Yesterday was National Book Lover’s Day! So, in honor of all the bookworms out there and the semi-recent release of Renee Ahdieh’s second novel, The Rose and the Dagger, here is my review for her stunning debut novel and New York Times Bestseller, The Wrath and the Dawn.
In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.
Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?
This book is magical.
And I don’t mean magical in the sense that the book is filled with magic and spells. (There is magic involved but it is very subtle). I mean the story in of itself is magical. There is magic in the characters, the setting, the romance, and the prose as a whole.
One Thousand and One Nights is one of my favorite stories and so I found the premise of this book to be intriguing, especially considering the enhanced characterization of the female heroine. Not only is Shahrzad (the re-interpretation of classic Scheherazade) a clever and independent young woman, but she is also a vengeful daughter and friend, intent upon ending the life of the man who had taken the lives of many young women during his reign (including her best friend, Shiva) for reasons unbeknownst to the rest of the kingdom.
I had expected the structure of the story to be somewhat similar to that of the original story, but thankfully, Renee Ahdieh doesn’t place a great emphasis on the storytelling aspect of the original tale, but instead injects these brief storytelling moments into scenes of relationship-building and flourishing romance. And these moments are by far the best part of the novel and help the overall story seem fresh and original in its own right.
One of the most notable elements of this book is the characters. Shazi is a stubborn, headstrong girl of sixteen who volunteers to become the king’s new bride so that she may kill him as punishment for his supposed tyranny. Some would call her bossy and a bit of a brat (as she is often called by her equally sassy handmaiden, Despina) but it is clear that her character is a force to be reckoned with. Of course she has her weaknesses and of course the king manages to break down her walls and change her opinion of him, but despite this, Shazi manages to maintain her air of authority and frequently demonstrates her affinity for satire and perfunctory witty remarks.
She is a bit overwhelming at times and she may even be annoying, but with sharp barbed insults like
“I have no interest in…tiny cucumbers”
and reserved comments such as
“All our lives are forfeit, saayidi. It is just a question of when. And I would like one more day,”
it is hard not to crack a small smile at the very least. I actually found the witty banter between Shazi and anyone who dared to engage her somewhat similar to the witticisms found throughout Pride and Prejudice; however, both Shazi and Despina are far more brazen than their Austen counterparts.
Ahdieh manages to avoid the common pitfalls of a debut author (i.e. weak plot, uninteresting characters, literary clichés) by weaving together a story chock-full of sassy and bold characters (particularly Despina, Shazi, and Rahim) that are further enlivened by the author’s strong, vibrant language and vivid descriptions. I was glad the author avoided embellishing her story with purple prose, and focused more on the prose rather than the purple. Ahdieh’s writing creates a vibrant atmosphere within a lush setting that is abundant with scents, color, sound and the like that ultimately appeal to the senses. There was just enough description embedded throughout the story to where I did not feel like I had to skim extensive amounts of detail or say, “All right! Enough already.” (UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT: Unlike Shatter Me).
Despite the many successes of the novel, it is not without its faults. Khalid, the caliph, is a bit flat for a character as are many of the other men in the novel. His frequent lack of emotional expression and sudden bursts of romantic intention are too unbalanced. And his charm and charisma are near non-existent when placed in comparison to Jalal and Rahim. Even so, his harshness and occasional honesty are somewhat redeeming qualities to his character. On the other end of the spectrum is Tariq, the other male love interest, and while Khalid is a bit like a block of ice that needs to be melted, Tariq is a fire that needs to be tamed. There is no in-between for either of the characters. Both need further definition to make them more three-dimensional and unique in their respective personalities. Also, the reason behind the executions of Khalid’s wives is pretty weak and doesn’t necessarily coincide with the strength of the romance and major subplot.
Even so, the author has set some pretty strong foundations for the sequel. This novel was a lovely example of beautiful prose and mesmerizing storytelling, along with romantic tension and subtle magical elements. This book is an enthralling adventure that deserves a place on YA readers’ to-read shelf. And I’m sure The Rose and the Dagger will be another lovely addition to the YA fantasy bookshelves as well.
- Series: The Wrath and the Dawn
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (May 12, 2015)
- Genre: YA Fantasy, Romance
- My Rating: ★★★★☆