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.