This isn’t the kind of post I usually do, it’s a lot more chaotic and niche than my usual content. I try to make my posts appeal to as many people as possible, but this one might be the exception, because this one is more for me than anyone else. And for fans of the series, or just people who’ve read it in general, because the rest of you will have no clue as to what I’m talking about. Oops? Read the series, though!!!!
Here’s the thing, I finished the Empire of Gold a few days ago and I have a lot of feelings. It’s the last book in my favorite series of all time and the more I read it the more intense and passionate feelings I started having about Nahri’s romantic prospects.
Just as a preface, I want to say that this isn’t a comparison post between Danahri (Dara x Nahri) and Nahli (Ali x Nahri). If you’ve read my reviews for either The City of Brass or The Kingdom of Copper, it’s no secret to you that I ship Nahri with happiness, I don’t care for her ending up with anyone. But. BUT she objectively and undeniably has more chemistry and romantic pull with Dara in one scene than she does with Ali in all three books combined. That being said, that’s not what I’m here to discuss, I want to talk about why Nahri’s feelings for Ali are anything but romance and why that doesn’t make them any less important.
the majority of this post will have spoilers for the first two books in the series but not for The Empire of Gold. I will be getting into EoG details but will mark the beginning and end of the spoilers, so this is safe for you to read even if you still haven’t read the last book.
Let’s start off with the circumstances Nahri grew up in, because that’ll help us better understand what happens and why later on. Nahri grew up an orphan, alone in the streets of Cairo, being abandoned and pushed away by people because of a mysterious power not even she understands. Which forced her to become a thief and a con-woman to survive. Fast forward a few years, Nahri is still alone, doesn’t have any friends (besides Yaqub, who is a saint), doesn’t trust anyone and can only rely on herself.
Fast forward a few years again, after the event of The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper, Nahri is surrounded by enemies including her own mother who’s out to kill her, has been betrayed by the man she loves a handful of times, including when she sided with her mother, and the only person who’s consistently been by her side is Ali. The only person who seriously worked on earning her trust and supporting her endeavors, the only person who’s naive idealism for Daevabad matches hers, and the only one willing to go the extra mile for her. What do you call that? I call it love. No, not romance. Just love. Deep and genuine and unconditional. Still platonic though. Always platonic.
After a lifetime of loneliness, Nahri can finely open up to someone and trust them. For the first time, she can finally unload her burden and have someone by her side to shoulder it with her, she can finally exhale. That person is Ali.
Add that to the fact that at the end of The Kingdom of Copper, each other is all they have in this world. They’ve seen their homes destroyed, lost their loved ones and have witnessed thousands of their people slaughtered, all of that just to wake up stranded a thousand miles away, magic broken, and the literal weight of the world on their shoulders. That’s a huge amount of trauma. And if I know anything about the human psych, it’s that going through trauma strengthens a relationship, it ultimately gives it a sense of intensity and urgency that wouldn’t be there otherwise. When you’ve been through something that only one other person can understand, that person becomes your beacon, your compass, a necessity. It can be unhealthy, but it’s mostly harmless. Here, it falls on the harmless side of thing.
All of this still doesn’t make it a romance.
I do understand the confusion though. These feelings being passed as romantic shows me two things. The first one is that we misunderstand trauma, most people don’t have a full grasp of the extent and effects of trauma and the way it shapes relationships, because what I saw passed as romance between Nahri and Ali is two people going through the same traumatic events and being each other’s only lifelines in the process, having no one else to rely on but themselves and each other and that’s bound to change some things. It’s bound to create bonds that are different from what people perceive as your classic friendship. then there’s the matter of that increasing the intensity of the feelings, which is the second thing I’ll talk about below.
We live in an inherently amatonormative society, a society that values romantic relationships above all else and automatically treats platonic relationships as less. We’re conditioned to associate intense feelings with romantic feelings but here’s the thing, the intensity of feelings doesn’t change their nature, intense feelings can occur in friendship, familial relationships and queerplatonic relationship as well. I think that this confusion is what makes so many aro people conflicted about our identities, the fact that we have intense feelings that aren’t romantic and society around us keeps insisting and enforcing on us that because our feelings run deep then they surely *must* be romance. That took me years to unpack, so the fact that this same notion is enforced on my favorite character makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Start of Empire of Gold Spoilers
There’s no doubt about Ali’s romantic feelings for Nahri from The Kingdom of Copper, but in the Empire of Gold, spending so much time one on one, sharing trauma, saving each other over and over again, Nahri starts being attracted to Ali. And that’s all it is, physical attraction, not once does she voice any romantic feelings for him. Ali is Nahri’s best friend. The first friend she’s ever made, and not once does she refer to him as anything but a friend. Time and time again. And I think that it’s really important to discern between romantic feelings and physical attraction, one doesn’t equal the other, and it’s entirely too possible to be physically attracted to someone you have no romantic feelings whatsoever for. And that’s how I read Nahri’s situation. A woman alone, hurt and confused with the only person she’s ever been able to completely trust.
Even in that scene where Ali and Nahri kiss in the Empire of Gold, I still didn’t see the romantic feelings in it. I saw the desperation, the urgency, the need for her to have something to remember her best friend -who might very likely never come back- to anchor herself and remember every part of him. That physical intimacy felt like the only thing that two of them hadn’t shared and in the long term, it did not change their relationship.
This is especially evident to me at the end of the book. The farthest thing from Nahri’s thoughts is romance. When she thinks of building a future, she thinks of her people, her hospital, of rebuilding Daevabad with her loved ones around her, with Subha, Muntadhir, Jamshir, Elashia, Razu and yes, even Ali beside her, but she mostly doesn’t make Ali stand out of the bunch. And when she’s asked she says as much. She says she wants to lay down roots and see what grows. She does consider companionship with Ali in the far future when she has healed and helped her home heal, but that’s the thing, she considers companionship, not romance. Again, never once in the book does she entertain the idea of romantic ties with Ali.
End of Empire of Gold spoilers
The fact that companionship is equated with romance, friendship means less and the dissatisfaction with this specific relationship being platonic rubs me the wrong way. Especially since there’s genuinely no chemistry between the two characters. Their friendship is so important to Nahri and so pivotal to the series, it helped her heal, it was the foundation on which Daevabad started healing again, because it was the two of them coming together that made that happen. So I don’t like seeing it being reduced to a “just” a relationship we have to settle for when/if romance doesn’t happen, because it is MORE important than romance.
A romance will never beat having Ali by her side, helping her heal and showing her that she’s neither cursed or broken because she loses the people she loves. And Nahri choosing to go without romance doesn’t mean she’s lonely or that she somehow failed, it means that she values and prioritizes other things, it means that she’s surrounded by people who love her enough they’ve filled that hole that grew and festered inside of her her whole life. She doesn’t need romance for that.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.