Lately I’ve been reading quite a few retellings and The Wrath and the Dawn
is a novel that has been on my to-read list for some time now. It’s inspired by A Thousand and One Nights
and it has taken the young adult genre by storm as of late. You can imagine my expectations was high, but I was yet again to be disappointed.
Shahrzad is a sixteen year old girl living in Khorasan, more specifically in the city of Rey. Also living in the city is the young caliph, the King of Kings, and a true monster. Every night he marries a new girl and every morning that girl is killed by him. No one knows why, but monsters doesn’t need a reason to be monsters. All Shahrzad knows is this: her best friend was chosen and married to the young boy-king then promptly killed, like all the other girls. The caliph, Khalid, has to pay for what he’s done and Shahrzad knows exactly how to go about.
After volunteering to marry the boy-king, Shahrzad spends the night with Khalid, telling him a story. A story that, when dawn arrives, still isn’t finished, which allows Shahrzad another day to live, so that she can finish the story. While she tries to put off being killed, Shahrzad seeks a weakness in Khalid so she can use it against him and kill the boy-king. But when the days pass and Shahrzad slowly gets to know Khalid, she sees that he’s not quite the monster she thought him to be. And that she, against all odds, starts falling in love with him.
I found this to be an interesting story and I liked it, but I never felt anything stronger for it. It was missing something, some spark that made the novel go from “this could be great” to “this was okay”. Author Renée Ahdieh spins a sweet love story, but I had a hard time connecting to it. I think the biggest problem was that I had difficulty getting close to the characters and see them as something real. They felt made-up, in every sense, which they are, but I don’t want to feel it. I want to be so invested in their story and their lives that it feels like I truly am a part of the story myself. The Wrath and the Dawn did not make me feel that way.
When it came to the characters, Shahrzad was the one I had the biggest problem with, which isn’t a good thing since she’s the protagonist. She’s sixteen as I mentioned, but acts at times like she’s thirty-five and at other times like she’s fourteen. I realize that Ahdieh wanted to make her fearless, but I only found her to be arrogant and too-much. She acts like she commands everything and that everyone needs to obey her, even though she’s only been a queen for a few days and everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before she dies. She has a love she left to pursue her revenge for her best friend but soon exchanges the love she feels for him, to the love she feels for Khalid. The boy-king gets under her skin fast, but what’s more amazing is how fast Shahrzad gets under his skin. It doesn’t take long before they fall for each other, even though they try to fight it and turn away from it at times, but the feelings are still there. Why, I’m not sure. Shahrzad reminds Khalid of his mother, she’s honest and almost too straight-forward, and she’s beautiful. That’s all Khalid knows about her. Shahrzad has a hard time getting to know Khalid and has to beg him, late in the novel, to reveal things about him, yet she still has feelings for him early on. I can’t really see why they fell in love, other than that the author wanted them too. That’s not enough for me.
The rest of the characters, Khalid, his cousin Jalal, Shahrzad’s first love Tariq and her handmaiden Despina, all felt alike. They all lacked that thing which is supposed to make them feel real. They were shells with no depth in their personalities and it annoyed me greatly. That said, I did like the background story in Khalid’s life and Jalal’s bickering, and Despina’s way of telling Shahrzad that she was arrogant and annoying. I just wanted more.
Another thing that bothered me was the lack of female characters and the fact that every male character seemed to trip over his own feet when he saw Shahrzad. She was beautiful and sharp, brave and silver-tongued. Every guy she met instantly liked her, whether it was Khalid and Tariq loving her or Jalal and Shahrzad’s friend Rahim, instantly treating her as a sister. The only female characters we meet besides Shahrzad and Despina is Shahrzad’s sister, who only appears briefly in the beginning of the novel, and Yasmine, who also only appears briefly and is said to be so gorgeous that men drool when they see her, and, of course, that she’s in love with Khalid. Shahrzad’s best friend who is killed by Khalid is only mentioned, as is Khalid’s late mother and his first wife. The rest of the characters are men and most of them adores Shahrzad, even when they try to hate her they end up liking her. This is not something I enjoyed.
This story is built on revenge and with that comes hurt, grief and death. Everyone tries to get revenge on everyone, pretty much, and it only ends up in one big mess with a war brewing outside of Rey. The only good thing here is that Shahrzad saw how wrong it was to get revenge on someone, because it will always only turn into a dark downward-moving spiral that will never end, only bring more hurt, more grief and more death. It gave me hope and it was actually something I really liked about Shahrzad. I just hope that more characters will see this, too, in the sequel.
I don’t think The Wrath and the Dawn lived up to its expectations, but it wasn’t a bad book. I liked it, but I didn’t found it to be amazing. However, I do have a soft spot for Khalid despite everything and I want to believe that Shahrzad has potential. For me there was nothing in the story making me crave to read it, it felt predictable and I wasn’t surprised even once throughout the entire story. I have, however, decided to give Ahdieh another chance and will pick up the sequel, in the hope that it’s better. I think it can be. I hope so.