Nahri thought she was going to be a doctor. As a grifter in Cairo, she saved up in the hope that one day she’d be able to afford to study at a university that would take a woman. When she accidentally summoned the ancient warrior Dara and learned of her own Daeva heritage at the beginning of Chakraborty’s debut The City of Brass, Nahri’s life changed forever. But in the aftermath of Dara’s death at the hands of Prince Ali, her life has been turned upside down. Nahri is alone. So too is her once-friend Prince Ali, whose treasonous sympathies towards the shafit, humans with djinn blood, have forced his father to banish him, all but putting a price on Ali’s head. As both are pulled deeper into the ever-shifting schemes of Daevabad’s royal court, a darker force looms that threatens to shatter the fragile peace that keeps the city from tearing itself apart.
As far as epic fantasy goes, The Kingdom of Copper checks all the boxes. It presents readers with a world so vivid that it doesn’t require the suspension of disbelief. Nahri and Ali’s world simply is, and we as readers just happen to be lucky enough to get a brief glimpse into it. Chakraborty creates characters who are complex and who have motivations and allegiances that require them to make bad (and sometimes even contradictory) decisions. And that’s okay. They’re characters we want to root for even when they aren’t always wise or likeable.
More than anything, the second novel in S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy is a great epic fantasy because it’s just that. It’s epic, and that’s what makes it so much fun. Although most of the action takes place within the city of Daevabad, it’s clear that much more is at stake than the fate of a single city. Nahri, Dara and Ali’s story is rooted in a millennia long conflict, which means that the slightest (even unintentional) gesture has the weight of centuries behind it. The pressure of that enduring cultural conflict also means that the solutions in Chakraborty’s world can often be painful, forcing characters to compromise and politic in ways that epic fantasy rarely allows. That sort of politicking could leave The Kingdom of Copper feeling dry or cold. But it is neither of those. Nahri’s situation has intensely personal and emotional stakes, and many of the choices she’s forced to make frankly don’t have right answers. And it’s that focus on individual choice that really makes Chakraborty’s trilogy work. It is epic fantasy that is shrunk to the perspective of the individual. If you’re looking for a compelling, heart-rending drama that just happens to also be one of the most thought-provoking epic fantasies to come out in a long time, look no further. Just make sure to read The City of Brass first.