The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
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?
I wish I would have known two things before I started reading this book. 1. It’s young adult. 2. It’s part of a series. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had been expecting those two things. Because I LOVED The Wrath and the Dawn, but was really bothered by a lot of little things.
The young adult problem. First of all, this is a telling of The Thousand and One Nights, a love story as old as time. But as a young adult novel it was full of tropes and cliches that completely took away from the timelessness of the story. I mean, did this story really NEED a love triangle? Was there any point in making Scheherazade a master archer? Did Khalid really have to be the brooding over-protective type? The love-to-hate thing, while expected, definitely came off juvenile compared to the original legend.
The series problem. Okay, so Ahdieh made a lot of changes to the original story. Some of them seemed unnecessary, and the result of so many changes was that a lot of them didn’t get fleshed out, which was annoying. But I totally understood why she did it. It makes the story feel new, and not the same old thing. But the biggest change is why Khalid is killing his brides. In the original story his wife cheated on him, and he is simply bitter. In this story something … else is going on. We don’t know what. It’s probably the best part of the story, this fascinating mystery about the motives of Khalid. It’s what kept me reading at break-neck pace. I was desperate to find out.
So it seems like, pacing-wise, the climax of the story aught to be when you find out WHY. And it’s definitely the climax of the book. But the whole thing is building toward something even bigger. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it kind of bugged me. Probably mostly because I was expecting a stand-alone. But also partly because in the original tale there isn’t anything bigger.
That being said, I ADORED this book. Despite a lot of the problems with the writing, I was captivated by the story and the romance. The magnetism between Scheherazade and Khalid was palpable and gave me all the feels. However, the sexual nature of their relationship was handled REALLY well for young adult, in my opinion. Nothing too graphic, but plenty of kissing. I couldn’t get enough of this romance, and found myself really looking forward to the cheezy romance scenes.
The mystery of why Khalid is killing his wives left me literally unable to put this book down. I read it in three days. As I got to know his character I became more and more certain that there was more going on than first glance, but had no idea what it could possibly be. In a rare achievement for YA, the actual reason was a complete surprise to me. It’s simultaneously heart-breaking, yet makes sense. It brings so much light to Khalid’s character, yet still puts blame firmly (if not 100%) on his shoulders. Gah, I can’t get over it.
So, yeah, not the best written book of all time, but I still immediately placed a hold for the sequel at my library. I would highly recommend to any YA romance lover, especially one looking for a unique setting.