Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
“I do not believe ambitious men who say the only route to peace and prosperity lies in giving them more power—particularly when they do it with lands and people who are not theirs.”
A behemoth compared to the first two installments in the City of Brass trilogy, The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty is divided into three POVs, in which readers trace the experiences of Nahri and Ali as they gather allies to conquer Daevabad, and Dara, who is now the infamous general of the Banu Manizheh after seizing Daevabad. With most of the emphasis placed on these three characters, particularly Nahri and Ali, I can’t help but notice the inconsistencies of Ali’s character development over the course of the trilogy. Drifting in the boat along the Nile with Nahri, he is hit hard with guilt and grief over his inability to save Mutandhir, who Ali believes is dead.
The author spends pages upon pages describing his sorrow and how Nahri comforts him, assuring him that saving Mutandhir was beyond his skill. While I understand his sorrow, they were siblings after all, the amount of pages spent on this seems excessive, since we readers know that Mutandhir remains alive in Daevabad through Dara’s POV. Spending most of their lives living apart from each other, Ali and Mutandhir grew up surrounded by vastly different cultures and beliefs, with Ali being a devout follower of Suleiman whereas his sibling was not. Ali spent his life training as a soldier in the Citadel and never hid his disdain for Mutandhir’s life of debauchery and political maneuverings before the fall of Daevabad, despite his brother’s multiple attempts at saving his life, putting Mutandhir’s own safety at risk. This makes Ali’s pain over his sibling’s supposed death even less believable. While reading this book, I also noticed that the complexity of Ali’s character from the previous books diminishes in The Empire of Gold, his internal struggles are taken away by the author and remain unaddressed. A devout follower of Suleiman’s religion and a sympathizer of the shafit, he was consumed by contradicting beliefs on the shafit’s social status in The City of Brass, which made him an interesting character. At the heart of his religion lies the belief that an alliance between humans and pureblooded Daevas is forbidden, making the shafit outcasts of Daevabad, yet Ali ardently supported the social movements of Tanzeen, the radical shafit organization, even going as far as risking his own life by donating money to this group in the first book. Towards the end of the first novel, Ali’s illegal dealings were caught by his father, and was therefore ordered to oversee the execution of the arrested shafit as punishment for assisting the Tanzeem. This event instilled feelings of guilt inside Ali, and he never truly made peace with himself over the deaths, yet his internal conflicts concerning his inability to save the shafit is conveniently forgotten by the author in The Empire of Gold. His sense of guilt is never addressed. Dara, on the other hand, is frequently berated by other characters for committing war crimes in the invasion and Qui Zi (and rightfully so), revealing the drastically different treatments of Dara and Ali over similar crimes by the same characters. In an attempt to make Ali’s relationship with Nahri seem favorable, Chakraborty glazes over Ali’s war crimes, which is highly problematic. How can the author expect readers to root for a relationship between the heroine and a war criminal?
Besides the disappointing character development, various unreasonable plot points were scattered across the story. Trained and groomed in Daevabad’s citadel to become the city’s qaid, it is unsurprising for those in Ali’s mother, Hatset’s side of the family, those living in Ta Nitry, to assume that his loyalty lies first and foremost with the Qahtanis. How he manages to convince the commoners and nobles in Ta Nitry to sacrifice their lives in a battle that frankly does not immediately concern them is beyond my understanding.
Despite The City of Brass trilogy being one of my favourite series, The Empire of Gold’s multiple shortcomings have made this novel less enjoyable to read than the previous installments.