The Kingdom of Copper

A lot has been said about S.A. Chakraborty's The City of Brass, especially within YA circles. The publisher has been marketing that book and its sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, as adult fantasy works. Unfortunately, for better or worse everything, and I mean everything, is very YA. Much of the noise had to do with the fact that a female Muslim author was writing an Islamic fantasy story set in a Middle Eastern universe and featuring a supposedly strong female lead character. Or so it was said. After reading the first installment, I begged to differ. And it's even worse now that I'm done with the second volume.

Like many a reader, I had high hopes for The City of Brass. Especially given the push it was receiving from Harper Voyager. Yet in the end, the novel suffered from too many shortcomings to be a truly enjoyable read. It never quite delivered the goods and turned out to be just an extremely long and occasionally boring introduction. Still, I was intrigued enough to want to give the sequel a shot. Sadly, The Kingdom of Copper fell short in basically all departments and was a major disappointment.

Here's the blurb:

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—"the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind" (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

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 a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. 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 family—and 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.

Once again, the worldbuilding was my favorite facet of this novel. Some readers keep raving about how dense and complex it is, but in my humble opinion this is a gross exaggeration. I know I said I enjoyed the worldbuilding and I truly did. And yet, compared to Steven Erikson, R. Scott Bakker, or even Bradley P. Beaulieu's worlds, Chakraborty's Middle Eastern setting doesn't echo with the sort of depth those other writers managed to achieve in their respective series. Nevertheless, the author gave life to her environment and the imagery continues to be arresting. She has an eye for detail and it shows in her depiction of the various locales visited throughout the book. If only she was as talented for characterization, plot construction and execution, as well as rhythm. Alas. . .

My main gripe with these books remains that the Islamic aspect of the tale felt totally unnecessary. As I mentioned in my review of The City of Brass, elements of the faith are used as mere window dressing and play very little role in the actual plot. As was the case with Saladin Ahmed's debut, I know that it's unfair to expect Muslim authors to imbue their creations with aspects of their faith in a way that non-Muslim writers simply cannot fathom. Still, perusing other online reviews, there were a lot of Muslim readers who felt the same way. Understandably, they are wondering what's the point of finally having an Islamic fantasy series published and not feel represented? When all is said and done, S.A. Chakraborty's Middle Eastern setting is no different than any other created by Western SFF authors of other religious backgrounds. Personally, I kept expecting more. Something more profound, something that would have taught me things about Islam, something that would have imbued this tale with a special something not found in other fantasy works out there. Unfortunately, it was not to be and once more it did kill this book to a certain extent for me.

The characterization suffered from the same shortcomings that sunk The City of Brass and remains decidedly weak. Even though I was expecting a young adult fantasy novel this time, I was underwhelmed. Regardless of the fact that she is a few years older and hopefully a little wiser, I found Nahri to be quite dumb for the most part. Extremely stubborn, she continues to be an accident waiting to happen. Which makes it difficult to root for her. As was the case in the first installment, every time you believe there has been some character growth on her part, something happens to make her revert to an impulsive dumbass adolescent girl. Alizayd, the supposed religious nutjob with a good heart, was a dead end for the better part of the first volume, but he slowly grew into a more interesting protagonist. I was expecting him to truly come into his own in this sequel, but it was not to be. Dara was by far the most intriguing character in The City of Brass and discovering more about his fascinating back story was quite a treat. He plays a much lesser role in The Kingdom of Copper, which definitely takes something away from the overall reading experience. The juvenile love triangle was poorly executed and gave The City of Brass a decidedly corny feeling. And though it's not as prevalent in this second volume, the same can be said in this one. Other than Manizheh, no one comprising the supporting cast proved to be particularly interesting. Hence, once again, the characterization was nothing to write home about.

Not surprisingly, like its predecessor The Kingdom of Copper is riddled with pacing issues. This lack of rhythm is mostly due to the fact that the better part of the novel focuses more on extraneous storylines instead of more important plot elements. There is so much padding that it felt as though a good third of the wordcount could have been excised and the readers wouldn't have missed much. And unlike The City of Brass, in which Chakraborty suddenly shifted gears near the end and delivered an exciting ending, everything in this novel moves at a snail's pace. Moreover, the endgame and the ending itself fail to elevate this book to another level. You're left wondering why you read hundreds of pages about the renovation of an old hospital and you're wondering why so little actually took place in this 640-page work of fantasy.

Given how lackluster and disappointing this book turned out to be, I'm probably ready to check out of this series. Chakraborty appears to be unable to elevate her game and the Daevabad trilogy is nothing more than Middle Eastern-flavored YA fare. True, the author occasionally shows moments of greatness. Problem is, you need to sift through so much crap to get to them that I'm not sure I'm willing to go through yet another door-stopper of a novel for such small gains overall. Time will tell if I'll give the next one a shot. . .

Bloated, slow-moving, overlong, and juvenile. That's The Kingdom of Copper in a nutshell.

The final verdict: 4.5/10

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2 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

You are the only reviewer who doesn’t like these books. And your reviews are getting lazy. Do you just cut and paste stuff from the previous book review? It seems like you’re doing that a lot lately. If you read them back to back they sound like the same review.

Unknown said...

This has to be the longest troll post I've ever read.