Title: The Wrath & the Dawn
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)
Genre: YA, fantasy, romance
Narrator: Ariana Delawari
Trigger Warning: rape
In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old 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. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.
Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?
Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.
I was so, so, so excited to read this book. A young woman Shahrzad volunteers to become the next bride of the young Caliph of Khorasan. Not out of adoration, but pure revenge over the death of the previous bride, her best friend, Shiva. All citizens of Khorasan know that to be the Caliph’s wife is to sentence yourself to death, for no bride survives the first night. So, a story about going to the beast’s lair to get revenge over sisterly love? Hell yes!
In order to survive the night, and future nights until she can shank him, Shahrzad tells Khalid, the young Caliph story that contains another story. In other words: a story that cannot be told in just one night. Khalid, hating cliffhangers (a trait that I wholly relate to) decides to keep her alive.
This is where things get complicated (and later downhill for me in some respects). Tariq, Shahrzad’s childhood friend and first love decides to get her back, even if that means starting a war to do so. Jahandar, Shahrzad’s father, guilty for being powerless to stop his daughter from going, uses a book that unlocks immense powers of destruction. Meanwhile, the longer Shahrzad stays alive, the more she realizes that there is more to Khalid than a bloodthirsty Caliph that murders young women for apparently no reason. They end up falling in love. While Shahrzad slowly accepts her love despite feeling of guilt of loving a monster, Turiq and Jahandar return to Khorasan to get Shahrzad back at a high cost.
My feelings on this book are half and half. The writing is vivid and holds its own magic:
An attendant pushed through one set of doors to allow them passage, and Shahrzad walked into a terraced courtyard arranged like colossal steps in a descending staircase. The first of these terraces was filled with flowering trees and elaborate aviary enclosed on all sides by carefully wrought trelliswork. The sturdy acacia wood was covered with a thin layer of white paint and anchored by bolts of polished bronze. Lush blue-green grass flourished between pavestones of coarse granite.
Especially when describing food (I’m a sucker for food porn):
They marched in unison until they arrived before the dais, setting plates of food in front of each guest—aromatic rice with fresh dill and split fava beans, lamb simmered in a sauce of turmeric and caramelized onions, skewers of chicken and roasted tomatoes, fresh vegetables garnished with mint and chopped parsley, olives marinated in fine oil, lavash bread with rounds of goat cheese and seemingly endless sweet preserves…
Another plus was the frenemy relationship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden Despina. They kept each other on each other’s toes. While the setting and some characters were worth reading, it’s everything else that I start to cringe on. I’m a bit disappointed in Shahrzad to be honest. She was so hellbent on killing the king who killed her best friend, then suddenly falls for his “angled face and tiger eyes”? Even when she discovers the true reason of the murders, which is discovered to be a curse, she practically normalizes it, even so far as calling him “her beautiful monster”. Yes, she should feel sympathy, but Khalid’s actions throughout the book towards those around him and Shahrzad herself don’t justify (to me) her love for him. Khalid doesn’t tell Shahrzad his curse even when it directly affects her. His possessiveness and quick anger lead to people’s deaths. Shahrzad should hold him accountable. I don’t think I can really call this Stockholm Syndrome on Shahrzad’s behalf, but the growing “love” between the two protagonists made me think about this when pondering about their relationship.
I listened to the audiobook of this and I enjoyed it. Ariana’s voice is youthful and her enunciation and clear voice made the imagery of The Wrath & the Dawn come to life.
Verdict? I..don’t know..
The story is intriguing enough that I will read the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger, but with reservations.
I would have loved to see:
★Shiva and Shahrzad were lovers and Shahrzad was getting plain old revenge. She doesn’t necessarily fall for Khalid, but they become equal partners and aid in ruling Khorasan and getting rid of the curse.
★ OR, just getting rid of Khalid altogether—break the curse by killing Khalid (if that’s how it works and with his permission. He seemed pretty down to die) and becoming an amazing kick-ass Calipha.
*Update 2/28: I included a trigger warning for rape. Thanks to Sinead for the comments and discussion! For another review, go read her take on The Wrath & the Dawn, which also includes other review links of this discussion. I don’t think I’ll be up to reading the second installment of this series.