I recently finished reading the final installment in S. A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, The Empire of Gold, which came out on June 30th in my region. It’s the first book I’d pre-ordered in a very long time, and I was not disappointed. If you’re looking for a recent fantasy trilogy, I’d highly recommend it for pretty much anyone. It starts with The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper is the second book.
First, a disclaimer: I listened to the entire trilogy in audiobook form, with narration by Soneela Nankani, so my review is absolutely colored by that. I borrowed the first two through my library via Hoopla, but my husband preordered the last one for me on Audible because we were both enjoying the series and I don’t get excited by much these days, and I was excited. I’m hard of hearing, so I have to be very very picky about my audiobooks: I can’t understand exaggerated voice acting or when different narrators read for different characters in the same section, and I generally do better with readers with lower voices. Nankani’s voicing for Chakraborty’s books worked pretty well for me after a brief adjustment (it helps me to get used to someone’s voice, too): she has a clear voice while still distinguishing between characters sufficiently that dialogue tags aren’t strictly necessary. There were a couple of odd sound edits in the trilogy, but they were forgivable (I suspect just artifacts from splicing multiple recording sessions). I don’t love the way she voices some of the male characters, but I recognize that’s a particular challenge (just as it can be for male actors voicing female characters in the same scenario). I do love the way she voices the main character Nahri; to me, Nankani’s voice is Nahri’s voice.
Regarding the writing, I want to start by saying that Chakraborty is a master of plot twists, and I’m in awe of her ability to hold so many different characters’ winding plot lines, backstories, and motivations in hand at the same time. The story is very much character-driven, but Chakraborty doesn’t waste any words moving the story forward either. It’s a long trilogy, but it’s stuffed to the brim, and even then it feels like a lot of world building and detail might have gotten left on the cutting room floor, as they say, making it a pretty tightly crafted narrative.
The story is set part in the human world and in Daevabad, the realm of Djinn and Daevas and other magical beings. Chakraborty paints them both as complex spaces, painted in detail with myriad intersections of cultures and overlapping conquests. At its core, it’s a story about the lingering effects of cycles of trauma and revenge, so that these intersections are not merely incidental set dressing, but are woven intrinsically into the fabric of the plot.
I was particularly struck by how it very much is a feminist tale in a lot of ways. So much of the story hinges on the relationships between women, positive, toxic, and everything in between. The story does involve a couple love triangles of sorts, and the fan discourse of course is happy to ship every which way (and the story allows for a healthy, vibrant fan space in so many ways!), but it’s not a romance plot; it’s an intrigue plot. This is an important point for me; I don’t care much about romantic plots (although I found myself caring about these a bit!) but sibling, parent, and friend stories hold my interest much more reliably. The romances in this trilogy are never made more important than these other kinds of relationships, and I loved that. It’s a story about connections, trust, and the betrayal thereof. Romantic partners, siblings, parents, friends, mentors, and all other kinds of connections all carry deep importance in Chakraborty’s world.
I won’t do any spoiling here, but I will assure you that the trilogy truly does have a satisfying and complete ending. There’s room to explore the world of Daevabad further—I’d read another of Chakraborty’s Daevabad books if she wants to do that!—but there isn’t really any need to. For those of us with sequel fatigue, wary of “trilogies” that turn out to be seven books long, it’s comforting to know that there will be a real ending waiting for us. It’s also a hopeful ending after an intense climax (I wound up sitting on the couch doing nothing for a while just to listen to it), which feels good right now, when so much fantasy has been grim and dark, but the world itself is too grim and dark to bear much of that.
I’ve also been following Chakraborty on Twitter and, from what I’ve seen so far there and on her website, she herself is amazingly gracious to fans and understands the value of fan spaces. I utterly love that about her.
In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy, and I definitely recommend it for other fantasy fans.