Book Review: The Wrath and The Dawn

Title: The Wrath and the Dawn
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Magic

What’s it About: Shahrzad is dressed by servants for her wedding to the Caliph of Khorasan. Her father, Jahandar, stops by to give her a bud of a rose and uses magic to open it up. Unfortunately, the flower dies and Jahandar is sad, but Shahrzad tells him not to worry, she loved the flower for the beautiful moment that it had. Then Shahrzad goes to meet the Caliph to whom she is to be married. When she faces him at the hall, she is full of anger for killing her friend, Shiva.

Later that night, Jahandar flees the city of Rey with his remaining daughter, Irsa, but stops by the library to pick up a book. In the mean time, the Caliph visits Shahrzad at night, and she begins to tell a story of the Mountain of Adamant. As the night turns to dawn, Shahrzad ends the story on a cliffhanger, with the promise that is she lives another night, she will tell him the rest. Khalid, the Caliph, agrees, and Shahrzad falls asleep only to be woken up by her handmaiden, Despina, who wants Shahrzad to win. Shahrzad sees another night and dawn during which she tells Khalid the remainder of the story. But on the third night, Khalid does not come to her room.

That dawn, Shahrzad gets dragged by the royal guards to a section of the palace, where they cover her face and tie a silken cord around her throat, choking her and realizes that Shiva must have died the same way. In her almost unconscious state, she hears someone starting a fight–Khalid and his cousin Jalal had come in to save her just in time.

During these three days, Shahrzad’s letter makes it to the Emir of Taleqan, the father of Tariq, Shahrzad’s love. Tariq takes off with his friend, Rahim, to Rey to visit his uncle, Reza bin Latief, in order to get Reza’s help to save Shahrzad. It so happens that Reza agrees, because he lost his beloved daughter, Shiva, to the Caliph, and shortly thereafter, his wife committed suicide.

Nights and days turn into weeks, as Shahrzad continues to live, and becomes closer to Despina. The citizens of Rey believe that the Caliph is in love with his bride, which is why he hasn’t killed her. In the meantime, Jahandar and Irsa make it to Taleqan, and Jahandar manages to uncover the secrets of the magical book that he stole from the library, thus asking Rahim if he could be a part of whatever Tariq and Reza were planning. Tariq on the other hand goes in search of the al-Sadiq tribe that wanders the Sea of Sands. He befriends the Sultan of the tribe, because the old man loves a good romance story, and Tariq tells him all about Shahrzad.

Khalid travels to visit his uncle, the Sultan of Parthia, and Shahrzad learns about his relationship from Despina, who gives her tea, and Shahrzad notices that someone has tampered with her tea, trying to poison her. While Jalal tries to sort this out, Shahrzad takes a visit from Musa Zaragoza, a man familiar with Khalid’s past. Musa had been a tutor to Leila, Khalid’s mother, who was the second wife of the Caliph at that time, and she was devoted to Khalid, but her marriage to the Sultan was not easy. The Sultan found out about Leila’s affair with a member of the palace guard, and had dragged Leila through the halls by her hair, called Khalid to him, and then slit his mother’s throat in front of the six year old boy. Musa had been there when it occurred but never stepped in to stop the murder, and was thrown out, with Khalid never speaking to him again. Musa imparts knowledge on Shahrzad that Khalid is more than he seems, and that people cannot reach their potential without the love of others. He asks her how long she has possessed the gift, which surprises her because she was not aware. Shahrzad tells him that it’s her father, but he wasn’t ever adept at magic, and Musa tells her that he can teach her, but he’s unsure of her abilities. He tells her to look past Khalid’s darkness, and then gifts her with a threadbare, moth-eaten rug rolled tightly in a bundle, telling her that if she wants to find him, he’s at the Fire Temple.

After Khalid’s return from Parthia, he and Shahrzad talk a bit about his childhood, his trip to Parthia and Shahrzad decides on how he can make amends for nearly having her killed–by going out into the market with her. They head out together the following night, and for the first time, they call each other by their first names and Shahrzad uses her nickname with Khalid. They wander around the market and go into a winery, where a fight breaks out because another guy tries to make a move on Shahrzad. The two of them manage to escape and hide, but the group finds them. Shahrzad buys a makeshift bow and arrow from a kid to try to fend them off, while Khalid pulls out his swords. Shahrzad shoots an arrow through one of the pursuer’s wrists, and then the rest of them back off, disappearing from whence they came. Shahrzad tries to shoot Khalid in the alley, but finds that she doesn’t have the heart to do it because Khalid breaks through the barriers of her heart, and they share a kiss that changes everything. When they return to the castle, Khalid tells General al-Khoury of the Royal Guard, who also happens to be his uncle, that he does not want any more attempts of Shahrzad’s life, and that any disobedience to the order will be treated as an attempt on his own life.

They talk about Shahrzad with his uncle not wanting to follow through with the order, until he realizes that Khalid really wants Shahrzad, and General al-Khoury agrees to protect her. Alas, they’re not able to determine the whereabouts of Shahrzad’s family, so no one knows why she volunteered to be Khalid’s wife. Then they send in a fair, who staves off Khalid’s impending headache, telling him to stay the prior course.

The following day, Shahrzad wakes up in her room and realizes that something is up with Despina. She confronts her because Despina is acting strange, and Despina throws up. Shahrzad guesses that Despina is pregnant and that Jalal, the captain of the guard and Khalid’s cousin, is the one that is the father. She leaves Despina to rest and then goes out to arrow practice where Jalal and she are taking turns answering questions. Jalal asks her about her family, but Shahrzad refuses to tell him anything. When she wins the next round, she asks Jalal why Khalid’s wives must die, and he storms out. Outraged, she grabs swords and tries stop Jalal, but isn’t good with a sword. She keeps trying to go after him, with a rant, but then Khalid shows up with Despina. Shahrzad keeps up the pretense that she’s taking lessons but she has a limitation in swordplay, to which Khalid tells her to pick up the sword and starts training her. The Rajput, who has been her guard for some time, helps her with her footing.

Shahrzad and Khalid share a moment in her bedroom, and then she asks him why all his prior brides had to die. He tells her to never do that to him again, and then disappears from her room, making her realize that she was his weakness. The following day, Shahrzad and Despina confide in each other about men, while Khalid and Jalal confide in each other about Shahrzad. Khalid reveals that his uncle, Salim Ali el-Sharif, the Sultan of Parthia wants to visit them on his way back to Parthia. Jalal tells Khalid to keep Shahrzad around, because she give Khalid strength, and suggests to invite all of Khalid’s bannermen to Rey to dispel rumors. Khalid and Shahrzad cross paths with their retinue shortly thereafter, and Khalid blows past her. Jalal scolds him, asking if Ava was not enough. That night, Khalid shows up in Shahrzad’s room, where she yells at him, and then they discuss love. She then tells him the story of a girl who married a guy who kept secrets, and asks Khalid to trust her, but he tells her that she hurt him very much.

All of Khalid’s bannermen show up to Rey, including Tariq, who comes instead of his father. That evening, Khalid introduces Shahrzad to his bannermen including the Sultan. Yasmine el-Sharif, the daughter of the sultan dances for Khalid, while Shahrzad avoids Tariq and his looks so that Khalid wouldn’t hurt him. Shahrzad talks to Yasmine and is surprised by the kindness shown to her by Yasmine, who loves Khalid and wishes he find someone he can love. That night Shahrzad meets Tariq on the balcony but is not able to tell him the truth about Khalid’s weakness, telling him that it is more complicated than that, and hesitates to tell him that she loves him. The following day, the men are going on a hunt, and they encounter Shahrzad, and while she greets everyone, she ignores Khalid because she is angry that he did not tell her about Yasmine.

As the men exit the palace, Khalid keeps looking back, with Jalal making an excuse for him. Khalid rushes back, and he and Shahrzad share a moment, apologizing to each other, and then she leans into him for a hug. Tariq so happens to follow Khalid, making the excuse to Jalal that he forgot his cuff for his falcon, and finds them in the atrium hugging. He reels from shock, because he cannot believe that Shahrzad is falling for this monster. Alas, he gets discovered by the Rajput and has to make up another excuse, with Shahrzad stepping in to save him from Khalid’s wrath. When Khalid and Tariq return to the promenade to saddle up, Khalid tells Jalal to look into Tariq because he does not trust him.

Shahrzad and Despina talk, and Shahrzad finds the old rug that Musa had gifted her. The two of them are laughing and joking, when the rug moves under Shahrzad’s fingers. They test it out, and Shahrzad realizes that it’s the magic within her that is moving the rug. Tariq returns to the desert outpost of the al-Sadiq family, where he hears the rumors of a White Falcon, and finds his uncle Reza there. Omar, the head of the al-Sadiq family, tells Tariq that a shared past does not mean that they have a shared future. Tariq tells Reza and Rahim, his friend, about Khalid, but as they get to the part about Khalid’s weakness, Jahandar shows up, and Tariq is irritated. Finally he tells his uncle that Shahrzad is Khalid’s weakness, and asks him for help to get her out of there. Reza tells him no, but after the meeting, Jahandar tells him that he would like to help.

Shahrzad wakes up because she feels someone in her room. She finds shadows, starts screaming, and fighting back against them, which wakes up Despina. Despina manages to get out of the room and yells for Jalal. Khalid, instead arrives first, and starts cutting down the men one by one. Jalal and the Rajput join him, though one of the eight intruders captures Shahrzad and doesn’t let her go. Khalid cuts him down, but the man only tells him that he was sent by someone who knows, and when they check, they find out that the men are The Fida’is, hired mercenaries. Khalid carries Shahrzad out to his room, because she is hurt, and he puts a salve on her throat.

Still, Khalid won’t reveal the truth of his past, and he talks about sending her away. She tells him that she doesn’t want that, and they are sharing a moment, when a guard interrupts them so Khalid leaves. Shahrzad puts away the salve and the linen, and finds a leather sleeve filled with parchments. These turn out to be letters to each of the seventy-two girls that Khalid had had killed, but they are secret letters pouring his feelings and thoughts on paper, never meant to be sent to the families. She finds the letter he had started to write to her on the morning that she was almost killed but stops because he had realized that she was about to get killed.

Khalid is returning with Jalal back to his quarters, and admits to Jalal that love is just a shade of what he feels for Shahrzad, because Jalal chastises him for dropping his swords earlier in front of the mercenary. Jalal then tells him that if he’s willing to drop his swords for her, it’s time to tell Shahrzad the secret; she’s family. Khalid continues to be stubborn, and returns to his room where he tries to lay down quietly next to Shahrzad, but starts hallucinating and wakes her up in the process. Then he faints, and she calls for the General, who brings the faqir and tells her to leave. Khalid tells him that she stays. He then tells her the truth.

He wanted to avoid getting married to Yasmine, so he married Ava, but ignored her and her concerns. She got pregnant and he thought that it would make her happy, so he left it be. But then she lost the baby, and even though they talked, she isolated herself until one day he came to her room and found her dead. Her father invited Khalid to his house after her burial, and while everyone around him told him to not go, he went. And there, Ava’s father cursed him, telling Khalid that he wants him to suffer like she suffered, and that for one hundred dawns he will take a singe life for the one he took; if he fails once, his dreams will be taken away, and his city will be destroyed.

Shahrzad has been wanting an explanation, and she finally got one–not the one she expected, and she tries to reason with Khalid, but Khalid won’t have any of it–he won’t kill her. The next day, while Khalid is reviewing the plans for the aqueducts, his uncle and cousin show up with a report about Shahrzad and Tariq. Jalal argues that Shahrzad loves him, and asks that Khalid gives her a chance to explain. Khalid instead goes to Shahrzad and gives her the option to kill him as well as a chance to escape the palace unseen. But she doesn’t–she loves him, and tells him so. They fall tease each other.

Then the next day Shahrzad wakes up and starts laughing and joking with Despina. Khalid shows up with Jalal at his sides and gives her a band with the reigning al-Rashid standard. Khalid then has to leave to see what this small force that is gathering at the border of Parthia and Khorasan is about and talk with the emirs. He plans to be gone two weeks.

Jahandar starts a spell, and Tariq and Rahim try to sneak into the palace to pick up Shahrzad. Thunder hits several parts of the palace, waking up Shahrzad. Jalal is in her room and tells her that the palace was struck. She checks in on Despina but the handmaiden is gone, so she tells Jalal, who says that she’s fine. Vexed, Shahrzad tells Jalal that Despina is pregnant. Tariq and Rahim enter her room, and the Rajput tries to stop them, except that Tariq shoots him with an arrow. Then Shahrzad takes them through Khalid’s room, through the secret doorway and out into the stables, where they encounter Jalal. Jalal tries to stop them, but Tariq isn’t willing to listen that Shahrzad would have fallen in love with Khalid. She tries to tell him, until Tariq screams that the city is burning, and she realizes that he is right. At that, Jalal asks Tariq whether he loves Shahrzad, to which Tariq replies yes. He then tells Tariq to take Shahrzad away from the City, and never have her return.

Two men met in the desert, and Reza bin Latief takes the money from the Sultan of Parthia, because they both want the same thing–Khalid out of the throne. Khalid returns to Khorasan, and writes a letter to Shahrzad in all the way he failed her, while he looks out of the terrace onto his destroyed city.

My Verdict: Amazing! As I suspected, it seems to be a twist on the classic tale of One Thousand and One Nights. I love Shahrzad and her clap-backs to comments, her riposte with words; the way she insinuates things and makes veiled threats without being so bold. As Khalid says of her, she has no limitations. I love how she grows a friendship with Despina, and then tears down the walls around Khalid’s heart from the get go–standing up to him, intriguing him, and just pushing him. I do think that maybe Shahrzad could have held out a little longer in falling in love with him–it took I think all of a week since their wedding day to fall in love, but I understand that for a fifteen year old, it is easy to fall in and out of love. It’s much harder to be as wise as she and work at the relationship.

I also enjoyed seeing how Khalid just slowly but surely came out of his shell because of her. How he realized that there was something more that he wanted and that he would rather face the consequences of the curse than give Shahrzad up.

Overall, I love the first book in the series. Can’t wait for the next one!

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