The fantasy element of The Wrath and the Dawn just bubbles under the surface, leaving the book itself to weave the most potent magic. This novel is one of the most richly atmospheric I have read for some time. Ahdieh deftly brings the Middle Eastern setting to life. And, whilst it is rueful that this is still noteworthy, a novel firmly rooted outside Western culture and with a cast almost wholly comprised of non-white characters is always a welcome sight.
The Wrath and the Dawn has been described as a retelling of the One Thousand and One (or Arabian) Nights but this is only the jumping-off point of the novel; the platform on which it is built but soon diverges from.
Khorasan lives in fear of its boy king Khalid, a reputedly cruel 18-year-old who takes a new bride each night only to have her executed come dawn. Shahrzad (or Shazi to her friends) volunteers to become Khalid’s bride so that she can avenge her best friend who also married the Khorasan only to die by his orders. But Shazi soon suspects that Khalid may not be the monster she once thought he was. As she fights her growing feelings for him, she begins to search for the truth.
This novel is genuinely romantic and I certainly got caught up in the love story between Shazi and Khalid. There is a rather intriguing love triangle here, too. I thought that all of the characters were very well drawn and I came to care about them. So much so that I am eagerly anticipating the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, which is scheduled for release this May.
I do have some quibbles, however (just in case you think I’ve been abducted by aliens who are much nicer than I am and who have taken over this blog). As much as I love Shazi and think she is just the kind of intelligent, confident heroine YA fiction needs, I did feel that Ahdieh spent more time telling us how capable Shazi was than actually showing us. There was a bit too much lounging around on luxurious cushions, I thought.
Additionally, I thought the love story could have been explored in a bit more depth. Shazi does begin to fall for Khalid at a point when she is still pretty convinced that he is a murdering despot responsible for the deaths of hundreds of women, including her beloved friend. Furhter examinination of this moral conflict would have been welcomed.
Lastly, I did feel that the novel was slightly over-written in places, with too many descriptions of food, clothes and – most repetitively of all – characters’ facial features. I think being told about a character’s (often improbable) eye colour just the once is probably sufficient.
Overall, though, this is an intoxicatingly atmospheric and compelling novel with an intriguing cast of characters. I am already in the queue for the sequel.