Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Wrath & the Dawn - Renée Ahdieh

Summary: 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?(Summary from book flap - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I started listening to The Wrath & The Dawn while walking at my local high school track.  I was hooked fairly quickly by the opening chapters, the narrator's voice, Shahrzad's fiery nature, and the lavish middle eastern setting.  It was all so captivating that even as I kept listening I knew I would eventually start reading it so I could catch every nuance and soak it all in.  And so that's what I did.  I threw in the proverbial earbuds, picked up a hard copy, and started over.

The Wrath & The Dawn is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folk tales better known in English as Arabian Nights.  If I'm not mistaken, it had a touch of Beauty & the Beast woven in, as well.  It was delightfully romantic and mysterious, but also full of assassins, intrigue, and hints of magic.  One of my favorite aspects of the book was Shahrzad herself -- a fiercely determined young woman with a sharp mind, an even sharper tongue, and lethal skills of her own.  Shazi isn't about to be intimidated by anyone, not even the homicidal prince who just happens to be her new husband.  Of course, it isn't long before she realizes the prince isn't all that he seems, and that seriously complicates things for a girl whose sole purpose for marrying was to avenge the death of a beloved friend by murdering the man responsible.  The story takes some interesting turns from there, and has several subplots and supporting characters that enhance and amuse...but I'll let you discover those yourself.  Suffice it to say, I was never bored.

This story takes place in the city of Rey in the kingdom of Khorasan.  I wasn't sure until I finished the book and looked it up, but Khorasan is an actual land that historically encompassed much of what is now eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan (and several other 'stans').  There is even a much smaller province in Iran of the same name today.  I loved that the author chose to give the book a real, rather than fictional location and felt it added a little something extra to the story.  Though the setting is real, the story is laced with mystical undercurrents, dark magic, and bits of fanciful folklore (like flying carpets), which made for a lovely blend of fantasy and reality.

The Wrath & the Dawn's middle eastern setting was exquisitely-rendered, to the extent that I could close my eyes right now and visualize with ease not only the characters but the sumptuous cuisine, elegant clothing, bustling marketplace, and ornate architecture. If pressed, I might even be able to conjure up a smell or two. And, okay...it probably helped that I'd seen the live-action Aladdin recently and so I already had one foot in the door, but still....I. was. in. it.  I just adore that.  All that aside, there is a fine line an author must walk when setting a scene -- too little detail can leave a reader skimming the surface of the story and too much detail can drown the story or slow down its flow.  The author walked that line like she was stone-cold sober most of the time, but every so often she would overstep and the excess detail interfered with the momentum of the story.  It didn't bother me that much, but I did notice it enough times to merit a mention.  Still, I'd rather have too much than too little.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story for what it was -- a lovely little bit of escapism and a great balance of (moderately clean) romance, action, folklore, and adventure.  The book does end on a cliffhanger, so I will definitely be listening to and/or reading the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger, as soon as possible.  I believe Wrath and Rose are a duology and it's actually kind of marvelous to be able to read a series that doesn't take a kabillion years to finish.  Ahdieh has another duology set in feudal Japan (The Flame in the Mist and Smoke in the Sun).  I already have it on order.  I want to wait till I've read the next book to make the call, but I think I've found a new author to love (and binge read)!  HOORAY!

UPDATE:  While this review is posting in December, I wrote the review in August.  Since then I've had time to think about the book a bit more (and read the sequel) and there is one thing that is a little off to me that I feel it is important to mention. I don't want to take away from my original review because those are my actual feelings having just finished the book, but I still want to be honest as I sit here thinking about it.  To talk about it, I have to explain a bit so I have to throw up a warning...(SPOILER STARTS HERE) Shahrzad ends up marrying the Caliph early on in the story and they have a 'wedding night' of sorts.  It isn't graphic.  It's barely even mentioned.  I suppose the consummation of their marriage could be construed as rape from a modern perspective, though it seemed to me that it was more of a sacrifice Shazi was willing to make to exact her revenge.  However, later on in the story it is explained that the Caliph only ever was intimate with Shahrzad.  The big question is WHY?  Why her and none of his previous 'wives'?  I'm sure you could come up with a lot of explanations, but that whole scenario seemed odd to me and worth mentioning for anyone who might feel triggered by the way that relationship plays out.  (SPOILER ENDS HERE)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful of swearwords, mostly biblical in nature.  Several instances of marital intimacy, though two were only briefly inferred (like one sentence) and another was 'closed-door' but preceded by making out and the loss of some (but not all) clothes.

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