lightspeed Magazine interview

It is a major challenge trying to figure out how to make peace with the travesties wrought on the Nahid by the Geziri, but also on others by the Nahid. How can you step off the eternal wheel of revenge and retribution, how can you heal the wounds of the past? In a very concrete way, Nahri attempts to do just that. Even though she was an impressive healer in book one, she was largely an uneducated one. But she has been working and studying hard, is learning some new tricks, and now, in a place that seems to act as a booster to her abilities, she is becoming an even better doctor. But can Nahri, in league with others, keep the city from descending into the usual cycle of eternal genocidal violence? Can she forgive Ali? Can she survive her crappy, shotgun marriage and her psycho genocidal father in law? It takes more than an ability to repair bodies to heal a city. Chakraborty’s decision to make Nahri a doctor grew out of her own experience:

"I wrote a lot of this while managing a large obstetrics & gynecology practice (while my husband went to medical school), and I really wanted to capture the messy reality of medicine. It’s not always glamourous and noble; it can be exhausting, the work is bloody and tiresome and challenging, and sometimes your patients are terrible. It requires a confidence bordering on arrogance to cut into a person for their own good, and I wanted to show how a character might grow into that." - from the Quill to Live interview

There are bits of humor sprinkled throughout. My favorite is when a shape-shifter with a fondness for turning into a statue, cannot get back to normal, and Nahri is stuck removing pieces of rock from him. “But it’s so peaceful,” he pleads. There is another LOL scene in which Ali is compelled by his father to taste some impressively appalling dishes from around the kingdom. A ref to a hospital room specially designed to keep floating djinn from injuring themselves puts one in mind of a Mary Poppins scene in which characters and furniture dispense with gravity. These were delightful.

There are a lot of details to keep track of, tribes, places, words, characters. Thankfully appendices are provided, as are rather broad view maps. My only disappointment with the book was that Dara did not get as much time as the other two, the definition of a quibble.

CONCLUSION: I’ve gotta say that volume 2 was a major page-turner for me. The ARE I read came in at 608 pages and I wished it were longer, really. (oops, there goes another wish. How many do I have left?) The action is almost non-stop. The characters are seriously engaging. There is actual character development. Moral considerations are treated seriously. There is real content woven into this fantasy world, an appreciation for the literary history of Islamic civilization, and there is wonderful creativity in the details of magic here. The Kingdom of Copper is pretty much all you could possibly wish for in a fantasy read. And you don’t even have to use up the limited supply in your special lamp.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's Goodreads page.


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