Title: The Wrath & the Dawn
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genre: Young adult / romance
Rating: 1.5 / 5
I think most people know the premise of One Thousand and One Nights: king marries a virgin bride and executes her the next day; Scheherazade volunteers to marry him and tells him a captivating story, leaving it a cliffhanger so he stays the execution and she can finish the next night…and repeats that for 1000 nights until the king decides to spare her. This book is a fluffy teen romance retelling of that story.
At first I didn’t realize it was going to be a teen romance, and I was quite excited. Scheherazade!! (Or Shahrzad as the name rendered in this book.) The One Thousand and One Nights! Great opening!! I was stoked! I was enjoying this retelling to begin with. But then I realized where it was headed. And can I just say: Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. The writing was not the book’s strongest suit to begin with, but as the story got more “romance” in it, the writing became trite and cliche. Some of the dialog was painful.The love triangle was boring. The book is filled with superfluous characters of no narrative import. Not even the main players are developed in any sort of realistic capacity. The storyline moved way too fast, the romance came out of nowhere and was not believable.
While it’s true that I think a romance based on this story sounds skeevy, it’s not that I’m opposed to having this story be retold as a romance or even love triangle. The whole “kills all his brides” thing definitely raises concerns about the role of consent in a story like this, not to mention a romantic hero who has killed the female protagonist’s best friend, represents violence against women, is cold and distant, etc. I believe this same story in the hands of a “better” writer—one with more vision for the story and one more skilled with prose and characterization—could have been satisfying. As it is, it was super duper melodramatic. It did not make me feel anything (except annoyed and eyeroll-y, and I don’t think that was its goal). The amateurish writing could not carry the already-questionable story; it failed in its goal of getting me on board with the romance, which was really the only point of the entire book. And and and—I see now that it’s part of a series. Well that would explain the abrupt ending.
Worst of all, to me at least, was that this book was not even about Shahrzd. The entirety of her story is “fall in love with Khalid.” That is it. Khalid—the murdering king—seems to be the most important character in the story; he’s made out to be the most “interesting,” he gets the important arcs, he’s more dynamic than Shahrzd. We’re supposed to be sympathetic and think he’s all tortured and complex, but there is almost no groundwork laid to actually support that conclusion. When the “secret” is revealed, it’s just like—come on. Way too little, way too late, meanwhile it’s been getting built up and Shahrzd has been throwing herself at him with all this “tell me your secret!!” thing and getting the lecture on how it’s people like Khalid who need love the most, etc., etc. I really wanted to like this book—written by a mixed-race woman, ostensibly about a kick-ass Middle Eastern woman—but the female protagonist merely serves as a love interest, and seemed to me to play a supporting role in her own story, and I just couldn’t.
I realize that all of this sounds pretty harsh. I realize I gave the book a low rating, and it’s true that I didn’t like this book. But I don’t dislike it either. It’s basically your run-of-the-mill teen romance, just a little more creepy. I see the appeal; sometimes I am in the mood for that. Obviously tons of people loved it because its rating on Goodreads tops 4.2 stars, and I’m glad the author is having success. It started with a lot of promise, and I was hoping it would follow through; maybe I was just expecting too much, but I was disappointed with how the romance dominated the book. If you’re looking for a YA enemies-to-friends romance set to the backdrop of One Thousand and One Nights, though, give it a shot, because odds are you will like it.