I have been on a djinn kick lately, ever since learning a bit about the actual beliefs and mythology of them, and this was exactly the kind of portrayal of djinn I was hoping it would be! It was everything I wanted from the djinn and more. I sometimes read this author’s [really interesting] Twitter threads about djinn-related stories, so it doesn’t surprise me that she created a great version of them. But not only did she have different types of djinn with different abilities, she created this whole complex and well-thought-out history and society for them that included war, religion, tribes/families, economy, prejudice, and more.
As for the characters themselves, they were just as amazingly well-written. They were complex and believable and three-dimensional. I found myself rooting for so many of them, even when they did bad things, even when they were on opposing sides. In fact, I want to talk a little bit (or a lotta bit) about some of them in particular. I won’t share anything I consider a true spoiler, but you can skip the next four paragraphs if you haven’t read this yet and don’t like to know anything.
*POTENTIAL MILD SPOILERS*
DARA! Dara was such an interesting character. You know how sometimes in books we get this brooding love interest character, and we’re constantly told what a monster he is, but we’re never actually shown anything bad? Or he does things that seem bad, but then it turns out there’s a perfectly good explanation for them? (Sorry for the mini rant, I get really frustrated by that.) Well, this was the perfect example of a character who really had done awful things, and the author didn’t try to cover them up, and the reader even got to see some of his darker side firsthand. And you know what? I still liked him. He was a character who was not all good, but not all bad. You had this caring side of him and his side of the story about the past, then you had this cruel side of him and the opposing side of the story that made him out to be a monster. He had a lot of prejudice against shafit and the other djinn tribes, and he was a troublemaker sometimes. He never just laid low and kept his head down; his beliefs and desires were too strong for that, and sometimes his temper got the best of him. But the thing is, for the other djinn, the war and the things that happened were over a thousand years in the past. It was something that happened to their ancestors, not them. For Dara, it was like it just happened since he didn’t remember his time as a slave. And his hatred of the Qahtani family was kind of understandable when you consider how they killed his whole family. And I think he regretted, or was starting to regret, some of his past. I also felt terrible for him, having been made a slave. He just had all these layers and all this complexity that I loved.
I liked Prince Ali too, even though he and Dara were basically enemies. He was so caught in the middle between his family and his desire to do what was right and help the shafit. I felt like he actually did make the best choices possible, and yet no one on either side was happy with him or willing to understand, and it completely blew up in his face. I felt really bad for him, and I felt like he had a lot of realism and complexity too.
I even liked Muntadhir. He liked to drink and fool around and avoid responsibility, but, in his defense, he didn’t ask to be king one day. I think the poor guy just wanted to have a life with you-know-who, but he knew he never could. And he defended his brother and seemed to really care about him. I think he also had more depth than Ali realized. I don’t like the decision he made at the end, but, when I consider things from his perspective, I can understand it.
Last but not least, Nahri. She was believable, and I could completely understand her desire to stay in the place she called home, to not be forced into an entirely different lifestyle, culture, and religious faith. I felt for her when bad things happened. I thought she great when she took charge with that list of demands from the king. She was strong-willed, and I liked her.
I also liked the romance, but I feel it was overshadowed by the amazing characters and all the intrigue and complexity of the plot, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just the reason I almost didn’t even think to mention it. I would’ve maybe liked to see a little more of Nahri and Dara’s time together as their feelings were developing, but I still thought their feelings were believable enough, and they had a cute dynamic sometimes.
What I loved most about this book though was that nothing was simple or black-and-white. The characters weren’t perfect, and they were biased, and they didn’t always know what was best, and they made mistakes, and they did bad things sometimes, but they also did good things sometimes. Their motivations, their desires, their backgrounds, their feelings, their relationships—none of it was clear-cut. And the whole situation in Daevabad with the Daeva and the shafit and all the characters involved was complex in a very realistic way.
This book was a little long and somewhat slow-paced, and I may have skimmed some of the descriptions of rooms and gardens, but those were my only issues, and they’re such small ones.
To wrap this up, if I had to pick one word to describe this book, it would be ‘complex’. I’m pretty sure I used it like ten times in this review. Seriously, the history, the society, the djinn, the backstories, the characters, their relationships—all of it was so well-thought-out and detailed and well-written, and I definitely plan to continue this series!
Anyone who likes djinn, detailed worlds, complex characters, and royal court politics.