The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

A review of the historical romance novel The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh.

Well, needless to say, I am a fan of 1001 Arabian Nights. So, when I was told of this inspired piece, I was quite interested to read it – and read it I did.

For those who don’t know, 1001 Arabian Nights and, of course, The Wrath and the Dawn is a story around a Caliph who ceremoniously murders a new bride each and every morning. One day a young woman (in the case of The Wrath and the Dawn, it is Shahrzad), volunteers to be his bride and tells the Caliph a story each night, ending on the cliffhangers of all cliffhangers to keep him from killing her at dawn.

The Wrath of the Dawn is not a re-telling of this tale, not really. The reasons behind character motivations are different, there are new characters and there is a bit more drama than I remember there being from the original tale.

So, why would I review this book? That’s simple, really, it made me laugh. I can forgive anything if it makes me laugh. When it comes to romance novels I’m usually groaning at some of the flowery language and melodramatic cliché dialogues, but this one had me laughing. So did the characters, and not in a mean way. They’re funny, or at least amusing to some degree. Their humour did not go unappreciated.

Not only that, but I enjoyed the characters. They’re fleshy, breathing, loving and hating characters with wit, charm and sometimes shuddering inducing nuances and agendas that make the read that much more interesting than most. In a book about secrets, however, not all agendas are revealed come the final page. That doesn’t bug me, though. I sometimes feel it would be unnatural to learn everyone’s secrets, and sometimes that bit of mystery, long after the curtain has drawn, helps add depth that full disclosure cannot.

The palpable tension between characters, between morals and emotions, helped stir things along quite nicely. One does fear for Shahrzad’s life, even if you’re aware there are still 200 pages to go and she’s the main character. I did worry about her handmaiden (who is one of my favourite characters, by the way), and care about her and what mattered to her. One does wonder what is going on behind the eyes of the people around Shahrzad and whether they are genuine people, or genuine threats. Now, that was wonderful and exciting to read.

The sexual tension between Shahrzad and Khalid (the antagonist? of the book), was also handled extremely well. As it may or may not be apparent, I can get quite giggly at sexual scenes, but I did not balk at these. I respected them, as they were designed to be (except one line which I will talk about later). It was engaging and revealed more about the characters than dialogue could, or cold, calculated brooding that I came to know Khalid for.

It also helped answer an age old question of mine, and that was how the heroine of 1001 Arabian Nights could do what she did, and love a man with such atrocities under his belt. That wouldn’t be a marriage I’d indulge in, if I’m honest. It gave a reason, an actual reason (not the misogynistic reason from the original tale) that I was excited to learn. Given the number of secrets in this story, I felt rewarded whenever I learnt a new one, like a puppy, really.

The writing is beautiful, really. Renée Ahdieh wastes no expense in welcoming the reader into the world. The richness in description, the attention to detail in each character’s movements, showing rather than telling, and the dialogue is amusing, and believable (except in some instances but I’ll get to that).

While it is a lovely read, and while it had me finishing it in record time, there are a few things that kind of ruined the read for me – but not necessarily the fault of the writing. For example, it is my own ignorance in Arabic terms and fashion that had me constantly searching the internet or referring to the glossary at the back just so I can understand what riḍā is. (Google thinks it is an American rapper, so no, that doesn’t help). That kind of research kept breaking my reading flow.

Some things niggled at me, but none so much as the magic in the story. I know it is part of a duology, but the introduction to magic was so late into the book that I was genuinely confused when it occurred – which ultimately stopped my reading flow as I back tracked a few chapters repeating, “huh?” over and over.

While I found most of the dialogue believable, I distinctly recall three instances of talking heads, or what felt like talking heads, and I lost count of who was talking when. Also, there are some very melodramatic ‘romantic’ lines that I imagine I wasn’t supposed to laugh at, but I did. I’m that kind of person. The line ‘Destroy me.’ is still kicking up giggles every so often whenever I think about it.

Then again, this is the debut novel of what looks like a very promising writer. I definitely want to read the sequel, and I very much urge anyone who is even remotely interested to pick up this book.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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