The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Series: The Wrath and the Dawn #1 (1/2)
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on May 12, 2015
Genres: [Young Adult] Fantasy, Retelling
Buddy Read With: Lois at My Midnight Musings
4 Stars, Completed July 7, 2016
– this review is very long; you can read the bold text to get the main idea and to avoid major SPOILERS –
“…the thing that I have learned above all is that no individual can reach the height of their potential without the love of others. We are not meant to be alone, Shahrzad. The more a person pushes others away, the clearer it becomes he is in need of love the most.”
The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling inspired by the classic, One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories. In the original tale, a king learns of his wife’s infidelity and executes her. Out of bitterness and distrust, he then begins a cycle where he takes a virgin bride each night and kills her the next morning before she can commit any acts of crime against him. Then one girl, Scheherazade, the daughter of the king’s vizier, breaks this horrifying routine by defying the odds. She becomes the king’s next bride, and each night she cleverly tells him a story but also just begins another. This cunning tactic ensures Scheherazade’s safety because the king becomes too intrigued to kill her the next dawn, and thus she survives for 1001 nights (and hence the birth of the compilation of stories). The Wrath and the Dawn follows this storyline loosely with its own twists along with a touch of magic. And, of course, this time the Shahrzad in the retelling finds herself falling in love with the tormented monster king.
“After all, every story has a story.”
Oh gosh, be prepared for an incredibly long review (like extra, “more than Summer’s usual” long). I just have so much I’d like to share after reading this wonderful debut novel by Renée Ahdieh.
As my pre-review had mentioned, I dived into The Wrath and the Dawn with extremely high expectations after all the praise and stellar reviews it seemed to have received after its release.
Initially, the first 150 pages were pretty underwhelming for me. I can see where the inspiration of 1001 Nights begins because Shahrzad does quite a lot of storytelling the first few nights she spends with the king. Perhaps, in real life, she’d make a pretty convincing and engaging storyteller, but seeing as readers have to read these stories themselves via her dialogue I didn’t really care for these excerpts, which were literally paragraphs of passages. They were just too long and unexciting.
However, this didn’t really deter me from liking The Wrath and the Dawn because there was one greatly redeeming quality: the romance.
“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” he whispered.
“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.” The weapons still in her grasp, she shoved against his chest.
“No.” His hands dropped to her waist. “Destroy me.”
I’ve had protagonists that I’ve admired (Hermione from HP, Kestrel from The Winner’s Trilogy, etc); I’ve had plenty of book crushes (Jem from The Infernal Devices, Wes from The Truth About Forever, etc); and, sure, I use OTP liberally in my reviews and casually ship fictional couples all the time (Kell and Lila from A Darker Shade of Magic, Annabel and Owen from Just Listen, etc). But, everyone, Khalid and Shazi make the golden OTP in fictional literary history for me. This may just well be my favorite YA romance of all time. No couple in YA literature has ever had a duo that complemented each other so well as Shazi and Khalid or have had such a great hold on my fangirl’s heart as them. Happy sigh. I just ship them so hard, okay?
“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.”
Shahrzad doesn’t seem to standout in comparison to other heroines. She’s supposedly beautiful, witty, and sharp-tongued, which are attributes that aren’t really uncommon for “strong” female leads. However, this doesn’t make her by any means unlikable. By the end of this first installment, I really grew fond of her. One of Shazi’s best qualities was her bold fearlessness. And, as befitted a queen, she was graceful, elegant, and beguiled in many ways. Some may argue that her initial determination with revenge was easily broken, which I do agree (and will touch upon later in this review), but I’d say that she grew a newfound purpose of protecting something else equally important to her as avenging her best friend’s death. (Theme: forgiveness overshadowing revenge.)
But what made this relationship even better was the male counterpart. Though mysterious, the earliest thing that caught my attention with Khalid is that he rarely lies and he’s a man of his word-the first sign that he couldn’t be as bad as he’s rumored to be. He’s not only honest, but sensitive, self-sacrificing, among many other pleasant characteristics. But more importantly, Khalid respects and admires women. He expresses that he sees Shahrzad as his equal and actually treats her so.
“People fall in and out of love with the rising and setting of the sun. Rather like a boy who loves the color green one day, only to discover on the morrow that he truly prefers blue.”
But he’s also flawed in that he’s easily provoked, has quite a nasty temper, and is wary of love.
So, basically, I feel like Khalid could make an ideal fictional book boyfriend for many. (Don’t worry, I’m not at all shaken. I’m still entirely loyal to my fictional crush, Jem Carstairs, but after The Wrath and the Dawn, I could write up an appreciation post just dedicated to Khalid Ibn al-Rashid, because he’s just that charming and lovable.)
“You have a beautiful laugh. Like the promise of tomorrow.”
(Oh, how I love this quote!) This quote, as many others from the book, are completely ordinary. It may seem like characters from other books could pull off the same script. Yet, I found the simple dialogue to work so exclusively well for the cast in The Wrath and the Dawn. For example, with the one above, I wouldn’t be bothered if someone else said it, but when Khalid does it holds a lot of meaning. After all, he has the reputation of a murderous monster king that kills his young brides by the dawn of the next day. For that reason, I find this romantic declaration ironic but significant, too. The Wrath and the Dawn can be quite cheesy in script at times, yet it works for me.
As for the supporting cast, I very much enjoyed the appearances the other characters made. At first, when the full cast was introduced with their first and (similar) last names it was overwhelming, but I soon found myself comfortably remembering each for their distinct personalities.
And, of course, there always has to be an antagonist. It’s hard to pinpoint who that is in The Wrath and the Dawn. Perhaps, Salim, Reza, or even Jahandar would fit the role. However, though I’m not sure if he’d make the main villain, it was Tariq that annoyed the heck out of me. His intentions were probably good but his character was so dumb and condescending, and therefore infuriating to read. Both me and Lois were so peeved that Tariq assumed that the only way Shazi could fall in the love with the king instead of him, her childhood crush, was Stockholm Syndrome-and this was even after Shazi’s protests and explanations. Like what an arrogant ass! And I also didn’t like that they (Tariq and Reza) were planning to riot against the king and create a war just because of Shazi (pretty much). I was so tempted to skip every single Jalal, Rahim, and Reza point of view because I was that irritated. Yet, I wouldn’t say my rating is based on my dislike for Tariq. I have other reasons that prevented me from giving this book 5 stars.
So, yes, with all this infinite praise, why 4 stars? (Warning! The answers to this question are spoilers.)
Prior to picking up The Wrath and the Dawn, I did read several well written negative reviews from reviewers I trust. And they were certainly right on one account: Shahrzad becomes attracted to Khalid and her resolve to exact revenge for her best friend’s murder dissolves rather quickly-to be precise in 2 days.
My problem wasn’t the fact that she was falling in love with Khalid, aka the murderer of her best friend. Yes, that does sound very wrong. But, in a way, I totally could understand that because before reading the book or any reviews I knew that Khalid couldn’t have been innately bad and he had to have a reason for the murders. (I sort of digress… But, from Shazi’s perspective, of course, falling in love with your best friend’s killer is horrifying. However, I believe we should also imagine ourselves in Khalid’s position as well. If you were cursed as he was, what would you do? Not save your people when you know you’re capable? Also, 100 women seems far less than what 100 is a thousandfold… But then again, it’s still murder, which is still very corrupt and horrific. The entire killing the brides ordeal will always be controversial, but in this fictional tale there is an explanation, whether it be valid enough depends on the reader. Personally, I fall under the group that’ll take this elucidation. But, seriously, thank goodness this is a work of fiction.) Also, as I mentioned earlier in my review, I like the idea of forgiveness overshadowing revenge. However, what I didn’t like was that Shahrzad-someone that is supposed to be so stubborn and determined-could easily be swayed in such a short amount of time. I guess if it took her 2 weeks instead of 2 days for her resolve to crumble the book would be more slower paced, yet I still feel like that route would have been more believable and appease me more. Shazi having conflicted feelings after the 48 hours just didn’t seem right and felt rushed.
I was also disappointed by how little magic is involved with the story. We do get a glimpse of it with Musa, Jahandar, the stories, the curse, and the carpet. But there wasn’t much aside from these brief moments to my dismay.
Okay, so I trust that I’ve discussed all the points that I wanted to touch upon. Let’s end this review before it reaches over 2,000 words.
After the immense hype, I was skeptical, and I certainly had qualms with the less than engaging start, but by the end I totally melted into a puddle of feels. The Wrath and the Dawn turned out to be far from flawless, but still a captivating journey that I grew to love nevertheless. The evocative descriptions of the clothing, food, and setting inspired by Middle Eastern traditions are so lush; the cast is so charming and endearing; and the romance is beyond swoonworthy. I highly, highly recommend this title to those that can appreciate a good romance in a YA fantasy story.