I love story re-imaginings. When the Disney live-action Beauty and the Beast came out, I read a ton of Beauty and the Beast retellings. I was actually going to do a post about the best retellings, but I haven’t yet gotten around to it (more than a year later…). Beauty and the Beast retellings are plentiful; Arabian Nights retellings are not, which is why I was so excited to read Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn. Because what’s the deal with all the murdering? I mean, I get it, I read the book, but what woman in her right mind would go into that willingly and fall in love with the monster killing a new wife every morning? I guess Ahdieh had the same question because this book was born.
Shahrzad’s best friend, Shiva, was one of Khalid’s victims. For no apparent reason, Khalid, the caliph (King of Kings), wed and had her executed at dawn, as he did to so many women. Shahrzad has a plan for vengeance. It just requires becoming the next bride, a dangerous proposition has she may not live to see the next day. But what she didn’t plan on was getting to know the man beneath the crown. A man who may not be the monster she thought he was. A man who might just be a victim too.
The premise is beautiful. It asks a simple question. Why? Why would a man kill his brides? In the original Arabian Nights, it’s out of revenge against one unfaithful woman, but that argument doesn’t hold water for a modern reader (and shouldn’t have for an ancient one either).
Shahrzad’s impetuous and brave, the perfect combination of traits for a character to embark upon such a dangerous mission. She has an uncompromising personality, which makes it so difficult for her to make certain realizations and accept explanations. She’s black and white, but being the wife of Khalid steeps her in a world of gray. She must adapt or perish.
Khalid’s a mystery wrapped in a tall, dark, and handsome package. He has a strong sense of morality, which is why the business of murdering a woman every morning is destroying him. I love his unknowable side, which never really changes although it softens.
Tariq’s an interesting character because he attempts to steal the show. He’s not one of the two protagonists, but his role in the book is pivotal to moving the plot along. While this plot puts both Shahrzad and Khalid’s well-beings in jeopardy, Tariq’s not a bad person. In fact, he’s a very good person, which gives the book a bittersweet taste because you can’t help rooting for him just a little bit, even when you know it’s against Khalid’s own good (and you definitely can’t help but fall a little bit in love with the both of them).
As much as I love this book, it’s not set up to stand alone. The end leaves you wanting. Which is fine because there’s a sequel, but it can be a bit annoying if you want closure. The storyline is deceptively simple with just the beginnings of complexity because of the book to come. It sets up the concluding book very nicely.
What can I say? I’m an Ahdieh fan all the way. She melds lyrical language with moving dialogue for a beautiful story:
“Love is a force unto itself, sayyidi. For love, people consider the unthinkable…and often achieve the impossible. I would not sneer at its power.”
“I know love is fragile. And loving someone like you is near impossible. Like holding something shattered through a raging sandstorm. If you want her to love you, shelter her from that storm…And make certain that storm isn’t you.”
“Some things exist in our lives for but a brief moment. And we must let them go on to light another sky.”
Whatever the flaws of The Wrath and the Dawn, they were far outweighed by the clever premise, the dynamic plot, and the beautiful writing. I found myself emotionally invested in Khalid and Shahrzad story and moved by their plight.