All is not well in Daevabad. Ghassan still rules with an iron fist and a cold heart, but the city is failing as tribal divisions run deeper than ever. And beyond its walls, the Ayaanle aren’t the only djinn who believe it’s time for Ghassan to be overthrown…
I’ve got a problem. I usually approach reviews calmly and rationally, with a vague idea of what I want to talk about and what my point of view is. But I’m not sure what I have to say about The Kingdom of Copper. I’m too busy reacting incoherently to it.
Then there’s the problem of spoilers. The things I do want to talk about are all spoilery. I usually work hard to avoid spoilers in reviews, and talk about a book’s merits as circumspectly as possible. So, um:
Epic sequel is epic. If you loved the first one, this is every bit as good. And you’re not going to be able to breathe at the end. It’s going to be a very long year waiting for the final book, okay? Okay. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Oh, and if you haven’t read these books yet? Get on it. You deserve this level of awesome in your life.
Now, shoo. Go read it. You can thank me later.
Okay, fine. I’ll see what I can do.
It’s five years later. Nahri is married to Muntadhir (which is going about as well as you’d expect); Queen Hatset is back in residence (SHE IS EVERYTHING); Ali isn’t dead (THANK THE STARS); and neither is Dara (SURPRISE! Okay, not really).
The Kingdom of Copper confirms a bunch of minor mysteries hinted at in The City of Brass, but leaves the biggest questions unanswered – and in some cases, makes them Even Bigger. It also introduces some awesome new characters (Aqisa 💘, Subha Sen 💖), attempts to build social cohesion through public works (Brass had reading lessons; Copper has a building refurb. THESE BOOKS WERE WRITTEN FOR ME SRSLY), then adds political turmoil and stirs until everything blows up.
Kingdom spends most of its time in Daevabad focused on Nahri and Ali, so we get a ringside seat for the toxic mess in the capital. We get just enough Dara – resurrected for a Daeva rebellion (with a very intriguing leader) – to yell DARA NO loudly and repeatedly, without inflicting his impotent angst and absurd apologism on us too often.
While we’re talking about Dara – please can someone explain TeamDara to me? Yes, Dara is smoking hot (even by pure-blooded djinn standards), but we’re explicitly told this is a side effect of being an ifriti slave (and let’s move on quickly, because that is so squicky). Yes, he’s an epic archer. Yes, he has this tragic back story and is awfully conflicted.
Dara is practically defined by the Daevas’ most deeply held prejudices. Daeva are arrogant, elitist, and racist. Dara is all that and more. He’s even conflicted about being attracted to Nahri until Ghassan suggests she’s a full-blooded Daeva merely cursed to look human. Then he just feels bad for aspiring above his station. To the Daeva, he’s a demi-god because he fought (and died) for them in the civil war, earning himself altars and adulation wherever he goes. But he’s a legend for all the wrong reasons.
Because he’s a myth to everyone else too: he’s the Scourge of Qui-zi. He oversaw the racially-charged slaughter of an entire city. He was surely implicated in the attempt to ethnically cleanse the Geziri homeland (I felt so ill). He was born to defend the Nahids and enforce their will; and he did exactly that – without question. It may make him the perfect warrior, but it makes him a terrible person.
And Kingdom of Copper makes it clear that he’s willing to do it all again, if he’s ordered to. Feeling bad about it all the while, for sure, but he’ll do it. Because the best way to engage with guilt is to double down, right? Sure, killing more people will justify all the deaths on your conscience, Dara. Uh huh.
I get that Dara is a Brooding YA Hero (if firmly on the antiheroic end of the scale); and I admit it’s an archetype I don’t ever really know what to do with. But you have to be willing to overlook a lot to root for this one, surely?
Still, one of things I love about this series so far – and that I’m trusting as head into the finale – is its enthusiasm for calling its characters on their shit. So I’m fully expecting Nahri to reject him, and I’m hoping for (at most) a redemption arc for the much-tortured Daeva hottie.
Does that make me TeamAli? Yes, broadly; although I think he’ll be lucky to survive the trilogy. Ali is flawed – he’s an overprivileged naïf with his own boatload of prejudices, and just as judgemental as Dara in some ways; but at least he cares about the less fortunate. I enjoy the simmering tensions between him and his family, and love that – in spite of themselves – the al Qahtani siblings are fundamentally committed to one another (that scene in the broom cupboard KILLED me).
But in the end, it’s not the romance that I’m most interested in (honestly, this is me; you can’t be surprised). It’s the oh-so-relevant questions the Daevabad trilogy asks: can a society move on from past injustices to take a new, inclusive, fairer shape – in the face of resistance from traditionalists? Can peace be forged in spite of atrocities by modern-day extremists? What acts can we forgive in the name of the greater good? Forget whether the ends justify the means – can we even agree what ends are acceptable?
This is thoughtful, sometimes provocative fantasy for our times. I can’t wait to see what answers it provides in its final instalment.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Kingdom of Copper is available now in the US, and will be released in the UK on February 21st.