Book Review | The wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

WRATHcover

I’m a big fan of fairytale retellings, and I’m always looking for ones that are outside the usual western European stories. The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of 1001 Nights (sometimes called the Arabian Nights), a collection of traditional Arabic folk tales with a framing story about a murderous king who kills his new wives at dawn every morning.

In this version, 18-year-old Khalid is the Caliph (or King) of Khorasan. Every day, he takes a new bride, who is then murdered the following morning. After her best friend is killed, a young woman named Shahrzad volunteers to become the Caliph’s next bride. She want revenge, but to get it, she’ll have to make it past the first night. She tells him a story and he’s intrigued enough to keep her alive for another day. And thus begins an elaborate power struggle between the spouses, as Shahrzad begins to see that her husband is perhaps not the monster she assumes him to be.

I really enjoyed The Wrath and the Dawn. Shahrzad is an awesome heroine. Even with her need for revenge, she’s smart enough to take the long view and she finds ways to keep Khalid fascinated enough to spare her life each day. Khalid is an interesting character. A guy who kills a wife a day isn’t exactly appealing, but the author makes him compelling. It’s clear from the beginning that Khalid isn’t a just a psychopath and that there’s something more going on, but Shahrzad will have to break down a lot of barriers to get to the truth. Their game of cat and mouse is fascinating to read about, and I had moments of dread when Shahrzad was pushing at Khalid, wondering what might make him snap. And as she’s plotting her revenge, she finds herself developing unexpected feelings for her husband. It’s a tense, absorbing read.

I did have some small issues with the writing. There were times when the descriptions felt a bit overdone. For example, every time characters are eating, we’re given a detailed description of the food, which felt unnecessary after the first couple of times. And the reader is constantly reminded of the eye colors of the two main characters (hazel for Shahrzad and amber for Khalid). Eye color seems to be mentioned every few pages, and I found it annoying. But these are minor quibbles, and I’m sure many readers won’t be bothered by them. Also, I expected there to be more stories within the main story, given the source material, but there are only a few.

I highly recommend The Wrath and the Dawn, and I’ll be back for the sequel next year.

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