Empire of Gold featured in my ‘Best Books of the Year’ blurb, so why haven’t I written a review yet? I’m not quite sure, but I do know that it’s not the malaise that sometimes comes with ‘average’ books. I have loved each entry in the Daevabad trilogy more than the next, and Empire of Gold was that gold standard (no pun intended)–a conclusion that manages to surprise and yet feel inevitable and right, one that hits a perfect thematic ending note. Chakraborty has built up so many storylines in this trilogy, but they are all woven together here with skill.
Spoilers for City of Brass and Kingdom of Copper follow.
Nahri is an excellent heroine, that perfect balance of flawed and sympathetic. But the real winners for me this time around were Ali and Dara. Ali’s storyline is one of self-sacrifice, as it has always been, but with a deeper maturity than the foolish boy he had been in Book 1. (I will reiterate here what an excellent idea the 5-year jump was at the beginning of Book 2–a risky move, but one that Chakraborty pulled off to great effect). And Dara was far less frustrating here than in Book 2, even though he tried to walk the middle line for far longer than he should have. The conclusion to his storyline was also perfect and bittersweet.
The best character, however, is still Muntadhir. I am so glad Chakraborty kept him alive (in a way that actually made sense!) He is probably my favourite secondary character in the series, though Zaynab is also really cool in this entry. Manizeh also gets a shout-out here for being an utterly fantastic villain. Really, Chakraborty has managed to create an almost-perfect villain: someone with the sort of backstory that you totally understand why she is the way she is, someone who is trying to do (what she thinks is) the right thing, who is backed into a corner and fighting to survive. My book club had endless debates over Manizeh, but we all agreed that she was awesome as a villain.
Overall, Empire of Gold and the Daevabad trilogy hits so many of my likes. It’s a fantasy that focuses more on politics than magic (indeed, the two are often expertly connected). It features characters in that ‘not teenagers but still struggling to be functional adults’ stage that I really feel, even though at 32 I keep expecting myself to become more and more functional, somehow. It has deeply dysfunctional families, which for some reason is totally my jam; I love the pathos inherent in having emotionally abusive and distant parents and character growth being all about not becoming your parents. (This is an academic interest as much as anything else; I swear, my own parents aren’t that terrible!). It has complicated romance that doesn’t feel like it’s the point of the story. And the setting is still wonderfully fresh and elaborate, that perfect mix of complex worldbuilding without being confusing.
Lastly–what an absolutely gorgeous cover, am I right? The US ones are pretty too, but I generally prefer UK covers, and this is no exception.
1/? of last-minute reviews before CBR 12 ends.