HMMM this book, this book. I had SO very many thoughts after reading it, and I definitely should have just pounded this out immediately after reading it because now I am onto book the next and already some of my biting insights have started to flutter away.
I would say that for large portions of the the middle of this book, I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to read on and would instead force one of my friends who had finished the series to tell me how things ended. There’s also the matter of my last attempt to read this book, where I opened the third volume in the trilogy, read the first part, realized my mistake with horror, and then promptly tried to wash it out of my brain with a book about robots or some such. I thought I’d done it, but while reading this I started to once again remember what it was that I’d read. Shocking as it was, it didn’t make me want to read on either.
But I think the last part of this book hooked me in a bit, and in doing so reminded me slightly of Gideon the Ninth, a book which has been on the mind since my friend just read it and we got to squee about it together. Which is to say, everything is confusing and then a cool finale makes you go OKAY, FINE.
But herein lies my issue: the fundamental tenets of the Daevabad world are so tenuous that the book lacks tension (tenuous tenets turn down tension! alliteration, my <3). We go from 0 to 100 in a split second. Unlike Muir, however, Chakraborty doesn’t trust her audience enough to leave us in the dark, so we’ve got both palace intrigue! and Dara/Ali the Exposition Dumper.
Without too many spoilers:
What are the actual, genuine powers of djinn/Daevas? And, for that matter, peri[s] and marid[s]?
I understand that Dara has some set of magic powers that are bizarre even for a daeva, but without a clear sense of what is “normal” it’s hard as the reader to be amazed by his skill set. All we’re left with his Nahri going, “well that seems weird”/”is that normal?”/”She didn’t think that a normal Daeva could do that.” But Nahri isn’t a reliable narrator, and not in the interesting literary way but in the literal, she doesn’t know what’s going on way.
Flaming swords are the fiercest weapons of the world except that they also rely on plain old sword fighting training but also magic poison. There’s deadly politics everywhere that Nahri steps except she also has no sense of what is dangerous or not, and neither does the reader so everything is simultaneously TENSE and NOT, because I cannot tell if “sitting in the library” is more or less or as dangerous as “being in the infirmary.” Ditto for “the Great Temple” and “walking through the streets of Cairo/the dessert/the market of Daevabad.”
What is the actual, current day ramifications of the age old grudge? And what are the geopolitical stakes at play in today’s world?
Dara plops Nahri in Daevabad with nary a word (it drives me UP A WALL that they didn’t strategize their story until literally the second before they meet the king. WHAT? WHY?) except a note that “this is your ancestral home” (side note if I hear someone casually use the mouthful phrase “ancestral enemy” one more time I’mma laugh). We understand that shafits are being subjugated, and that’s a unmitigated bad thing. We understand that once upon a time Daevabad was ruled by, well, Daevas, and now it is not, and that is maybe(?) bad? Maybe good? Daevas seem like they were a bit racist.
But for most parts of this book I couldn’t tell if Nahri was safe or in danger and, again, not because things were tense but because I just flat out didn’t know. Not knowing =/= atmospheric tension.
There were many nuanced ideas that I did enjoy. The point Nisreen was trying to get across to Nahri–that she represents so much to so many people, and if she doesn’t or can’t live up to that then she needs to reevaluate her decision to live in the lap of luxury–is a great one. As a vegetarian, Nahri’s insistence on continuing to eat meat *publicly* when doing so is so hurtful to those who have come out to support her makes no sense to me.
I want to be on her side when it comes to being thrust into this world through no real fault of her own and being forced to be this new person and take on all these responsibilities. She doesn’t owe anything to anyone…except when she takes advantage of their generosity without clarifying what she needs to do in return. That’s basic djinn/wish-giving logic, my friend!
Spoiler: [And while I found the entire final battle super anticlimactic–again, how can anything have tension when you don’t know what the parameters of the battle are???–I found the situation Nahri was manipulated into incredibly engaging. Now she and Ali and Nisreen need to maneuver their way out of a truly sticky situation whose outlines are known. And I’m all about that. ]