A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights
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.
I am not well versed on the classic tales in One Thousand and One Nights, although like most people I am cognizant of some of its classic stories such as Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. And, Renée Ahdieh’s novel is contemporarily derived from this classic work. The Wrath & The Dawn is a romance novel but it is set against the backdrop of heartwrenching secrets, dangerous political games, and undiscovered magic. I found the book to be quite enthralling in its narrative, seductive in its prose, and compelling in its characterization.
I found the characters in Ahdieh’s novel to be very fascinating. Shahrzad, who is the lead character in the novel is a very strong and compelling female character in the novel who starts out with a heart full of revenge, but ultimately finds something more to live for beyond a past that threatens to swallow her up in guilt and anger. I have to admit that the other lead character, Khalid, was a very interesting character to read. Whilst the premise of the book starts off by seeking to portray him as a monster, he is a character that demands to be heard, and his complexity demands that we understand him from the very first page of the book. The author must be commended for this because this is not an easy feat to pull off. Her narrative demanded that we not dismiss his story even before we have enough faith to believe in it. I think my favorite character in the book is Jalal, the captain of the guard and Khalid’s cousin. Jalal is fiercely protective, beautifully optimistic, and gratefully humorous, so much so that you cannot help but fall in love with him from the very first page.
Now, her characters are not without their flaws and neither is the narrative that defines them. I think that in some instances in the book the author does not deeply explore the emotional complexity of the characters in various scenes. But, she does a very good job at relaying the tensions the characters feel. The tensions that Shahrzad and Khalid feel towards duty and discovery, anger and hope, revenge and love. A huge plus in this book with respect to its characters is the diversity in the novel. Young Adult novels lack diverse characters. Its so bad that authors do not need to go through the dance of describing their characters to us because we can safely assume them to be Caucasian characters. But, this book gives expression to more diverse characters and gives vision to what the world of young adult books will be like if the authors entertain diversity, and that vision is wonderfully amazing. So, thumbs up to diverse characters and diverse authors.
The author does a good job of setting up a unique world within the context of beloved, classic stories. I found the world to be quite enthralling, and I found myself yearning to know more about the world and understand the politics, the history, and the magic that invigorates it. Now, like the characters, the world is also not perfect. I think that magic plays a very important role in the world, yet the author does not spend a lot of time building or developing the magic. Scenes where magic is talked about or utilized are not flushed out more and remain vague to the reader. Perhaps this is intentional on the author’s part. Perhaps her plan is to develop magic more in her second book, as the ending of the first book does seem to set out magic as a central theme in the second book. Regardless, this took away from the book but it also added to the anticipation that it sought to build for the second book. In the end, one will simply want to read the sequel just to see how magic is developed and plays out in the series (I think its a duology).
This book is beautifully done and Renée Ahdieh must be commended greatly for a powerful debut into the Young Adult novel world. I welcome the other stories that she seeks to tell and I can guarantee you that reading The Wrath & The Dawn will leave a feeling of anticipation in you as well. The most powerful asset of this book is the ability to retell an age old story of looking past what we think we know about someone and giving their humanity a chance. We are forced to explore the main characters more deeply and break through the shells of who we think they are. But, more than this, Ahdieh does not simply retell this old story, but she almost dares us to disagree with its veracity, its possibility, its strength, and its hope. In the end, I find that I cannot, and neither will you.