Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 4th 2016
Genres: Fairytale/Retelling, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 388 •Format: Paperback •Source: Purchased
A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
So I promised myself that this fall I would make more of an effort to read fantasy books, especially ones that I own. I decided to start this initiative with a book that’s been on my radar for years, The Wrath and the Dawn. Armed with the paperback that I had preordered over a year ago and the First Draft podcast featuring the author, I embarked on a journey into Eastern fantasy and folklore and indulged in this A Thousand and One Nights retelling.
Now, I was saving this book in a sense, as literally almost every single one of my blogger friends had something wonderful to say about it, so I was sure I was in for a treat. There were a lot of positives to this novel, which I chose to ease me back into fantasy (which I have not touched since May). The writing was lush, the settings were vivid, the food descriptions were sumptuous and incredible (seriously, my mouth was watering as I read this which was not conducive to reading it before bed, and part of me is most excited to read the sequel so I can read more about the food, haha). The tale had just the right hint of magic and fairytale-ness without feeling like a story I’ve read a million times before (I love when a retelling can feel so original and fresh). Shazi is a spitfire yet had a believable vulnerable side too, and it was enjoyable to follow in her footsteps throughout the tale. The secondary characters were also intriguing, especially Despina (Shazi’s Greek handmaiden who who was brought to the palace as a slave- I’d love to learn more about her story and how the Greek and Eastern histories and clashes are woven into this tale).
However, for all the strengths this novel had, I felt myself being let down by the romance, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. I mean, anyone who is familiar with the original story and all of its iterations is going to be familiar with the main romance arc- “evil” king takes multiple brides and has them all killed after one night, one bride manages to break the pattern, etc. However, even though I knew I was supposed to eventually fall for Khalid (dark, brooding, handsome, tortured, really a good person, etc.) I found that I just couldn’t quite come around to him. Had I been younger I would have been all about him (I was 100% team Darkling in the Grisha trilogy, I am usually all for the villain/dangerous/not who you’re supposed to choose love interest) however something about Khalid and Shazi’s romance just felt…unsettling to me. I think because Shazi was there on such a personal quest (avenge the death of her best friend) that it felt too wrong for me to be able to develop feelings for Khalid, or it at least felt like it happened too fast. Like I get it, dude was backed into a corner and was murdering his brides for the greater good, etc., but I was still deeply disturbed by his actions and was surprised that Shazi was able to overcome her reservations so completely (and so fast- not that this book is insta-lovey at all, but given the circumstances I feel like the romance could have actually taken a few books to really blossom).
At times too, the prose felt too purple and I wanted more clarification on what was going on- the emotions and internal motivations of the characters, more explanations for why things were happening, more insight. Most of these things became clear in time, however I feel like some time that was devoted to the depth and detailing of scenery and setting could have been devoted to more character development, especially in regards to Shazi and Khalid’s feeling toward each other. Or perhaps Shazi’s sister? Or Tariq’s parents? There were a lot of secondary characters who we got a glimpse of at the beginning of the book but who we never really returned to, and I’m curious to see if they become bigger players in the second book. I also feel like Tariq, Shazi’s first love, was created just as a character for readers to hate- I actually really liked him at first but then he becomes super possessive/angry/reckless trying to save Shazi and she’s all like “No I want to be here I’m not brainwashed” and thus sets up what is sure to be a frustrating love triangle. But I feel like I’d almost feel better about it if Shazi DID have some feelings for Tariq (since it seems like they were pretty serious until she volunteered herself to be the calph’s new bride, and then POOF all of her feelings for him disintegrate due to this thing with Khalid)?
Overall: While I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel (especially since I already own it), I have some reservations about The Wrath and the Dawn that kept it from being a top tier read for me. However, I still enjoyed reading it and am curious to return to the characters’ stories and see how the challenges at the end of the first book are resolved. I am sincerely hoping that The Rose and the Dagger can help convince me of Shazi and Khalid’s romance (but even if it doesn’t, I’m willing to forgive it if the delicious food descriptions continue).