The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh was a literal déjà vu for me. I have always had grand ideas of writing a novel or a short story or something, but I have never really gotten past the first few chapters. And I have no idea why. I love writing. I really do. It is just that whenever I try to write a cohesive story more than five or so pages long, the threads fall apart and I am left unsatisfied. There is always something, a thing that I cannot quite place, missing.
I feel this way with The Wrath and the Dawn too. The book, by all accounts, should be amazing. And it was. There was some small thing missing in the plot and character writing that I only realized after careful inspection, so I am here to share my thoughts.
Without further ado, here is the Amazon.com synopsis:
“Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.”
As you can see, the book is a retelling of the fairy tale One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights. While fairy tale retellings are a dime a dozen nowadays, with popular series like the Lunar Chronicles lining the shelves, I had never read a retelling of Arabian Nights prior to The Wrath and the Dawn. Now, I have seen two more adaptations spring up and I am sure more are on the way.
There is nothing really special about the plot, seeing as though it is adapted from another source. However, I do think that the book is its own entity: I say this because there are many differences between the original and this book, such as the fact that there is, in fact, a reason behind Khalid killing his wives. The mystery drives the plot, not really the stories Shazi tells. And so, I liked the plot, since I loved the mystery.
The world described in this book I absolutely adored! It is set in an era of magic and secrecy, with magic carpets and mystic men and is based on lore from Persia. I ate it up! The kingdom of Khorasan is a character in its own right.
I will start by saying this: there are multiple POVs in this book. I am more of a fan of single POV books, but I thought the changing POVs were a good edition and added to the mystery. With that being said, Shahrzad, or Shazi, is the main character of the book.
Shazi: Shazi is introduced on her wedding day and we immediately get a glimpse of her personality. She is strong willed, arrogant/extremely confident, and fairly oblivious. She wishes to believe that she is all-knowing, but she misses a lot, as she later finds out in the story. I like that she has flaws yet still is a certifiable badass. Too many times nowadays heroines are advertised as a “strong female protagonist” simply because they can use a knife or some other bullshit thing. Meanwhile, they are downright useless, stupid, or impractical. Shazi is not any of these, and I love it.
Khalid: Khalid, the boy-king or Caliph of Khorasan, is Shazi’s recent husband and wife-murderer. He is a deeply guarded character and we rarely get a glimpse at his personality. For all intents and purposes, he is a stony-faced mystery. Yet, I am reluctant to say he has NO personality. He does, he really does. And it comes out in his body language. If you are a dialogue reader and skip the descriptions, it sucks to be you. Khalid comes to life in the way his actions, movements, and facial expressions are detailed in The Wrath and the Dawn.
Despina: A handmaiden who serves Shazi while she lives at the palace, Despina becomes Shazi’s “friend”, though I am reluctant to call their relationship this. Despina is much wiser than Shazi in certain areas, but in some ways Shazi is more wise than her, and there is this whole dynamic between them that is friendly without them being “friends” per se. As a character, Despina holds up on her own, but there was nothing really shown of her without Shazi around. I think this is a little disappointing; I really wanted to learn more about her. *sigh* Alas, I shall have to wait for the sequel!
Jalal: Serving as a captain of the guard, Jalal is Khalid’s cousin and often his conscience. Jalal is arrogant and smug, but in a way that is more charming than repulsive. I liked him, but wish that I could have seen more from him, perhaps even from his POV.
Tariq: He is Shazi’s friend/love. He adores Shazi and would die for her, if that is what it would take to make sure she is happy. However, he is quite naïve in some of his pursuits and is out-witted about half of the time before he even realizes what is going on. On the whole, I liked him as a person, but I felt that he was kind of an unnecessary character and a deus ex machina in the end. The story’s progression was fairly obvious in regards to Tariq and he was a bit of an outside subject.
Jahandar: Jahandar is Shazi’s father. He loves his family very much, but is a little unstable now that his wife died and his daughter is marrying a murderer who kills all of his wives at dawn. Understandable. In the story he dabbles in magic, revealing his instability more and more. Call it personal taste or whatever, but I was never invested in his story like I was in the others. I am not going to say that he was a bad character, but he was okay and only okay.
The Rajput: A silent bodyguard/expert swordsman, the Rajput is a silent presence the entire time. Much like Khalid, some of his personality came through in his body language, but not nearly as much as Khalid. Overall, he was okay.
This is where I am very divided. On one hand, the writing is downright beautiful. There are some phrases and sentences that just have me swooning on the spot. Who could resist the allure of some of these?
Khalid froze in time. Then Shahrzad watched his face shatter. The eyes of molten amber faded to dull memory. Faded to ruin. His raw anguish seared her soul and robbed her of breath. The bloodstained shamshir fell to his side.
It tore at what professes to be my soul. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. A thousand, thousand times. At your knees, and it will never be enough.
And quite possibly my favorite:
One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.
That is some serious writing there. Being a musical person, I thoroughly appreciate the lyricism of the diction and syntax of this book. It is truly a marvel.
The impact of this prose is twofold. Sometimes it weaves itself in with the moment, resulting in some truly wondrous scenes. Sometimes, it fails to do this and creates a dichotomy within the book. I would note how great the writing was kind of like when you are in the movie theater and say “wow, that was some really great cinematography”. And that is exactly what is wrong with this book. Sometimes it feels like a film and you are the viewer; you have a firm grasp of what is going on and you really like it, but you are not in the story. You are not immersed in what is happening. The film keeps rolling by and you are the passive receiver rather than the active reader. In some spots where the writing really needed to pull it off, it split from the events and was beautiful to read but difficult to dive into.
All in all, though, the writing was really good. As this is the author’s debut novel, I am really expecting great things from one Renée Ahdieh.
You and I know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” is complete bullshit. Sure, it may be good in a symbolic sense, but in a literal sense it is stupid. OF COURSE people want to read books with interesting covers and cool artwork. Look at this and try to tell me that you are not intrigued:
Now this is a cover. Hell YEAH! It gives you a glimpse at the genre, the main character, and the central focus of the book in one image. A+ on design, Renée Ahdieh.
Let’s say that you are at the mall with some of your friends. You see someone and you’re like, “Holy shit, he/she is totally hot!” But there is always that one friend that points out the coffee stain or the crooked tooth or the awful pattern of the shorts. So now you are shit out of luck. You want to go back to that blissful state of enthrallment, but the slight imperfection is a neon sign in you head.
When I realized what about the writing bothered me, this is what happened. This book is one glorious package of intrigue, passion, and history, but I managed to find the bug in the rice. And it is all subjective.
After calculating the scores for the categories, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh get a score of:
I recommend that you buy this book at your earliest convenience and give it a go. I am sure you will not be disappointed 🙂