The short: 3.5/5 ✦. An extremely well-done take on a classic tale, with luscious prose and amazing characters – though the torrid romance lingers a bit too long on the sappy.
I totally judge books by their cover. If it doesn’t catch my eye or intrigue me in any way, then I’m not likely to pick it up. To be fair, most covers make their genre placement quite clear, so for the most time, I’m able to avoid the horror/romance/supernatural sector quite easily without getting a book’s hopes up when I pull it out of the shelf only to quickly replace it. Usually I’m fairly lenient and will at least read the inside blurb before fully deciding on whether to buy/check it out. As I mentioned in one review, I’m not a fan of love triangles or girl/boy instantly falling in love with totes hottie other boy/girl and they are so in love, so so much love – and not much else advances the plot. If that’s the first paragraph of the description, fuggedaboudit.
That being said, I’m not sure I would’ve gotten The Wrath & the Dawn. The only reason I did was because of the high praises it’s been getting, especially from the We Need Diverse Books crowd. The summary sounded pretty awesome at first – a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights? Sassy ladies plotting murder? Great! But I balked at the tag: “Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?”
Ehhh . . .
Basically, I was a bit hesitant going in, and I’m happy to say I was largely proven wrong. Yes, the main character, Shahrzad plans to kill the Caliph for murdering her best friend and countless other women, and falls in love with him instead. It’s a traditional trope of emotional redemption and love conquering all, since there’s really no other reason why Khalid would spare her life (good thing she’s pretty!). Naturally, he’s not as evil as he appears, and it certainly helps that he’s moodily handsome and has a fiery presence that matches Shazi’s (though he’s slightly less annoying). You root for them both once you realize the truth (which you probably will, way before Shazi – the foreshadowing is set up from page one), even if you’re more prone to eye-rolling during makeout scenes.
Nothing I’ve said so far is a spoiler, since it was all stated in the inside synopsis, which I actually disliked and yet also found necessary. If you started reading this book cold, it would take you awhile to realize exactly what the Caliph did to deserve Shazi and the entire city’s hatred, since it’s not outright stated that he marries and kills his brides every day until quite a few chapters in. You have to rely on knowing at least that basic fact before truly understanding what’s going on and what’s at stake. But if you did read the blurb, then you know there’s something else going on and that they fall in love with each other, so you pretty much spend the first half of the book eagerly waiting for that to happen.
That’s not really a fault of The Wrath & the Dawn, of course, it’s a very common occurrence, and I’m sure the authors rarely have any say in what gets put there. This book was just obviously set up to be more mysterious, and I think I might’ve appreciated parts of it a bit more if I didn’t already know what was going to happen. On one hand, I appreciated the slowness because Shazi’s hatred slowly dissipating feels more realistic to me than instalove, but it also meant I was pretty impatient. Like:
In any case, that’s a small nitpick, and the only other reason it didn’t garner a full four stars is because the prose was a little too purpley for my tastes. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the descriptions of the food, the scenery, and the clothes, especially. I could visualize quite clearly what every character looked like (Despina is the boss lady of all time, give her ALL the awards), but there’s only so many times Khalid’s “tiger eyes” and Shazi’s “tangled mane” can be described. It’s beautiful writing, to be sure, it just became route and tiresome after awhile when it came to the romantic sections.
Well, it wasn’t that bad, but I wanted more action and more story! It’s only after Khalid finally tells Shazi his secret that the plot really picks up, and all the side-stories come together into an truly epic finale that will have you stalking The Rose & the Dagger‘s Goodreads page for its release date. (Sometime in 2016, btw.)
I really did enjoy this book, even if I didn’t connect to it as emotionally as I felt I should, and I was pleasantly surprised by the side steps into different character’s perspectives, as it kept it much more organic and flowing. Ahdieh makes you feel for all the characters, not just Khalid and Shazi, and there’s also subtle magic references that are excitingly enticing. I’m hoping for more of that in the next book, as well as more backstory for Shazi (there’s a lot of telling instead of showing) and the other characters.
Header image: The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, published May 12, 2015 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers