Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Wrath & the Dawn

The Wrath & the Dawn
Renee Ahdieh
Penguin, 2015  388 pgs
Grades 9-Up
Historical Fiction/Romance

Ahdieh presents a new retelling of the ancient Persian fairy tale One Thousand and One Nights.  Kalid, the Caliph (King) of Khorasan, marries a new woman daily and orders her murder the next morning.  The beautiful Shahrzad volunteers to be the next wife in order to get close enough to the Caliph to murder him, seeking revenge for the death of her beloved cousin.  The wedding goes as planned, but the wedding night doesn't.  Shahrzad (or Shazi) entertains Kalid by telling a story, the ending of which she purposely leaves out in order for her new husband to be intrigued enough not to kill her the next morning in order hear the story's end.  Her plan works, Shazi lives through the next day (after a near miss), but her existence at the castle is an uneasy one.  She does not trust Kalid, his cousin and general Jalal, or her lady's maid and companion, who admits to being a spy.  Eventually Shazi worms her way into everyone's favor through her fearlessness and determination.  Shazi realizes that she also has feelings for her new companions, especially her emotionally distant husband, who she's pledged to kill.  Life becomes more complicated as Shazi's ex-boyfriend arrives to save her, as well as the woman Kalid was expected to marry.  Shazi and Kalid must face their demons and be honest with each other in order for their relationship to move to the next level and become a proper marriage.  They finally choose to fully commit and share a passionate night when Kalid is called away from the castle for an important battle.  It is in his absence that Shazi's loved ones make a catastrophic attempt to rescue her from who they think is a sadistic madman, wrecking havoc on the whole city in the process.  Our story ends with a cliff-hanger and will continue in the second of a projected trilogy.

I love fairy tale re-tellings and was very excited about this book.  I was a little disappointed.  There was very little "Arabian Nights" in this tale and more action-filled love story (think The Selection set in ancient Persia with a heroine who knows how to wield a sword).  There was very little of Shahrzad's actual storytelling beyond the first night or two.  It would be more fair to say that this book is perhaps inspired by One Thousand and One Nights along with its setting and not a reworking of the tale.  The plot is very Twilight/Hunger Games/Crossed, where a girl is forced into a dangerous situation, falls in love with the wrong person creating a love triangle, and must fight in order to survive.  I did like the ancient Persian setting and found Shazi feistier than the average heroine.  I also struggled with keeping the characters straight.  Beyond Shahrzad, who had a "gettable" nickname, the other character's names were unfamiliar to me and didn't stick in my head.  Also, sometimes characters were referred to by nicknames or offices, further confusing me.  There was a glossary of terms in the back, which at least contained some of the ranking titles, which helped a little, but I would have benefited from a list of characters. All of my complaints aside, teen girls will devour this book.  They will fall in love with the brooding and misunderstood Kalid and empathize with Shazi as she struggles with falling in love with her cousin's killer, all while still sorting out her feelings for her ex.  Shazi is smart, stubborn, and courageous.  She manages to turn the whole castle on its ear and make the unfeeling Caliph fall in love with her.  Teen girls will eat this up with a spoon and start clambering for the next installment.  Me?  I found it a bit contrived and then after muddling through almost four-hundred pages was left hanging, which I didn't know in advance and was not happy about.  The cover is cool, the romance is heartfelt, and the action will keep teenagers turning pages.  I predict that this book will not be a shelf sitter.

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