by Rénee Ahdieh
I’VE ALWAYS HAD a fondness for cultures. I think people are infinitely interesting, and their history—a fountain of knowledge. Rénee Ahdieh artfully crafts a culturally exotic and vivid backdrop to delight the senses in her retelling of A Thousand and One Nights with The Wrath and the Dawn.
Khalid, 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.
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.
When Shahrzad’s friend, Shiva, falls victim to Khalid, she does the unthinkable—she volunteers to be his next bride. Night after night, she beguiles him with enchanting stories to ensure her survival. And with each passing dawn, she discoveries that she is falling in love with this monster. Despite her feelings, she is determined to uncover the truth, no matter the cost.
There were so many enjoyable aspects to this story. Never before have I read a story in which I felt such a complete cultural emersion. Before I even realized it, I was no longer reading words on a page but waltzing through vaulted marble corridors, savoring “steaming, buttery basmati rice with bright orange saffron”, and adorning in luxurious sirwal and silk shamla fashion.
The characters are as fascinating as the culture they live in. My favorite is Despina, handmaiden to Shahrzad. She steals every scene she’s in. I looked forward to her perfectly polished physicality, refined haughty flair, and sarcastic witty remarks. The dialogues between the characters were addictive and smart. Despina and Shahrzad’s were especially fun to read because it was lighthearted and comedic. I enjoyed it when Despina would address Shahrzad as “Brat Calipha” when she was being unreasonable and impetuous. Their friendship was quite endearing.
The romance hints of a love triangle, but I didn’t interpret it that way. I saw a love that started as a teenage infatuation with one person and transformed into a deeper, soul-binding love with another. Shahrzad is a very passionate person. There was only but a brief moment—a kiss on the balcony—that showed her uncertainty. But, after that, her heart resided firmly with one person. There was no waffling, at least not in this first installment. Whew.
The culture, dialogue, characters, and romance offer levity to an otherwise darkly disturbing story. I’m pulled to the anguish and eerie emotions laden throughout the story. When the truth of Khalid’s secret was finally revealed, it was a bit anticlimactic—fell flat for me. I was glad to finally be enlightened, but the reason was unsatisfying. I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not that. It left me incredible sad that many innocent lives were taken for that reason.
I knew when I started The Wrath and the Dawn that it is a series. I expected a cliffhanger of a sort. But as far as endings go, this one feels incomplete, and not substantial as a standalone book. I kept waiting for the story to expand beyond the scope of their relationship, to explore further the consequences of Khalid's unfulfilled deaths, the possibility of the rebellion, and an uncle bent on stealing his kingdom. The Rose and the Dagger cannot come soon enough.
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