The City of Brass: A complex but fun epic fantasy

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty is first in the Daevabad trilogy, set partly in 18th century Egypt. It comprises of two storylines, one featuring Nahri (orphaned Cairo con woman and thief) who accidentally calls down a warrior djinn named Dara and a whole lot of danger; the other featuring devout Ali, prince of the djinn city of Daevabad, who has been inadvertently been funding a potential rebellion against his own ruling family.

Cover of City of Brass

Part of this story is magic and flying carpets and fiery swords, and part is a more nuanced look at what happens when the people of one religion and culture take over the city of another, and how they deal with that over the generations. It’s not an uncommon scenario to be in — the aggrieved Daeva are still seeking reparations for the loss of their sovereignty, and the other djinn are all resentful of what they perceive to be the special treatment given to the Daeva (sound familiar?). At the bottom of the heap are the half-blood djinn, the shafit, resented and mistreated by everybody.

Then there’s Nahri, dealing with the discovery that she has some djinn blood as well as the appearance of a temperamental Daeva who’s determined to carry her off to Daevabad. Oh, and if they stay too long in one place the undead rise up and come after them, so there’s that. Much of the book (possibly a bit too much) is spent on their journey and a slow reveal of Daevabad’s history and Nahri’s lost family connections, plus a hint of a developing romance between Nahri and Dara. I preferred the conflict of their eventual arrival in Daevabad, where religious and racial tensions rise to a peak and Ali has to finally choose between his morals and his family loyalty.

My only spoiler-free criticisms are that the book is a little slow to get going, and that the many names and relationships between the different types of djinn could be confusing to some readers. Neither of these put me off anticipating the next book in the series (The Kingdom of Copper, hopefully published next year). If you enjoy complex but fun epic fantasy then I would encourage you to give this series a try.

The City of Brass
by S. A. Chakraborty
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008239404

National Poetry Day Picks

Despite the beauty of timeless poetry, there is nothing quite as likely to get blood boiling and teeth gnashing, as a conversation about favourite poets. There is a Daumier lithograph called ‘A Literary discussion in the second balcony’ depicting a group of men brawling in an opera box upon such a ‘discussion’. However, National Poetry Day on Friday 24 August, is calling for a good ‘literary brawl’, and below is a list of my ten favourite poetry volumes to add to the furore.

The Poems of Tennyson

If you are wanting to dapple in sheer sunlit perfection, you couldn’t do any better than read a volume of poetry by Alfred Lord Tennyson. From ‘The Lady of Shalott’ to ‘Idylls of the King’, each poem in this collection is word perfect, cementing Tennyson’s reputation as perhaps the most-loved poet of the Victorian era

CoverEugene Onegin

If you can’t see yourself getting though a daunting looking volume of poetry in its entirety, why not try this beautiful novel in verse by ‘Russia’s Shakespeare’, Alexander Pushkin. Through exquisite prose, Pushkin relates the timeless love story between Eugene Onegin, a world weary dandy, and Tatayana a diffident but passionate young woman. This fine translation manages to capture both the rhythm and beauty of Pushkin’s novel in verse, making it a sheer joy to read.

CoverW.B. Yeats

You would be hard pressed to find a list of greatest poets that doesn’t include W.B. Yeats. Reading this wonderful collection of his work, it isn’t hard to see why. A prolific poet who is dearly loved for his moving poems about Ireland, as well as his perceptive meditations on life and death, Yeats is certainly justified in being regarded as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century.

CoverSelected Poems

This selection of Byron’s works includes the beautiful Hebrew melodies and the complete text of lengthier works such as Childe Harolde, an enduring classic. Mad, bad and gloriously dangerous to know, who could not love this selection of his works (and, lets face it, the mad, bad man himself).

Collected

This beautiful selection of Auden’s works includes such loved poems as ‘Funeral Blues’ and ‘In Praise of Limestone’ (who knew limestone could so inspire readers, such is the power of Auden). This selection showcases the amazing diversity of Auden’s writing and its incredible beauty. Mention must be made here of Tom Hiddlestone’s beautiful recital of ‘As I walked One Evening’. If you do nothing else this National Poetry Day, please listen to this and you will be inspired to read this volume of Auden in its entirety.

CoverThe Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved, and influential poets of the nineteenth century. Little of Dickinson’s vast work are known to have been published during her lifetime, due to their astonishing originality, but this collection brings together 1775 of her poems, doing justice to a truly unique and insightful  American voice.

Rubāʻīyāt of Omar Khayyam

Perhaps the most celebrated meditation on the brevity of life, this 101 verse narrative known as the ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ is filled with perception, wit, and beauty. Over two hundred years old, this narrative pieced together from Khayyam’s quatrains by Edward Fitzgerald, caused a storm upon its publication for the sheer distinctiveness of its voice. Today it remains an accessible yet incredibly profound mediation on human existence.

CoverThe Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë

You may know the Brontes better for their incredible contributions to English literature in the form of novels (i.e ‘Wuthering Heights, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’) but Bronte fans would be truly missing out if they were to pass up on their poetry. This volume contains the complete works of Emily Bronte’s poetry, and it is every bit as accomplished as her only published novel, Wuthering Heights.

CoverChristina Rossetti

Popular for her effervescent ballads, and incisive poems on love, Christina Rossetti is a poet who seems to become more and more celebrated as time moves on. This beautiful collection contains her complete works including perhaps her most famous poem, ‘Goblin Market’, some terrifying childrens verses, beautiful sonnets, and romantic verses.

Selected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love Elizabeth Barret Browning – let me count the ways… This would actually take far too long so I will just say that this volume of her selected poetry will say it all. Including her much loved ‘Sonnets from The Portuguese’, this beautiful volume of her poetry perfectly showcases the perfection of her work, with every line a sheer pleasure to read.

CoverThe Complete Nonsense and Other Verse

Okay, I did say ten picks, but including a light, humorous poet, who doesn’t write with brooding intensity but rather of gentleman and ladies from various parts of the country, did seem too brave a step for me. Edward Lear is my ‘additional’ pick, a fun and fantastical poet whose writing is always sheer fun and joyous to read.

Agree or disagree, there really is a poet out there for everyone. If you have never been convinced of this fact before and have always thought that poetry is strictly for the somewhat soppy, over sentimental birds, please think again. There are poems for literally every taste and every situation-death, war, love, childhood, loss, grief, the list goes on, and with all good poems, the words live on, capturing human emotions in a way that no other art form quite can.

If reading poetry is not your thing and you are more of a listener, there are some great poetry events on at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 to help celebrate National Poetry Day. These include a lunchtime reading with celebrated NZ poet and winner of Te Mata Poet Laureate (2002), Elizabeth Smither, as well as the 2018 Christchurch Poetry Slam. You can also see Ray’s super helpful blog detailing many other poetry workshops and events in Christchurch.

WORD Christchurch Festival: Black Marks on the White Page

With WORD Christchurch Festival at the forefront of my mind at the moment, having bought my tickets yesterday (and by the way the session Motherhood is selling out fast [SOLD OUT now! Ed.] ) I was intrigued to find an article by UK author Natasha Carthew about an idea for a Working Class Writers Festival in Britain.

On 12th July, Carthew tweeted to her 1,700 followers: “Comrades! This is a call to arms – we’ve got to get ourselves a #WorkingClassWriters Lit Fest! I’ve been doing the circuit and we’re a bit underrepresented int we?”

Carthew, who has written three books of poetry, and two YA books published by Bloomsbury, wants to ensure that publishing recognises writing from across the social spectrum.

She said: “I think it’s really important to enhance, encourage and increase representation from working class backgrounds, which can be quite underrepresented at other literary festivals. I feel we are an equally talented group of people that do not get enough exposure, young people from similar backgrounds especially need to have something to aspire to, something that is reflective of their society and writers they can relate to and look up to.”

The first thoughts that came to mind are would we have such a thing here, would we call it “Working Class”, do we think of class in the same way that they do in Britain? I grew up in a home where we referred to ourselves (proudly I might add) as Working Class, but it is not something you hear much today in New Zealand.

9780143770299Perhaps the closest comparison for New Zealand and the issues of inclusiveness/exclusion will be at the WORD session Black Marks on a White Page: A Roundtable...

Join contributors to last year’s superb anthology of Oceanic writing, Black Marks on the White Page,  for a roundtable discussion for Māori and Pasifika writers. Co-editor Tina Makereti, who worked on the book with Witi Ihimaera, will be joined by Victor Rodger, Nic Low, Paula Morris and Tusiata Avia to share tips on writing, and for a talanoa on the challenges and opportunities facing writers in Aotearoa and internationally.

Quick Questions with Kirsten McDougall – WORD Christchurch

CoverWe are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 (Wednesday 29 August to Sunday 2 September).

Kirsten McDougall has written a book of interconnected short stories, The Invisible Rider, and a novel Tess. She has published stories and non-fiction in Landfall, Sport, Turbine and Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non-fiction 2016.

Kirsten McDougall. Photo credit: Grant Maiden Photography.
Kirsten McDougall. Photo credit: Grant Maiden Photography.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

The literary whisky tasting at WORD Christchurch Festival and seeing what new street art has popped up since I was last there.

What do you think about libraries?

They’re one of the world’s great inventions. They’re a socialist idea that delivers and they create a scene without an economic imperative. In that sense – you might call libraries a kind of art form.

What would be your desert island book?

Treasure Island.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I have really good timing for someone who isn’t a musician. I can pick up rhythms really easily and tap them out on my knees no problem. I wish this was a more recognised party trick than it is.

Kirsten McDougall’s sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

The Body Issue Saturday 1 September 5.30pm