Mysteries Unfold in a Land of Minarets and Magic Carpets

Suzanne Joinson in the New York Times:

17joinson2-jumboS. A. Chakraborty’s novel, the first of a projected trilogy, opens with a veiled woman fortunetelling in what appears to be 18th-century Cairo. We quickly learn that Nahri earns her money as a thief and a leader of zars (rituals for the exorcism of bad spirits), and speaks a language, inherited from her long-dead parents, whose name she doesn’t know. It seems we are about to be plunged into a cultural mash-up of “The Thousand and One Nights” and any number of young adult novels with plucky female protagonists, but when Nahri walks through Cairo’s spooky cemetery things take a speculative turn. Puff! A warrior in robes emerges from among the gravestones, flashing his scimitar, bows and arrows aquiver. Next come ghoulish zombies: “The tattered remains of burial shrouds hung from their desiccated frames, the scent of rot filling the air.” Nahri and the warrior must escape, but how? A flying carpet, of course, and when Nahri responds, “A rug? How is a rug going to help us?” it’s clear we’re in the hands of a playful writer.

The warrior is a type of spirit called a daeva, his name is Dara and, as luck would have it, he’s “frighteningly beautiful,” with the “type of allure Nahri imagined a tiger held right before it ripped out your throat.” As kidnapper-rescuers go, he’s hot as hell. Also, he knows the answer to the mystery of Nahri’s origins: She’s a shafit, descendant of an ancient half-human, half-magical tribe thought to have become extinct. A birdlike creature then explains that Nahri is in danger and that her handsome protector must take her away to the city of Daevabad. Thus their adventure begins, complete with snowy plains, forbidding mountain ranges and fierce confrontations.

More here.