S.A. Chakraborty made her debut in 2017 with acclaimed fantasy tale The City of Brass, followed by The Kingdom of Copper, and now, the trilogy’s final entry: The Empire of Gold. It’s not due out until the end of June, but io9 has an exclusive sneak peek to tempt you today.
Here’s a rundown of the story so far, for some context—followed by the full cover and excerpt.
Daevabad has fallen.
After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.
But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.
As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved ... and take a stand for those they once hurt.
At first Dara thought it was a mistake. When it became clear it wasn’t, he was both thrilled and panicked. Afshin minors did not get summoned by the Nahid Council. Dara knew he was favored—though he came from a talented generation of Afshins, he was head and shoulders above his cousins when it came to military skills. Considered a prodigy with the bow, he’d been taken for specialized training two years earlier, a decision that had quietly irked his father. Zaydi al Qahtani takes votes with his generals and sends their sons to rebuild villages we have destroyed, he recalled his father complain to his mother in a whispered conversation, while we make assassins out of warriors we should be training to lead.
Indeed, his father, Artash, was there when Dara arrived, kneeling before the shedu throne, his helmet at his side. Yet everything about the set of his features was wrong. Everyone bowed before the Nahids, but there was a simmering despair under his father’s carefully neutral expression Dara had never seen before. His own heart was pounding so hard he could hear it in his ears, more embarrassing because he knew the healers could detect it as well.
Almost too nervous to proceed, Dara prostrated himself before he even neared the throne, dropping to the ground to press his face into the carpet.
A chuckle broke the tense silence. “Come forward, young warrior,” a Baga Nahid teased. “We can hardly converse when you’re all the way back there.”
His gaze lowered and his face burning, Dara approached, taking the cushion beside his father, aching to ask him what was going on. Artash was a hard but loving man, both Dara’s commander and his father. Dara never disobeyed him, had always looked to his father first, and seeing him suddenly bowed in grim silence was a disorienting experience.
“Look up, boy. Let us see you.”
Dara glanced up. The throne catching in the sunlight was blinding and he blinked, the Blessed Nahids coming to him as indistinct shapes in their blue-and-white regalia, their faces veiled. Five sat there, one on the throne and the others on jeweled stools. He’d heard they took turns sitting on the throne and possessing Suleiman’s seal. None but members of their family knew who ruled and when.
He’d also heard that the Council had once been thirteen—before that even more. People whispered the Nahids were turning on themselves, relatives who quietly dissented being exiled, and those who openly criticized being found dead. But those were rumors, blasphemous gossip that good Daevas—Daevas like Dara—didn’t listen to.
There was a smile in the Nahid’s voice. “A handsome young man,” he remarked. “You must be so proud, Artash, to have raised such a diligent warrior, one praised by his instructors for his skill. For his obedience.”
His father’s voice was halting. “He is my life.”
Worried, Dara snuck a glance at his father, surprised to find him unarmed, the iron knife he wore at his waist missing. A trickle of fear stole through him. What could have reduced his towering father to such a state?
“Good.” The Baga Nahid’s clipped voice brought Dara back to attention. “For we are sorely in need of such a man for a very important mission. A difficult one, but perhaps the most crucial we’ve faced in a long time.” He stared at Dara over his veil. “We believe you are him.”
Startled by the pronouncement, Dara nearly broke protocol, his mouth falling open to protest. Surely this was a mistake. He was skilled, but he was a minor, still years away from his first quarter century. The Afshins held themselves to notoriously strict standards, particularly when it came to training the next generation. Their warriors did not go near a battlefield until their majority; leading a mission was unheard of.
But there was no questioning a Nahid—a good Afshin obeyed—so Dara said the only thing he could. “I am here to serve.”
He remembered the Baga Nahid’s eyes crinkling, his smile hidden beneath his veil. “See how easy that is, Artash?” he remarked before returning his attention to Dara. “There is a city called Qui-zi . . .”
The rest was a blur. Dire warnings that shafit had infiltrated and corrupted a Tukharistani merchant city. That the fanatic Zaydi al Qahtani, desperate and losing, schemed to so brazenly flout Suleiman’s law that he’d trigger another cataclysm. That to save their people, this all needed to be stopped.
Their orders. So specific that Dara, who had spoken out of turn not once, drew in a sharp, shocked breath and glanced again at his father, an act that prompted the Nahids to start fretting about what might happen should another Suleiman return. How they’d all be stripped of their magic, their names, their family, their very identity—pressed into human service for untold centuries. How his mother and little sister might suffer in such a disaster.
So Dara again said the only thing he could. “I am here to serve.”
And once again the Baga Nahid seemed pleased. “Then take your father’s helmet. He will not need it. He has another task.”
Dara did so numbly, too overwhelmed by the warning and his orders—by the shock of being in such a holy presence—to understand the despair in his father’s eyes, to realize his father’s “task” was to be sent to the front lines as fodder.
He couldn’t know that, though, so Dara obeyed. Or, at least, he tried to. He left the next day and served the Nahids, clinging to their assurance that the shafit who screamed and begged for mercy at Qui-zi were not real people: they were invaders, soulless deceptions plotting the destruction of his people. His family. It became easier to believe as the bodies piled up. For it had to be the truth.
If it wasn’t the truth, Dara was a monster, a murderer.
And Dara wasn’t a monster. Monsters were the ifrit, the treacherous Zaydi al Qahtani who’d murdered his garrison commander and loosed shafit hordes on Daeva civilians. Dara was a good man, a good son who would return to parents who loved him. Who’d tease his young sister as they sat for dinner. The kind of upstanding youth anyone would be proud of.
He was only following orders.
But on one order Dara failed. He’d been told to leave no survivors. The Nahids had spoken in the language of healers, and one did not leave an infection to spread. But in telling him how to so brutally isolate those who had human blood—with the scourge he’d be tied to for the rest of his life—Dara knew just how many women and children were not shafit. The weeping survivors who screamed for husbands, for sons, for fathers. They were not soulless deceptions, and when his men barred the gates of Qui-zi and left it to burn, Dara could not bear to shut them inside. Instead he’d brought them back to Daevabad.
And they rightfully, justifiably, told the world he was a monster.
The Nahid Council was furious, the story it had wanted to tell torn from its members’ tongues. Dara was home only a week—his mother unable to look him in the eye—when they decided to banish him. The Scourging of Qui-zi had been meant to end the war and instead it had done the opposite, pushing the surviving Tukharistani clans into the welcoming embrace of Zaydi al Qahtani, who already counted the Ayaanle and Sahrayn as allies. The Agnivanshi retreated, their traders and scholars quietly disappearing one by one, and then the Daevas were left isolated, alone in their slowly starving city with the thousands of shafit they’d forced to live in squalor.
And five years after Dara burned their city and killed their kin, the Tukharistanis—no doubt led by some of the survivors he’d spared—entered the city at Zaydi al Qahtani’s side. They sacked the Daeva Quarter. They hunted through the streets until they found his family’s home.
They got the revenge that would haunt him through all his resurrections . . .
Excerpt from S.A. Chakraborty’s The Empire of Gold reprinted by permission. Copyright Harper Voyager.
S.A. Chakraborty’s The Empire of Gold will be out June 30, and you can pre-order a copy right here.
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