The City of Brass (Harper Voyager), by S.A. Chakraborty, is a fast-paced fantasy that deftly intertwines two story lines. One tells the tale of Nahri, a con artist living in 18th-century Cairo; the other tells the tale of Ali, a prince who is fiercely devoted to his religious beliefs, even when it puts him at odds with everyone around him. Nahri and Ali cross paths when Nahri accidentally summons a djinn warrior named Dara, and Nahri and Dara must flee to the magical world where Ali lives. Nahri becomes embroiled in a fierce political conflict between various djinn tribes and must rely on her wits, her growing relationships with Ali and Dara, as well as her natural abilities to survive. Chakraborty writes a winning heroine in Nahri — flawed but smart and engaging. And her portrayal of the cultural conflicts in the magical city of Daevabad and of Ali’s inner turmoil is compelling and complex, serving as a strong counterpoint to the thrilling action.
Liz Ziemska artfully blends biography and science fiction in Mandelbrot the Magnificent (Tor), a gut-punch of a novella. Benoit Mandelbrot was a mathematician who’s known for his contributions to the field of fractal geometry. Born in Warsaw in 1924, he and his family fled to France, and after World War II, Mandelbrot came to America, where he eventually became a professor at Yale. In Ziemska’s fantastical version of this autobiography, Mandelbrot throws himself into mathematical studies and logic puzzles to tease out a greater magic. His genius begins to attract the wrong kind of attention, and the jealousy of his classmates leads Mandelbrot on a desperate gambit to protect his family from the Nazis. Ziemska has created a dazzling mix of math and magic, but the heart of the story is young Mandelbrot; you will pity, admire and root for him.
Rachel Neumeier’s Winter of Ice and Iron (Saga) walks familiar fantasy territory but marks new ground with her emotionally complex characters. Neumeier conjures up a world at the whim of gods and spirits, where rulers make ties with these spirits to protect their people and rule the land. Princess Kehera gives up her tie to her brother to broker a deal to protect her family and people from the ambition of a Mad King to the north but soon finds herself a pawn in a greater game than she thought. Meanwhile, the Wolf Duke, Innisth, schemes to build an independent kingdom. He is haunted by the specter of his cruel family, even as he tries to be better than they were. When Kehera stumbles into his domain, the two must put aside their differences to fight a common enemy threatening all they hold dear. Kehera’s bond with her brother and her newfound companions is deeply felt. Neumeier doesn’t rely on heaving bosoms or overwrought confidences to convey the way people care for and love one another.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.
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