I remember a thousand years ago when S.A. Chakraborty sat across from me on my couch with her second (third??) cup of coffee in hand. It was a full house at my monthly Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers novel critique session . I think we were about two submissions into what would be The Kingdom of Copper. She’d told us her next submission would be from a different character’s perspective and I remember cautioning her against it.
My exact words were, “Yeah, you could do it, but your next character better be as dope as Nahri.”
The next month, she introduced Alizayd and he did not disappoint. Now in The Empire of Gold, Both Nahri and Ali level up in epic, primordial fashion, but it’s still barely enough to survive the weight of history and ancient animosities that come crashing down around them.
What makes this story so damn good?
S.A. Chakraborty’s characters are vibrant. They live in a morally ambiguous world where right and wrong come in a decadent assortment of grays. But it is also what makes their actions stand out in contrast and color. Every decision and every mistake is made out of love of something greater than themselves, even the villains. We see how Ghassan's , Kaveh's, Dara's, and Anahid's love was twisted by those who would control their very soul. We see how Nahri and Ali defied that fate.
To me, much of the series, particularly the finale, The Empire of Gold, is about what one does when you live with a thousand-year-boot on your neck. Every painful inch of growth away from obligation for obligation’s sake takes our view point characters closer to death—or in Dara’s case, something worse than death—but also justice. When Nahri and Ali are given bad choices, they fight to find another.
There are layers upon layers of research weaved into the world and there are NO throw-away characters. Every one of them is a person in a real sense of the word and trust me when I say you need every one of them to bring you to the plot twist that’s been building for almost 3,000 pages (there’s more online on S.A. Chakrabory’s website). I actually didn’t see the twist coming, and after editing about 400,000 words a year with BSFW, it’s super hard to sneak up on me. I was happily surprised.
There is a term in fantasy called thinning. This is where the loss of magic becomes an existential threat. That is very much the case in Empire of Gold. But it is also the job of the fantasist is to overlay the mundane with enough magic to transport the reader to a secret place where the real world makes sense. Where the fight against thinning is not the loss of magic but a fight against the loss of something human and important: love, trust, hope, or in this case justice. The Daevabad trilogy is an important story for the world we live in now, and I’m so glad it was S.A. Chakraborty who put her pen to the telling. Read the Empire of Gold.
One final note:
I know S.A. Chakraborty is moving on to a new project (and if it is what I think it is, oh boy, the Indian Ocean never had it so good), but I wilI take these characters in any way I can. And though I know NETFLIX will do something wonderful with a live action Daevabad, there are so many evocative and bright drawings and paintings of Nari, Ali, Dara, and the rest, that in my heart of heats I would love an anime. If anybody from digital Daevabad fandom has the chops, please make it so. Give it the Ryan Renolds Deadpool treatment (only in cartoon form and pg-13).