EVERYBODY fell in love with these books, am I right? From the moment I first heard about The Wrath & the Dawn, all I knew was that everyone was absolutely swooning over these stories.
Well… make that everyone EXCEPT me.
By now, you’re probably familiar with the bare bones of the plot. From Goodreads, about The Wrath & the Dawn:
In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.
Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?
Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.
And the description of The Rose & the Dagger:
In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.
Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.
The saga that began with The Wrath and the Dawn takes its final turn as Shahrzad risks everything to find her way back to her one true love again.
These books try so hard to be swoony and sweeping and epic… but it just doesn’t work. The prose is so overwrought and overwritten, needlessly flowery but skimping on key action sequences. And while the concept of retelling the Arabian Nights is kind of cool, the execution left me cold.
First of all, Khalid is just a tad too Edward Cullen for my taste. Poor misunderstood monster. So he’s the victim of a curse that forces him to kill his brides in order to avoid destruction of his city? How hard did he try to stop it? Or why not just announce the fact of the curse to everyone, so his people could help him search for a solution (hint: check the library!) rather than just having their daughters taken away and hating him for it. And hey — he killed over 70 young women before something about Shahrzad’s amazing courage and beauty finally snapped him out of it enough to just say no.
So… none of the other brides were special enough to earn some remorse or even a pause? Nope, it took beautiful, special Shahrzad. So the monster can be redeemed, with the love of the right woman. And does that make him worthy of forgiveness?
I mean, worst case scenario, couldn’t he have just thrown himself over a cliff? I assume the curse would die with him, and it sure would have saved a lot of other lives. But then again, there’d be no romance in that case, so what would be the point?
And Shahrzad sure got over her hatred for her best friend’s killer in a hurry. Not more than a day or two went by before she started getting all weak-kneed because of his kisses. But it’s because he’s secretly noble and silently suffering, so it’s okay that he’s responsible for all those deaths!
Meanwhile, there are bunches of secondary characters thrown in, some who have actual personalities, some of whom are pretty much stock figures — the mysterious, magical wise man, the shady enemy Sultan, the sexy handmaiden with a secret, the boyish best friend. I couldn’t get invested enough to keep them all straight.
And then there’s the magic. I would have liked these books much better if the magical elements were limited to Shahrzad’s tales. Okay, fine, there’s a curse that Khalid has to break. But do Shahrzad and her father and Vikram and Musa and Artan (and probably some others) need magical power too? Yes, the flying carpet is fun — but I kept waiting for Shahrzad to break into song.
… a whole new world…
I realize I’m sounding pretty curmudgeonly right about now, and I’ll grant you — I’m not exactly the target audience. But still, I manage to enjoy good YA fiction plenty, despite no longer being in the demographic myself.
Besides all the plot points I had issues with, the writing itself kind of drove me bonkers after a while.
Because the author uses short, declarative statements.
Or sentence fragments.
All the time.
Practically every page.
And it’s so annoying after a while.
For example, a few random selections:
The tiger-eyes continued haunting her… watching, waiting.
His touch burned her skin.
The shame. The betrayal.
Low and unassuming. Unmistakable. When Shahrzad met his gaze, everything around her melted away. Even the driving rain came to a sudden standstill.
A moment suspended in time. A pair of amber eyes across a balcony.
And there was no more fear. No more worry. No more judgment.
And then there are the moments of passion, which I found utterly flowery and false:
She was drowning in sandalwood and sunlight. Time ceased to be more than a notion. Her lips were hers one moment. And then they were his. The taste of him on her tongue was like sunwarmed honey. Like cool water sliding down her parched throat. Like the promise of all her tomorrows in a single sigh. When she wound her fingers in his hair to draw her body against his, he stilled for breath, and she knew, as he knew, that they were lost. Lost forever.
So what did I actually like about the books? I mean, I must have liked something if I stuck with them and read both, right?
Okay, first of all, the concept appealed to me. A retelling of Arabian Nights is a great idea. The author does a lovely job of describing the palaces, the deserts, and the tents of the settings, as well as the sights and sounds.. and the tastes and smells. The flowers, the spices, the foods — these are all done with wonderful detail, and truly evoke the exoticness of the place and time.
I also really enjoyed Shahrzad’s stories — the fables she tells to cast a spell of sorts over Khalid, to keep him so fascinated by her tales that he postpones her execution over and over and over again just to hear more. And yet, this is a failing as well, because after the first two nights, the storytelling aspect seems to fall away. Every once in a while, Shahrzad uses a tale to prove a point or illustrate a lesson, but the key element — that the stories are her means of saving her own life — becomes lost in the romance and the other tangled plotlines of the books.
As a side note, there are three related stories listed as ebooks on Goodreads. I read the two that were available free for Kindle. One, set between the two books, adds pretty much nothing to the story. The other (The Crown & the Arrow) is about 9 pages long, and tells the story of Khalid and Shahrzad’s first meeting. It might have helped to include this in The Wrath & the Dawn, as it shows a bit more about how and why Shahrzad engineers their marriage. The stand-alone stories are curiosities that might appeal to people who enjoyed the novels, but aren’t actually necessary for a sense of completion.
So why did I finish these books if I didn’t care for them very much? Well, to be blunt, I’d already bought them, and hated to just put them aside without reading all the way through. I came close to DNFing the first book after the first 100 pages or so, once I realized that the writing and plot didn’t appeal to me, but decided to stick with the story and see if it improved.
My opinion of the story and the writing never actually went up, but I was curious enough to see how it all worked out, especially after all the rave reviews I’ve come across.
I’m sure these books will appeal to many readers, but unfortunately, their swoony delights were just lost on me.