Women in SFF Readalong: Week 2

Here we are folks, the second week of the Fantasy Hive‘s readalong of The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, and the action is definitely starting! At the end of the first section, Nahri and Dara were in the middle of the desert, running from the ifrit and heading towards Daevabad in a tenuous alliance, while Ali, in the city itself, has found himself back in the palace, and in charge of the city guard. All three are hurtling towards situations they are not looking forward to being in, which makes this next part very interesting. You can see what my thoughts on week one were over here, but now let’s look at this week’s questions – please be advised there will be spoilers up until chapter 15.

This week’s reading opened with a scene in which Nahri and Dara appear to connect over a shared meal… until the moment descends into a heated argument. In a later chapter, things get heated in a very different sense. What’s our long-term forecast for this tempestuous pair?

I think tempestuous is definitely the right word for these two, who can’t quite decide if they want to strangle one another or passionately embrace, but I did like the little bit of steaminess we got in that cave scene… but I wasn’t surprised that their moment gets interrupted, because if they properly got together so soon, I feel like there wouldn’t be the space for the misunderstandings and distrust that are bound to happen once they get into the city (not that sleeping with someone means you can trust them to have your back, but it might have led them to different kinds of conversations).

I saw in Beth and Nil’s discussion that Beth suspects Dara might betray Nahri for his freedom when they get to Daevabad, and this does make a disturbing amount of sense, because I still can’t really visualise how their arrival is going to go – everything has been really vague… but yeah, long term I suspect an on-off relationship in which there are betrayals and passionate arguments, but I feel like they will continue together. Again, though, I have the feeling we might get into a love triangle, because Ali and Nahri seem like they’re hurtling towards one another.

We get to see Ali interact with his siblings, Mutandhir and Zaynab more in this week’s chapters. What are your impressions of them? How different from each other are they?

Well, we see quite a bit more of Mutandhir than we do of Zaynab, so I’m curious to know more about Ali’s sister. But both she and Mutandhir are far more quick-witted when it comes to navigating social situations, which is fair with Ali being raised away from the palace. It’s not exactly clear to me why Ali was sent away for so long (I know he’s training to be his brother’s Qaid) and then suddenly dragged back to the palace with no warning or introduction to palace life. I suppose Ali is the reader’s stand-in, he’s learning the politics at the same time as we are…

Anyway, I’m not sure how I feel about Mutandhir – in some ways he’s the classic spoilt prince, and I definitely don’t like the way he and the King think of their subjects, or the way he treats women. But it’s clear he really cares about Ali, and is more capable politically than he lets on, so I have mixed feelings about him. As a brother, I really like him. As a person… we shall see.

We’ve been treated to a fair few fantastical creatures in this week’s reading – the peri, the rukh, the ifrit, the maid… what were your reactions?

I do like a good elemental creature, and I’m really enjoying seeing these beings that come from a mythology that is relatively new to me. I really like them all, but I do feel as if they all appeared a little too soon all together – we don’t get to see any of the peri apart from Khayzur, who seems to have been on Dara and Nahri’s side?? That scene was a little confusing, because if the rukh are controlled by the peri, then who is hunting Nahri? And here comes that ring from the first chapter again, and I stand by my theory that it’s going to be significant to the plot!

Nahri and Dara have certainly had an action-packed couple of chapters once again. What do you make of Chakraborty’s structure of Nahri’s action narrative and Ali’s more political one?

Hmm, I’m definitely feeling the jolt between chapters, when I really want to linger with one character but it jumps to the other, but other than mild frustration I can appreciate the structure. Through Ali’s chapters we’re getting to know Daevabad so that when Nahri sets foot through its gates we’ll know what to expect much more than she will, and that is what we in the biz like to call dramatic irony! I especially like the way the Nahids old palace is slowly waking up, possibly sensing Nahri’s closeness, and I like that we’re seeing that through Ali’s perspective.

I do find Ali’s narrative much more interesting right now, because while Nahri’s part is full of action and tension, I don’t feel like much is really happening in substance, apart from a little exposition of Dara’s past and Nahri’s ancestors (which I do appreciate, don’t get me wrong). But within the city there are so many factions that, despite the lack of action, the tension is always high. I do look forward to when the two narratives come crashing into one another though, I do love when that happens!

It seems Ali is not going to be able to escape the Tanzeem as easily as he thought. What do you think he should do?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just said I like the political intrigue, but at the same time I feel like none of the factions are interesting enough, and the Tanzeem just don’t inspire me… I’m not sure if we’re supposed to sympathise with them or not, but I definitely don’t. I sympathise with the shafit, but the Tanzeem seem like more trouble than they’re worth.

As for what Ali should do, I really don’t know… it seems like everything is a little out of his hands with whatever his father is planning, and I feel like whatever he does everything is going to blow up spectacularly, possibly at the exact same time that Nahri and Dara get into the city.

Let’s focus our attention on some of the revelations of this week, as there were some pretty major ones. First of all – what are our theories on this pact the ifrit made with Nahri’s mother??

Oh, yes this was definitely a fun twist! Almost a throwaway line, easily lost in the action that follows, but very enticing. Is this a deal made with her mother before she died or is Nahri’s mother still alive somewhere, amassing power and making plans? If so, that’s terrible parenting, making Nahri believe she’s alone in the world for so many years, just to escape the notice of other ifrit. This whole scene was a little too confusing for my liking, too many new things thrown in at once, but I suppose that’s the point in some ways, though it’s not my favourite method of story telling.

Dara seems to brush off the ifrit’s claims that they work with Nahri’s mother, and I don’t know if it’s because it sounds inconceivable to him knowing what he does about her bloodline, or if he is trying to distract her and manipulate her for his own plans. But I really don’t know what to make of Dara or his agenda, or even whether he has one or not.

Secondly, has your opinion of Dara altered in any way after learning hints of his rebellion and his scourge of the city Qui-zi?

I don’t think it has, to be honest… although, as I’m about to type out that he did that all at the command of another I realise that based on timing he may have actually been in the rebellion before he was enslaved, so actually yes! Oops, must learn to pay attention! I mean, I’ll still wait and see what further explanations there are, but it definitely makes me pity him less. Dara is still a big mystery though…

Finally, in our first week we learned that there were strange occurrences in the palace: the Nahids fire upon the altar suddenly rekindles itself, a weed choked garden suddenly starts blooming and a statue appears out of nowhere.

Do you think this has any connection to Nahid bodies buried in the depth of the palace? Do you believe, like Ali, it’s haunted?

I think it’s more connected to Nahri coming closer to the city. I mean, the fact that the palace is able to do that in the first place may be connected to the bodies buried beneath it, that’s very true, and it could be that it’s haunted or it could be that the Nahid infused some kind of magic into the palace when they built it. It’s definitely the thing that’s gripped my interest most, as I really like these kinds of things – sentient buildings and old things coming back to life are my vibe! It’s a bit like Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter, when the eyes of paintings and murals start opening, which I know Nils and Beth said as well.

I didn’t look out for any notable quotes this time round, I was both too absorbed and too distracted, but as always Chakraborty has continued to create an incredible world through her writing, and I really enjoy her descriptions. Her dialogue is also really enjoyable, and as someone who writes I would like to know how she does it!

4 thoughts on “Women in SFF Readalong: Week 2”

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