Nahri’s in Trouble in This Exclusive Excerpt from The Empire of GoldBooks Features s.a. chakraborty
S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy has mesmerized us since it debuted in 2017. Set in the 18th century, the series follows Nahri, a con artist, and Dara, a djinn warrior, on their adventures from Cairo to a magical city called Daevabad. Beginning with The City of Brass and continuing with The Kingdom of Copper, Chakraborty’s historical fantasy epic is as captivating as it is thrilling.
We’re excited to share an exclusive excerpt from The Empire of Gold, the final book of the trilogy. But beware of spoilers ahead for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, you’ll want to start with The City of Brass (which we named one of the best fantasy novels of the 21st century).
For readers caught up on the series, Chakraborty has the scoop on how the events of book two lead into the excerpt. “When last we left off in The Kingdom of Copper,” she tells Paste, “Daevabad had been taken by Banu Manizheh and her Afshin warrior, Dara, in a brutal, surprise attack that left the city stripped of its magic and thousands dead. Nahri and Ali narrowly—and accidently—seemed to escape, fleeing with Suleiman’s ring and waking to the impossible world below. ”
Harper Voyager will release The Empire of Gold on June 30th, 2020, and they’re giving away a set of pins with Daevabad tribal sigils to everyone who pre-orders the novel.
When Nahri was a very little girl, in the last orphans’ home that would take her, she met a storyteller.
It had been Eid, a hot, chaotic day, but one of the few kind ones for children like her as it was when Cairo’s better-off were most inclined to look after the orphans whose welfare their faith preached. After feasting on sweets and stuffed butter cookies in new clothes—a pretty dress embroidered with blue lilies—the storyteller had appeared in the haze of sugar-crashes and afternoon heat, and it wasn’t long before the children gathered around him had passed out, lulled into dreams of faraway lands and dashing adventures by his smooth voice.
Nahri had not been lulled, however—she had been mesmerized, for tales of magical kingdoms and lost royal heirs were the exact fragile hopes a young girl with no name and no family might nurse in the most hidden corner of her heart. But the way the storyteller phrased it was confusing. Kan wa ma kan, he kept repeating when describing fantastical cities, mysterious djinn and clever heroines. It was and it wasn’t. The tales seemed to exist between this world and another, between truth and lies and it had driven Nahri mad with longing. She needed to know they were real. To know that there might be a better place for her, a world in which the quiet things she did with her hands were normal.
And so, she had pressed him. But was it real? she demanded. Did this really happen?
The storyteller had shrugged—she could remember the rise of his shoulders, the twinkling of his eyes, no doubt amused at the young girl’s pluck. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t.
Nahri had persisted, reaching for the closest example she could find. Is it like the thing in your chest then? The thing that looks like a crab around your lungs, that’s making you cough blood?
His mouth had fallen open. God preserve me, he’d whispered in horror, gasps rising from those who were listening. Tears filled his eyes. You cannot know that.
She hadn’t been able to reply. The other adults swiftly intervened, yanking her up by the arms so roughly they tore the sleeve of her new dress. It had been the last straw for the little girl who said such unnerving things, the girl who cried in her sleep in a language no one had ever heard and showed no bruises or scraps after being beaten by the other children. Nahri had been dragged out of the crumbling building still begging to know what she’d done wrong, stumbling to the dust in her holiday clothes and rising alone in the street as people celebrated with their families in the kind of warm homes she’d never known.
When they slammed the door behind them, Nahri had stopped believing in magic. Until years later, when a Daeva warrior came crashing to her feet amongst a tangle of tombs. But as Nahri stared now in utter incomprehension at Cairo’s familiar skyline, the Arabic words ran back through her memory.
Kan wa ma kan.
It was and it wasn’t.
The storybook world of Daevabad was gone, replaced, and Cairo’s mosques and fortresses and old brick buildings were hazy in the distance, heat shimmering off the surrounding desert and flooded fields. She blinked and then rubbed her eyes. The city was still there, as were the Pyramids, standing proud against the pale sky across the wide brown Nile.
Egypt. I’m in Egypt. Nahri found herself pressing her knuckles against her temple, hard enough to hurt. Was this a dream?
Or maybe Daevabad had been the dream. The nightmare. For surely it was more likely she was a human back in Cairo, a poor thief, a con artist taken in by her own scheme rather than someone who had lived the past five years as the future queen of a hidden kingdom of djinn.
And that might have been a possibility…were it not for the wheezing, sweating and still slightly glowing prince that stepped between Nahri and her view of the countryside. Not a dream then—not unless she’d brought a piece of it back with her.
“Nahri,” Ali choked. His eyes were bloodshot and desperate, water beading down his face. “Nahri, please tell me I’m seeing things. Please tell me this isn’t what it looks like.”
Still numb, Nahri glanced past his shoulder. She couldn’t look away from the Egyptian countryside spread before her, not after aching for it for so long. A warm breeze played through her hair, smelling of silt, and a pair of sunbirds twittered as they climbed through a patch of thick brush that had swallowed a crumbling mudbrick building. It was flood season, a thing the inundated banks and water lapping at the roots of the palms made clear to any Egyptian in a moment.
“It looks like home.” Her throat was horribly strained, her healing magic still blocked by Suleiman’s seal blazing on Ali’s cheek. “It looks like Egypt.”
“We cannot be in Egypt!” Ali stepped back, falling heavily against the minaret’s crumbling inner wall. There was a feverish flush to his face, hazy heat rising from his skin. “We-we were just in Daevabad.” His eyes were wild. “You pulled me off the wall…did you mean—?”
“No! I just wanted to get away from Manizheh. You said the curse was off the lake. I figured we’d swim back to shore, not rematerialize on the other side of the world!”
“The other side of the world.” Ali’s voice was hollow. “We left them. God forgive me, we left them all—ahh.” His words slipped into a pained groan as he pressed his hands against his chest as though stemming a wound.
No, not just at his chest. At his heart, where Suleiman’s seal ring should now be residing, courtesy of Nahri’s sleight of hand back in Daevabad.
Thoughts of Egypt fled her mind. Ali wasn’t just upset—he looked sick, shivering and sweating more than a human in the death-throes of tuberculous as he clutched his bloodied dishdasha to his chest.
Her training took over. “Ali, sit,” she ordered, helping him to the ground. “Let me see.”
Ali squeezed his eyes shut, pressing the back of his head into the wall—it looked like it was taking all his strength not to scream. “It burns,” he said, gritting his teeth. “It feels like my heart is going to burst.”
She grabbed his hands—they were so hot that it felt like plunging her own into a simmering kettle—and then pried them away from his chest. Bloody gashes marred the skin above his heart, as though he’d tried to claw out the ring with his nails.
Nahri swallowed back her fear. “It’s going to be okay,” she insisted, forcing a confidence into her voice that she didn’t feel. “Lift the seal and I’ll take the pain away.” Suleiman’s eight-pointed mark still blazed on his cheek, blocking her powers.
Ali opened his eyes, bewilderment swirling into the pain in his expression. “Lift the seal?”
“Yes, the seal, Ali,” Nahri repeated, fighting a frightened edge of exasperation. “Suleiman’s seal. I can’t do any magic with it glowing on your face like that!”
He took a rattling breath. “Okay.” He glanced back at her. “How do I do that?”
Nahri stared at him. “What do you mean how? Your family has held the seal for centuries. Don’t you know?”
“No. Only the emir is allowed—” Ali’s voice broke, and then fresh grief ripped across his face. “Oh, God…Dhiru…”
But he was already lost to her, weeping in Geziriyya as tears rolled down his cheeks. They cut paths through the dust and dried blood on his skin.
The sound of birdsong came, a breeze rattling through the bristling palms towering over the broken mosque. Her own heart wanted to burst, the sweet relief of being home warring with the nightmarish events that had ended in the two of them here.
She sat back on her heels. Think, Nahri, think. She had to have a plan. She always had a plan.
But Nahri couldn’t think. Not when she could still smell the poisoned edge of Muntadhir’s blood and hear Manizheh’s calm threat.
Not when she could still see Dara’s green gaze, pleading and lethal from across the ruined palace corridor.
Nahri took a deep breath. No, she wouldn’t think of Dara. Not now.
Magic. Just get your magic back and this will all be better. Nahri felt horribly vulnerable without her abilities, weak and vulnerable in a way she’d never been. Her entire body ached; the metallic smell of her own blood thick in her nose.
“Ali.” She took his face in her hands, trying not to panic at the frighteningly unnatural—even for a djinn—heat in his clammy skin. She brushed the tears from his cheeks, forcing his bloodshot eyes to meet hers. “Just breathe. We’ll grieve him, we’ll grieve them all, I promise. But right now, we need to focus.” The wind had picked up, whipping her hair into her face. “Muntadhir told me it could take a few days to recover from possessing the ring,” she suddenly remembered. “Maybe this is normal.”
Ali was shivering so hard it looked like he was seizing. His skin had taken on a grayish tone, his lips cracking. “I don’t think this is normal. I think it was supposed to be you.” Steam was rising from his body in a humid cloud. “It wants you. I can feel it.”
“I couldn’t take it,” she said, defensively. “You heard what Manizheh said about me being a shafit. If the ring killed me, she would have murdered you and then taken it for herself. I couldn’t risk that!”
Without warning, the seal mark blazed bright against his cheek. Where Ghassan’s mark had resembled a tattoo, blacker than night against his skin, Ali’s looked like it had been painted in quicksilver, the mercury color reflecting the sun’s bright light.
“Ahh!” Ali clutched at his heart again. “Oh, God,” he gasped, fumbling for the blades at his waist—miraculously, his khanjar and zulfiqar had come through, belted at his stomach. “I need this out of me.”
Nahri ripped the weapons away. “Are you mad? You can’t cut into your heart!”
Ali didn’t respond. He suddenly didn’t look capable of responding. There was a vacant, lost glaze in his eyes that terrified her. It was a look Nahri associated with the infirmary, with patients brought to her too late.
“Ali.” It was killing her not to able to simply lay hands upon him and take away the pain. “Please,” she begged. “Just try to lift the seal. I can’t help you like this!”
His gaze briefly fixed on hers, and her heart dropped—his eyes were so dilated the pupils had nearly overtaken the gray. He blinked, but there was nothing in his face that even indicated he’d understood her plea. God, why hadn’t she asked Muntadhir more about the seal? All he’d said was that it had to be cut out of Ghassan’s heart and burned, that it might take a couple days to recover and that…
And that it couldn’t leave Daevabad.
Cold fear stole through her even as a hot breeze rushed across her skin. No, please, no. That couldn’t be why this was happening. It couldn’t be. Nahri hadn’t even asked Ali’s permission—indeed, he’d tried to jerk away, but she’d shoved the ring on his finger anyway. She hadn’t cared what he thought—she’d been too desperate to save him. To save them both.
And now you might have killed him.