The Empire of Gold

Book cover: Empire of Gold - S A ChakrabortyDaevabad has a new ruler with allies that make the blood run cold, willing to murder its people to hold the throne. All djinni in the city and beyond lost their magic when the city fell, leaving them defenceless. Nahri will face a terrible cost if she is to forge peace from the ashes…

The Empire of Gold is the rousing finale to a series I didn’t expect to love, but which swept me off my feet. I have written previously about why you should read Shannon Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy – if you haven’t, then go read that post instead of this review as it’s all series spoilers from here (no matter how much I contorted my synopsis to try and conceal them).

The Empire of Gold brings us full circle: Daevabad is back in the hands of its hereditary ruler, and Manizheh makes Ghassan look like a good man. Nahri is back in Egypt, torn between her desire to win free of the whole hot mess and her nagging sense of duty. Ali’s blood is rising up to claim him as both the Ayaanle and the marid try to lay claim to the holder of Suleiman’s ring. And at several thousand years old, Dara is finally mature enough to recognise that maybe – just maybe – some orders should be questioned, rather than obeyed…

How much of his life, all their lives and their histories, unraveled the more they were examined?

This final book in the trilogy forces its (anti)heroes to face their pasts and confront their desires, weighing up who they wanted to be against who they are – and asking them to decide who they want to become. The personal conflicts are all on point (if overdue in some cases; looking at you, Dara), but my favourite moments track Nahri’s journey from self-interested con woman to fierce princess, wielding her status to protect others as she loses her life-long battle with emotional complications like love and trust. Her emerging relationship with Jamshid – who steals Ali’s cinnamon roll badge for this final volume – is a heartwarming delight.

Ali, meanwhile, is all duty and self-sacrifice (obviously, because Ali) no matter how tempting his brother’s widow may be – nor how determined his mother is to put him on a nice, safe, Ayaanle throne. Possibly even one strengthened by a marriage to a Nahid widow… Yes, the redoubtable Hatset is back and once again she is both a fierce mama and a shrewd politician; and her daughter Zaynab – leading the Geziri resistance in Daevabad – is shaping up to take after her in all the ways that matter.

In other words, all my faves are on form and it’s a joy to see them take centre stage.

One of my great joys in this series is that in spite of initially presenting us with an apparently controlling patriarchy, Chakraborty consolidates influence in the hands of her female characters as the books progress. It’s a double-edged sword: with more women in positions of power, I must accept that some handle that power badly. It’s only fair, after all. Turns out I still struggle with that a little. I know I’m being unreasonable, but I haven’t yet seen enough portrayals of women handling power well to be completely comfortable with another evil queen going off the rails – and Manizheh is EEEEEVIL with a capital EEEE.

Part of the problem is that Ghassan was one of my favourite villains: clever, nuanced and thoroughly prepared to explain to you why his ruthless plans are entirely rational. He’s killing people to save lives, apparently. Manizheh… isn’t. She’s insecure and vindictive, demanding unquestioning loyalty and ruling by fear. She’s so terrible that evenΒ Dara has doubts, slowly realising that perhaps following orders won’t redeem him after all (just as disobeying them wasn’t what he got wrong at Qui-zi).

Thankfully, Chakraborty gives us plenty to balance out Manizheh’s villainous excesses both in the shape of Hatset – a wise, caring ruler – and in Nahri and Ali’s determination to not only end the cycle of violence, but to change the foundations of djinni society rather than put power in the hands of a single ruler. As ever with this series, the discussions of leadership, influence and rebalancing a society all feel terribly relevant (and that’s before we get a last-act insight into the proxy games played by the supercilious peri).

I’ve not even mentioned the epic battles or book-long game of tease and reveal, because – while fun – these aspects have stayed with me the least. I never really believed that Manizheh of all people had dallied with a servant (let alone a shafit); and while Sobek was fascinating and Tiamat the sort of awe-inspiring ancient power that defies understanding, there’s too much going on to fully do justice to the marid. Besides, the shafit pirate mutiny was more my speed.

If I can cheekily say that Empire is my least favourite book in the trilogy, it’s only because City and Kingdom set such a high bar. It remains a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant trilogy, due in large part to the character developments. Everybody grows up, confronting prejudices and shouldering responsibilities. They’ve all come such a long way since we first met them, and I have been so invested in every step. The accompanying emotional arcs have been just as engaging – I can even get behind the romance, although it’s the sibling relationships that I love best, both Al Qahtani and Nahid.

My last thought is MASSIVELY SPOILERY (mouse over to read)

I never thought I’d be happy until I saw Dara dead on the floor, but I take my hat off: Shannon Chakraborty came up with a redemption arc I can get behind. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like him – and I’d far rather see a spin-off story about the adventures of Zaynab and Aqisa – but it has a sort of mythical completeness that I appreciate.

But at its heart, Empire of Gold is a story about recognising and rejecting a toxic inheritance, and about rising above the past to fight for a better, fairer world. For all the bloodshed and treachery along the way, it’s inspiring stuff that warms my heart and leaves me eager to see what Shannon Chakraborty tackles next.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.