Genre-typical depictions of blood and violence. Questionably consensual sex. Intense descriptions of food. Animal death.
– Lovely, lyrical prose
– Great attention to detail
– Strong storytelling
– Shahrzad is an awesome character
– There’s a stilted quality to the prose
– Lots of passive voice and weak word choices in prose
– Lack of female characters
– Intentionally ambiguous with information
– Shallow plot
– Questionable concept
(2020 Retellings Reading Challenge #6—1001 Nights retelling)
I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine forgiving someone who killed my best friend, no matter how hot they are or how sad their backstory is.
Admittedly, if you really love YA romances centring around girls winning over the hearts of seemingly cold, heartless boys and unlocking their tragic backstory, then you’ll probably love The Wrath and the Dawn. Ahdieh’s done a wonderful job setting up Shahrzad, who is determined to avenge the death of her best friend at the hands of the caliph, Khalid, who marries a new girl each night and kills her with the dawn on opposite ends and then breaking down the walls between them to craft an intense romance.
I’m just not really into these sorts of romances, so I, unfortunately, felt little emotional connection to the story.
So the romance element was great, but the actual plot was rather weak. Granted, the romance is the A Plot and Tariq’s rebellion is the B Plot, so I didn’t expect an earth-shattering rebellion plot. However, I find Ahdieh really struggles not only to flesh out this plot, but she’s often intentionally ambiguous in an attempt to either obscure this fact or to create intrigue, neither of which works in her favour. Instead of giving the readers a few conflicting crumbs of information and letting us make sense of them, she’ll present an obvious hint and then—poorly—attempt to conceal it with ambiguous references.
Ahdieh has done her research into the time and setting of The Wrath and the Dawn and it shows. My only complaint in the research department—and this goes for all of you YA Fantasy authors out there, I see you committing this sin on the daily—is when Shahrzad grabs a sword and is all, “Teach me to fight!” to the captain of the guard and he’s like, “No, put that thing down.” But then Khalid pulls out his own sword and is like, “Hey, come at me.”
This is how someone gets mortally wounded! Anyone trained with a sword will not want an amateur swinging a sword around. Anyone trained with a sword would not use a real weapon against an amateur. This is just common sense! It happens all too often and each time I need to set my book down, pop my head out a window and disturb local wildlife with a cathartic scream.
I feel like a big part of this problem is that a lot of YA Fantasy authors haven’t read general fantasy books, not even obvious predecessors like Tamora Pierce’s work, because I run into basic flaws like this in every other YA Fantasy I pick up and I must say, it is telling.
Ahdieh does a wonderful job with sensory details—food descriptions, how the sun has yet to warm a stone, how light falls across a room—and it absolutely brings the world of The Wrath and the Dawn to brilliant life. She’s developed a distinct and poetic style, but it’s a style with a few unfortunate tics: in particular the way she’ll chop up a paragraph or repeat a phrase to draw attention to it. It’s irritating, especially when there are ways to achieve the same effect while maintaining the lyrical integrity of her prose. I also found she was prone to a few weak word choices—made, “the sound of”, etc.—and also had a huge problem with passive voice.
I loved loved loved Shahrzad. She is bold, clever, determined, and charming. She is a talented archer, and I wish we got more of her in action! She goes into her marriage with Khalid knowing the likely outcome and she enters determined to both survive past the dawn and to kill him in revenge for the death of her best friend, Shiva. As she grows closer to Khalid and catches snippets of his sad childhood, she falls for him, and a huge part of both the book and her own internal struggle is deciding if love or vengeance wins out.
Honestly, I didn’t really care about any of the other characters. I thought they were characterized well, and most of them were at least interesting to read on the page, but I was never emotionally involved. Especially with characters like Tariq—why am I supposed to be emotionally involved in his part of the story again? He’s not an entirely convincing corner in this love triangle.
I have mixed feelings for Khalid: I do understand his struggles, and Ahdieh does a good job with his emotional turmoil. Despite his facade, he feels like a monster and struggles to… not redeem himself, but to apologize and emotionally make amends for in private. He plays a great flip-side to Shahrzad’s big, glorious personality. But, personally, I need a little more depth and a lot less murdering-of-girls to like him.
Themes and Representation—★★★☆☆
Save for one character, The Wrath and the Dawn has a full roster of characters of colour, in particular characters who are Middle Eastern, Arabic and Persian. Ahdieh has done a good job of researching the time period, particularly the geographical element of it.
Which brings me to my greatest struggle with The Wrath and the Dawn: I don’t like the concept. I don’t like that it’s trying to make something heinous more palatable, more romantic. In the original concept, the King’s wife was unfaithful, so after killing her, he takes a new virgin wife every day and then behead this new wife in the morning before she has a chance to betray him. Scheherazade volunteers herself and tells him stories each night, and by the time she runs out of stories, the king believes women are okay again. Congrats to him, I guess. Sorry, but I don’t want that to be romanticized. I understand the appeal of believing the power of love, I really, really do. Especially since media tells women that this is our power: our kindness, our goodness, our unrelentingly love will win out over his upbringing, his anger, his flaws. But no book exists in a vacuum, and there are too many women trapped in relationships with abusive men. Unfortunately, my brain is much too aware and too critical of these factors to take The Wrath and the Dawn at face value.
Sorry, excuse the tangent. I don’t think giving Khalid a sad backstory or magic reason really excuses the lives he’s taken. Nor does it excuse the other male characters for enforcing it and even pitying Khalid. A person with functioning empathy and common sense wouldn’t let these murders go on.
Fans of romance-centric retellings, enemies-to-lovers romance, bad boys with sad pasts, strong leading ladies.