Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Title: The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn, #1)
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Though I have long been a fan of the Arabian Nights, re-tellings of this classic have often fallen short of the sheer magic contained within the original. Whether it be Disney's re-imagining of Aladdin or even the numerous references to Ali Baba, Sinbad, and other stories that litter modern literature, there remains a uniqueness to the original Arabian Nights that cannot be matched. Whether that be the simple story-telling style that allows the reader to weave much of the magic into their own minds or whether it be the stories within the story that compel the reader to keep turning the page, I have not found its likeness yet.
The Wrath and the Dawn does not even pretend to try to compete with the Arabian Nights. Although it draws on the basic premise of the folklore we have come to know and love, it fills in the gaps we cannot see, introduces characters we never came to know as deeply, and manages to be a separate novel in its own right. It is not so much a re-telling as a novel that is inspired by the Arabian Nights and I prefer my re-tellings like this; two parts original with one part inspired. With this formula, I can see traces of the tales I already love woven together with a wholly new story that I am learning to fall in love with, page-by-page.
From the beginning itself, it is not difficult to become consumed by The Wrath and the Dawn. After all, the city of Khorasan is cursed with Khalid, a Caliph who marries a new woman every night, only to have her executed the next morning. As the women of the city perish and families grow to resent their new Caliph more and more, the beautiful Shahrzard is determined to exact her revenge. In volunteering to have herself become the next bride of the Caliph, she garners the suspicion of those within the castle and the fear of those outside. When she survives her first morning as Queen, and the second, and the third...that's when the whispers begin.
What I love about The Wrath and the Dawn is that it's filled with flawed characters whose passions rule them. Shahrzad, whose anger and grief must be avenged, defies her family and betrothed by marrying the Caliph. Her hatred for Khalid is glaringly obvious within the first few chapters but it is a naive, impetuous kind of anger. Neither Shahrzad nor the citizens of Khorasan understand why their Caliph is such a cruel, cruel man. Within the palace gates, Shahrzad can see that the deaths of his previous wives bring the Caliph no pleasure. Why, then, does he subject both his citizens and himself to such atrocities? Against her will, Shahrzad finds herself digging to find the man beneath the monster--and the reasons the monster had to be born in the first place. And, against her will, Shahrzard finds herself falling in love with a man who kills, and kills, and kills.
Shahrzad's initial anger, her fear at waking up every morning not knowing whether or not she will live, her curiosity, her inner battle between learning more about her husband and vowing to extract her revenge, and then her eventual feelings of love...all of them are so sharply felt. I picked up The Wrath and the Dawn and felt a plethora of emotions in such a manner that I hadn't felt before. Moreover, it is not only Shahrzad who compels and inspires; it is her husband, too. Much like Shahrzad, who seeks answers, we, too, cannot help but look for the humanity in Khalid. And as we get to know him better, Shahrzad's danger at losing her heart becomes a very real danger we face as well. After all, how can one ever justify falling for a murderer?
The Wrath and the Dawn is more than just the relationship between Shahrzad and Khalid, however. It features a host of secondary characters, many of whom Shahrzad befriends during her time at the palace as she tries to understand her husband better, and, furthermore, the novel harbors a political agenda that isn't obvious from the synopsis. The kingdom of Khorasan has its neighbors and its enemies, both within and without, and alongside the tumultuous emotions expressed by Shahrzad and Khalid are the slow rumblings of a different type of conflict altogether.
Ahdieh has written a near-perfect debut. I adore the complex characters and well-fleshed world she has created, not to mention the ending that leaves readers on the cusp of so much more to come. The Wrath and the Dawn is the perfect mixture of lore, romance, and originality with a sprinkling of politics and the promise of even better prose to come. I trust this story in her capable hands entirely and am already counting down the days until I can read its conclusion. Ahdieh's debut is among the few novels I've truly loved this past year and, if I'm to be perfectly honest, I am off to re-read it this very second. Just thinking about it for too long makes me want to re-visit these characters. If that isn't convincing enough about the quality of this novel, then I'm not quite sure what is.