The short: 3/5 ✦. The complex and interesting plot turned out to be neither, and with a tidy ending that was a little too neat.
I admit that I didn’t know what I expected or even wanted from this book. I guess for Khalid to break the curse and then he and Shazi live happily ever after or whatever (look, just because I thought their romance was a bit insta-lovey and sappy doesn’t mean I’m immune to its charms).
And I mean, yeah, I guess I got what I wanted. Since this is the second and final book of this duology, it’s not too spoilery to say that it all works out.
I just didn’t like how it did.
In the first part of the book, frankly, nothing happens. I appreciate the period of reflection we get after the previous book’s events — that’s realistic and not always done properly. But here, it felt like Ahdieh had outlined for either a much larger book or a much shorter one. With only ~400 pages to work with, interpersonal reflection takes up valuable space for story movement and character development, and sadly, The Rose and the Dagger lacks in both. The problem is likely in the very simple plot resolution that is the breaking of the curse and Khalid and Shazi to be together. Once these are solved (and rather anticlimactically, unfortunately), what else is there to do? Sure, the magic references get a bit of exploration, but it ends up being more about Khalid than Shazi, and Ahdieh attempts to further develop the side characters, but Tariq simply gets dragged deeper into love (tri)angle territory, Shazi’s sister and her little B-plot is used for drama purposes that fall totally flat, and the characters that, y’know, were actually likable in The Wrath and the Dawn (Despina, for one), don’t even appear until near the climax, and then there’s an attempt at a plot twist that isn’t really one but it kind of is? and maybe you might feel emotions about it but probably not. And as for the ending . . . well, if you weren’t a fan of Harry Potter‘s epilogue, you probably won’t like this one either.
All in all, it just feels like there was an attempt to throw story spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick but without having much to work with in the first place. I’m not really blaming Ahdieh, either; though the first book had its problems, it was still a well-crafted world with a fascinating premise. If anything, splitting the difference between these two books and making them one big book probably would’ve been better and the rather tight plot wouldn’t have felt so stretched out.
Header image: The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh, published April 26th 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers