The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2015.
As The Wrath and the Dawn was preparing to be released, the hype surrounding this novel skyrocketed and continued to do so for weeks after its release. During these times, I heard nothing but great reviews, and the summary sounded great, especially due it being a Thousand and One Nights retelling, so I finally got my hands on it. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this nearly as much as I had hoped.
The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of the Arabian Nights that centers upon the Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid, who is known for taking many new wives and having them killed by the morning after their wedding night. Shahrzad is a sixteen-year-old girl who has lost a dear friend to Khalid, and vows to willingly become his next bride in order to take revenge for her friend and all of the women Khalid has killed. And then, of course, there are a variety of complications and events that make this a much more involved story.
I wanted to like this so badly, I really did... but I just didn't. The writing was beautiful, but the content of the story did not match the quality of the writing itself. Retellings are supposed to be imaginative and colorful, and this simply wasn't either of those. I felt very detached from the dialogue, characters, and plot, and I felt like once I was finally beginning to get to the meat of the plot in the very last few pages of the book - poof, it was over.
One of my biggest issues was with the magical elements that were so incredibly sparse throughout the story; they almost acted as a tease. There was enough magic to make it noticeable and, of course, useful, but it was severely lacking. It was used so briefly that I was left wondering what its purpose was and why it wasn't brought in sooner. Khalid's issues with magic seemed odd, and Shahrzad's own traits were hardly developed and only created more questions. The only good side to this is that there are plenty of topics to cover in the second novel.
The most disappointing thing is that Shahrzad is all talk and no bite, which I both liked and disliked. It's realistic, because many people (including myself) often talk fiercer than we actually are. However, in this book and with this character, I expected more. She vows and threatens to kill the caliph to avenge her friend countless times through the story, but I don't recall her every making one serious attempt. She considers it and even "plans" out ideas to assassinate him, but she never does anything. She doesn't even start to carry out a plan and stop - she just doesn't do anything at all. It's incredibly frustrating. It's not that I'm so desperate for bloodshed and murder, but that that's what I was promised and would have actually made this book interesting. Also, if you're planning to kill a king, do not draw attention to yourself by showing your strengths - such as great archery skill - and stop being so defiant and breaking rules!
Also, I did not understand the relationship between Shahrzad and her handmaid, Despina. There was just something that never really worked between, and despite their banter that I think was meant to be endearing, they didn't ever fit together. I couldn't always discern the meaning behind her snide comments to Shahrazad either, but maybe that was just my misunderstandings.
Oh, and what about Shahrzad's original boyfriend? He appears to have been totally forgotten. She was 'so in love' with him, but spends some time with the caliph and suddenly forgets about him and no longer cares for him. But then we have Shahrzad and the caliph, but their chemistry was.. odd. I felt like we went from zero to hundred in no time, and it simply did not flow or convince me in the slightest.
Despite all of this, I did somehow manage to finish this book, which is interesting because I'm not the type to waste my time. I think the saving grace to this book was Ahdieh's prose, which was wonderfully descriptive and smooth. While this made The Wrath and the Dawn a readable novel, it created too much focus on irrelevant details that weren't necessary to the story.
Will I read the sequel? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm not particularly convinced by the this one, but Ahdieh has left plenty of plot points to delve into for the next book, so I'll probably give it a shot. Overall, I have to give The Wrath and the Stars two-and-a-half stars because it simple was not a solid book that I enjoyed or felt had more going for it. However, if you do enjoy some dramatic romance and lovely writing, then perhaps you should still give this book a chance - everyone has different opinions, and there are plenty of people out there who did actually love this book.
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