Reading The Daevabad Trilogy, AKA Learning to Appreciate World-Building

The book (and series) that shone a light for me on world-building: how to do it well, why it matters, and what it really is at its core.

How did I not appreciate world-building before, you might be asking? I am, after all, a writer. Even if I don’t write fantasy or sci-fi, I should still have had a strong grasp of world-building: not just how to do it, but you know…what it is. And why it matters!

And yet. Here we are. All this time, when my fellow writers waxed poetic about their favorite authors, and how great they were at building worlds, my smiles and nods of understanding were a mere farce. Flashing onto my face out of fear of being discovered, called out: she doesn’t understand world-building!

Okay, I might be acting a little dramatic right now, because I can’t see anyone actually reacting that way (writers are so nice!), but the fact remains: I didn’t get it. Worse, I didn’t think I had to get it, because I write contemporary. The world is built! We live in it! I don’t need to construct anything.

I am proud, but not too proud to admit how horrifyingly wrong I was. And it was The Daevabad Trilogy, by author S.A. Chakraborty, which showed me the true error of my thinking.

Chakraborty is an author I’ve been excited about and followed since even before the first book in the trilogy, her debut, published. I was so excited, in fact, that The City of Brass is the first time I ever reached out to a publisher to request an ARC (advance review copy) of a book. It was terrifying, but I did it! I also interviewed Chakraborty, for Ravishly’s People We Love column.

Photo from    Barnes & Noble    page

Photo from Barnes & Noble page

So yeah. You could say I am (and have been) a fan. That picture up top, in fact, comes from a vlog I recorded (part of my short-lived and hopefully gracefully dead series about fab books) where I pretty much just gushed about The City of Brass for 5 minutes.

This post is for me to gush about her second book, The Kingdom of Copper.

It took me so long to read this book, partly because I’ve been in a reading drought, but partly because it’s long and rich and the tension doesn’t so much hit you in the gut from the first page as climb, over the course of 600+ pages, to mind-spinning peaks.

No, really. I read the book on Kindle, and the last 20% or so I think my heart galloped along, without stopping, at like 180 beats per minute. I kept having to pause and take deep breaths, but I couldn’t pause for long because I was desperate to get back into the story, into the world, and see how things turned out.

That slow build is when it finally clicked with me: this is how you build a world. No, let me rephrase: this is how you build a world well. It’s not just about sitting down and coming up with the details, though those are done so well: the various djinn tribes, the mythical creatures, the different types of magic that live in Chakarborty’s world. All of those well-done and fit together perfectly and you can tell, by reading both books, that she put the kind of thought and care into imagining them as a fine carpenter would into crafting the most intricate of chairs. For example.

The thing that clicked with me was how much the slow build tied into, added to, my ability to appreciate the world that was built, and the overall story as well.

By the time things started moving, by the time things started really hitting the fan, there were so many pieces ready to go that the book could jump forward, slamming on the accelerator, and it didn’t feel like going 0 to 100. More like 40 to 100. Still a big jump, but it made sense.

And as I was mentally racing through the streets of Daevabad like Nahri and her companions, or battling enemies in combat like…literally everyone else…it struck me that none of what was happening in that moment, in that final 20%, would have made sense if it hadn’t been earned through the slow build.

So many different pieces had to click into place for the third act of the book to work, and the only way for them to click was for Chakraborty to spend the initial bulk of the novel building those pieces, from the most detailed almost-throwaway-line to the long-running mysteries we finally saw answered.

Oh, and it’s not just Book 2 pieces that came together! Answers from the first book made their way into the climax scenes. It’s…honestly thrilling to read, and mildly intimidating to think of as a writer.

When I first started reading, at around the 16% mark, I made a note in Goodreads mentioning political allegiances, and how mine stood with two particular characters. By the end, well…things are different. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still confused! It’s so wonderful!

The politics of this series are so integral to the overall success of the story. And they are well. done.

They’re stressful. They’re complicated, by family ties and friendship and liars and centuries of history. Just like our own world, huh, whaddya know! You start out the book thinking you hate one character and love another, and by the end you’re…well, I won’t tell you, because you should READ IT YOURSELF and then tell me who your allegiances lie with.

This was the first book where I really stopped to take in the care that had gone into building the world. Maybe it’s because I follow the author on Twitter and know how much she loves researching the history she’s weaving through her story, reading her threads about history in which she spins even more stories, or maybe it’s because of the interview I did with her where I asked about this, but whatever the reason, this book hit me in the gut.

And then I started thinking about world-building in my own writing. No, I don’t have to craft magic systems or form governments or design cities, but I do have to build tension, set scenes, and even in high school friendships and modern families, politics have a part — and I don’t mean Republican vs Democrat politics (well, not just those ones), but the politics of who ate lunch with whom and which child got the bigger serving of macaroni and cheese and who got promoted at their summer job.

All of these things speak into the world of each novel, give it the richness and indelibility that I’m striving for. The permanence.

The Daevabad Trilogy is a series that sticks with you. After I close the book on the last page of the third book, or 10 years from now, maybe in the final days of my life even, I’ll still hold this story in my heart, still remember how I rode the “R” train to work and my heart pounded so hard I thought it would leap out of my chest and the subway roared into the station when I was at 95% and I had to stop reading to walk to work and all I could think about was WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN I’M SO STRESSED THIS IS AMAZING!

Is it too much to say it has the same permanence for me that Harry Potter has had for millions of readers? I THINK NOT IT’S REALLY GOOD OKAY.

Do you have any books or series like that, stories that live in your heart forever? Share them in the comments! And don’t forget to check out The Daevabad Trilogy and maybe buy it and support an amazing, exciting author.

What THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE Means To Me (A Fat Girl)

I have never felt beautiful, and while there are so many reasons for that in my mind (frizzy hair, nose I don’t like, eyebrows too thick, bad posture), there’s always been one that stuck out the most: I’ve been fat for so long.

To be fair, for most of my high school and even part of college life, I wasn’t fat, I was just not-as-thin-as the girls, both around me and in magazines, who were held up as icons of beauty. My stomach had rolls and if I angled my face down just right, welp, there was my double chin.

I’m fat now. I carry my weight in specific areas on my body and I don’t have a big frame, but I look at myself in the mirror, in pictures taken of me, and it’s clear: I am fat.

So I hated myself for that. Granted, it wasn’t the only thing I hated myself for, but it was a big one. It was especially bad because I’ve always been this huge believer in romance, someone who once believed if I wasn’t married by 19 (why 19? I was reading a lot of historical fiction, okay, it’s fine) my life would have no meaning. And in the books I read, the heroines didn’t look like me. Oh, for sure, they were still white, which is a big issue of representation, and sometimes they even had frizzy hair or noses they didn’t like; but they weren’t fat.

They were never fat.

And so, I bought into the belief that nobody would love a fat girl.

When I was 23, I read DUMPLIN’, a YA novel by Julie Murphy, and it meant everything to me. So much so, I even wrote about it for Bustle. A fat heroine, whose journey isn’t about losing weight, and a love interest who thinks she’s beautiful just the way she is?

Revolutionary.

That’s how I feel about THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE (Simon Pulse, May 14), written by Sandhya Menon, whose previous two YA romcoms are both deliciously sweet, and whom I interviewed two years ago.

From the book’s blurb: “Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat.”

That description hits me because it’s so...multi-dimensional. Sweetie isn’t just a fat character who has no other qualities or personality traits. Her reason for existing as a protagonist isn’t merely to check off a box: yes, the fat character is there, carry on then.

Sweetie is as real a person as she can be while remaining … fictional. In addition to the traits listed above, readers learn within mere pages of the book that Sweetie is a girl with a fraught relationship with her mother; a big factor in what makes their relationship tense is her clothing size.

In a preface to the book, Menon shares that she, while thin at the moment, has in the past been fat. She explained her desire to write, specifically, conversations between Sweetie and her mother in which the teen daughter received this pervasive message that fat is bad, thin is good. No matter how many times Sweetie tries to remind her mother that my body is healthy, my body is strong, I am an athlete and I am good at it and I am not ashamed, her mother cannot or will not hear her.

I asked Menon about this in an interview I sent her, you know — what was it like to write these conversations so many young girls have with their mothers, and to have Sweetie put her foot down and say there’s nothing wrong with being fat?

“I wanted it to be there in very clear terms, in black and white, with no ambiguity, that even mothers have no right to say fat-shaming things to their children,” she answered. “Even if it’s coming from a place of love or fear or desperation, it has everything to do with the messages the parents themselves have internalized and very little to do with reality.”

Although Menon specifically chose to write Sweetie as a South Asian, fat athlete, both to reflect experiences she had and to show South Asian teenagers having the same experiences what it might look like to accept themselves as they are, she acknowledged that communities all around the world struggle to fully accept fat bodies.

“I want to start having these conversations about what it means to be fat and happy in your own skin, and how thin people can be more supportive of their fat loved ones,” she said.

Honestly…these are exactly the kind of conversations I want to start having with my loved ones…and with myself. There were so many moments in the book where I just had to close it (metaphorically…I read it in Kindle format on my phone, so there’s really no “closing,” but you get the picture), close my eyes, and just breathe.

I don’t think there’s a person living in a fat body who hasn’t lived through having someone, be they stranger at the Farmer’s Market or grandparent or close friend or stranger on the Internet, think they had a right to discuss our body: with us, behind our back, as a call-out or an intervention or cloaked with a sheen of concern.

It begins to seem as though everywhere fat people turn there’s a voice telling us we’re disgusting, unworthy, lazy, somehow less-than everyone around.

Every voice which counteracts these negative ones — every fat actor who scores roles that don’t mock fatness; every comedian who’s able to make it through a set without even one fatphobic joke; every fashion brand making plus sizes that don’t cost additional arms and legs; and every author writing about badass fat characters who don’t need to lose the weight to learn they are beautiful, smart, lovable…each of these voices is precious.

I think one thing that makes THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE ring so true to me is because it comes from a place of authenticity for the author. Menon has been there. She has been fat. She has had the conversations Sweetie has to have. She has felt the sting of someone judging her in the street, and the shame that brings, even while questioning why we’re letting someone else’s poor judgement bring us shame.

“All of my fiction thus far has had hints of autobiography,” she said, explaining that each of her characters’ main obstacle are things she herself has worked through. “All of these are deeply personal struggles from my own life, and I wouldn’t know what it feels like to write without pulling from that pool…that level of honesty makes the story feel so much richer and, I think, leads to a more fulfilling storytelling experience for both writer and reader.”

She’s right: there’s something comforting about knowing that the character you’re reading, the one who looks like you and is being hurt like you have been, was written by someone who understands. Someone who, having been through it, won’t be careless in her handling of that hurt, won’t make you hurt again.

At the end of the day, as much as THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE is a powerful book about self-acceptance and body positivity, it’s also a young adult rom-com. And knowing that the author herself had experienced the same things the character goes through makes it easier to read the book with almost a sigh of relief, a knowledge that you’re not going to get your heart broken this time.

And you won’t. The cover doesn’t lie. First of all, it’s a nod to a super adorable scene; but secondly, that joy that sparkles through Sweetie (and her cover model)’s eyes? It’s sprinkled throughout the whole book. It’s uplifting and cute and, simply, adorable.

If you need something to read this summer that is both pure sweetness as well as uplifting and empowering, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE is, really, the perfect choice.