The Empire of Gold
by S.A Chakraborty
Daevabad has fallen.
After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.
But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.
As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved…and take a stand for those they once hurt.
HERE BE SPOILERS: Don’t read this review if you haven’t read the previous two books in the trilogy.
Whelp the Daevabad Trilogy has come to an end and I’m so bereft, yet so satisfied.
After I read The City of Brass I wasn’t sure I’d ever describe this series as one of my favourites, but here we are. Are there still some things about it I don’t quite get as much as I’d like to? Of course, but what I love about this series is that it’s clear it’s been written by a history lover, and as a history nerd myself I’m weak for stories like this.
After the explosive end of The Kingdom of Copper I knew we’d be in for a ride in this third and final book, and man was I right. At around 750 pages long, this is the chunkiest book in the trilogy but I raced through it; this whole novel felt like such an adventure and I was torn between wanting to do nothing but read it and not wanting to finish it so I could stay with these characters, and in this world, a little longer.
If you love fantasy stories that heavily feature politics and history, written by authors that aren’t afraid to hurt anyone, then you need to give this series a try. There’s so much in this series that readers can sink their teeth into. Personally I always know a fantasy series has done its job when I want to read even more stories set in its world, and while I’ll happily read whatever Chakraborty writes next I’d definitely be interested in seeing another side of this world from her in future.
Right now, though, we’re here to talk about the finale of this story, and I loved it. Perhaps even more importantly, I was satisfied by it. Sometimes endings can feel too wrapped up in a neat little bow and, while a part of me might argue that quite a few characters ended up a lot safer than I expected, there’s no denying that Chakraborty puts her characters through the ringer. Everything in this novel, both good and bad, felt earned, and there’s nothing more satisfying than that in a series finale.
What I loved most about this particular novel was how Chakraborty was able to change my mind. I was so frustrated with Dara in both of the previous books, and he’s still not my favourite, but wow is it easy to understand where he’s coming from. There’s so much more of a sense of how unfair life has been to Dara in this novel, how badly he’s been used over and over again by those who demanded his loyalty, but what’s wonderful is that his history is never used as an excuse for his actions. Dara isn’t allowed to play the ‘life’s been hard’ card and move on—he has to face the consequences of his actions, and in doing so make decisions that will leave a better legacy than the one he’s already left.
I mentioned in my review of the previous book that I wasn’t keen on the romance that seemed to blooming between Nahri and Ali – I want more women and men to just be friends in fantasy, please – but, I have to admit, this was another thing Chakraborty managed to twist my arm on. I still don’t love the idea of them together romantically, I still prefer their friendship, but I’m not exactly against it either. Their relationship in this novel, whether it’s platonic or romantic or a mix of the two, is one I couldn’t help rooting for, and I particularly loved the way Chakraborty left it. That’s all I’ll say on that matter.
Speaking of Ali, yes I still adore him and it’s him, more than anyone else, that I was gutted to say goodbye to when I got to the end of this book. Like Dara, Ali goes through some stuff and learns a lot about his own family history in the process. So much of this novel focuses on the sacrifices we make for the greater good, whether it’s the greater good of the world or merely our own greater good. For Dara it’s whether or not he’s going to be remembered as nothing but a weapon; for Ali it’s what he’s willing to trade to guarantee the safety of the djinn; and for Nahri it’s whether a fresh start in Egypt is worth leaving everyone in Daevabad behind for.
In fact Nahri is another character I was pleasantly surprised by. I’ve mentioned in both of my previous reviews that I’ve never quite got her – for me her con artistry never quite matched her desire to be a doctor – but I did understand her a lot more in this book. Does a part of me still wish she wasn’t as sanctified as she in this book? Yeah, kinda. As soon as a series tells me its heroine is a con artist then I want a con artist, y’know? I want someone who’s bordering on villainy, and Nahri isn’t. Ultimately, she’s good-hearted.
I can’t hold that against her, though, and I don’t want to waste my review talking about what Nahri isn’t instead of talking about what she is, and what she is is a survivor. All of her choices make sense and that’s all I can ask of the characters I read. Nahri might not be as morally grey as I expected her to be when I first picked up this series, but there’s no doubting that she’s fun to follow around and that she’s a woman who really deserves a break.
This novel did what many of the novels I love most do: it made me nostalgic. That makes no real sense when stories like this aren’t hugely similar to the stories I grew up with. This series is much more Arabian Nights than Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I was more familiar with the latter as a child, but The Empire of Gold had the same sense of adventure and journeying and doing what’s right over what’s easy that I’ve always loved in my stories. Add to that its focus on history and politics and this is a winner for me.
I’m going to miss this world a lot, although I’m sure I’ll re-read this trilogy in future, but until I return to it I’m so pleased the ending was a good one!