The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn main

The Wrath and the Dawn
Renée Ahdieh0.5 Stars

Spoiler Rating: High

Dearest Lizzy,

I read The Wrath and the Dawn with hopes for great things. The current state of those hopes: a congealed mess of frustration, rage, and plaintive calls of whyyyyy.

As I write this, only 2% of the people who’ve reviewed the book on Goodreads have as low an opinion of it as I do. A staggering 50% of reviewers have given it five stars.

Let me explain why I’m voting with the minority on this one.

Book synopsis

One Life to One 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.

Book review criticism

The Writing Style

The first fifteen pages of the book had me firmly in its enchanting little grasp. I mean, just look at this:

And this:

But the lovely descriptions could only do so much; on the whole I found the writing style melodramatic and off-putting.

My eyes first started a-rolling on page sixteen, when Likable Young Man Tariq accidentally causes an elderly man to drop a basket of fruit:

I won’t lie, I think this is hilarious. It’s straight out of a rom-com: time slows down and music swells as the hero’s gaze lifts to meet the heroine’s. I imagined the elderly man gaping at Tariq’s sexiness, and perhaps needing a few minutes to regain his strength after Tariq walks away.

I’m assuming the author had intended me to feel awed and weakened by studly Tariq. Alas, I was too busy giggling to be seduced.

In another moment of melodrama, Shahrzad’s handmaid (Despina) reveals her secret pregnancy by vomiting into the lid of a soup tureen. The father is Khalid’s cousin Jalal, who doesn’t know (a) Despina loves him, and (b) he’s impregnated her. Shahrzad and Despina argue about telling Jalal, then:

Judging from the serious tone of the scene, the “world of chaos” that had “been unleashed” refers to Despina’s situation—but the book never explains why her situation is so dire. Sure, it’ll be difficult for her, but I don’t buy this the world is crumbling around them stuff.

It also read as an unintentionally hilarious metaphor for vomiting.

Another complaint: the writing style relied heavily on short sentences and abrupt sentence fragments, most of which were separated into individual paragraphs. I’ll be the first to point out that I do this myself, but not this much. I find this style unspeakably irritating when it’s overused.

It’s even worse when it connects multiple broken paragraphs with ellipses and em-dashes:

It’s a technique that can be powerful when used sparingly, but in The Wrath and the Dawn it’s all over every page. I’m not even kidding.

The Dull, Unlikable Characters

This book has a fairly large cast of characters, but I’ll just summarize the four main(-ish) ones for you.

  1. Shahrzad: the heroine. Brave, short-tempered, weak-willed. Aggravating.
  2. Khalid: the murderous Caliph and Shahrzad’s new husband. Quiet, angsty, remote. I have no idea what Shahrzad finds attractive about him.
  3. Tariq: Shahrzad’s childhood friend and original fiancé. Jealous, short-sighted, and rash. Rides an Arabian stallion with “massive hooves,” which don’t even get me started on.
  4. Jalal: Khalid’s cousin; captain of the guard. Loyal, observant, friendly. The only character I rather liked.

This is a story with immense potential for fascinating, vibrant characters, but not one was able to capture my attention.

The writing style issues didn’t help, of course. Take this standard argumentative-ish interaction between Jalal and Khalid:

Riveting, huh? And here’s a taste of Shahrzad and Khalid for you. (Note: Khalid has just entered her room and finds her in bed. He asks if he woke her and if she’s tired. She says “no” to both questions.)

Yes, this scene is positively swirling with intensity.

I was going to offer a few more examples of standard character interactions to illustrate my these people are boring point, but the two I’ve already given you have depressed me.

In sum: my reaction to every single character (except Jalal, whom I only rather liked) ranged from annoyance to disinterest, and I’m done talking about them.

The Plot & Pacing

Not a lot happens in The Wrath and the Dawn. It can be summarized thusly:

  1. Shahrzad marries Khalid, intending to kill him.
  2. Shahrzad and Khalid almost instantly fall in love, and angst about it.
  3. Tariq seeks financial and military support to help him kill Khalid and free Shahrzad.
  4. Tariq and his pals attack the palace (in the book’s final pages) and take Shahrzad away.

Shahrzad spends the book scowling about how she needs to kill Khalid but his presence is glorious and he makes her heart flutter. Occasionally we see glimpses of Khalid angsting about Shahrzad’s lilac-scented hair. Neither of them do anything. Shahrzad never even attempts to murder Khalid, which is the reason she married him in the first place.

Tariq provides some action by scurrying around to gather support for his cause, but his subplot felt glossed-over, and he struck me as a fool whose struggles weren’t worth my emotional investment anyway.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the Great Mystery of Khalid’s Murdering of the Brides: it’s not a mystery. His motivation is explained in the book’s prologue.

Sure, the prologue doesn’t tell us who cursed him or whose life he took, but it’s made clear that Khalid is a decent guy trying to prevent a bad situation from getting worse. He’s sacrificing a hundred brides to save the thousands who live in his kingdom, but he’s eaten with guilt about it because heaven forbid the heroine’s love interest be anything but sympathetic from the first page.

Thanks, prologue, for robbing me of what could’ve been some fantastic tension and mystery.

The (Horrible, Horrible) Romance

Okay. This is the worst part.

This whole story exists because Khalid murdered Shahrzad’s best friend, Shiva, and Shahrzad is determined to avenge Shiva’s death.

It’s been a year minus two days since you died, Lizzy, and it was no trouble at all to empathize with both Shahrzad’s loss and (when I imagined how I’d feel if you’d been murdered) her rage. Honestly, it’s because I can relate to Shahrzad’s loss so strongly that I’m furious rather than just grumpy about the romance in this book.

Here’s how the romance unfolds. They meet for the first time at their wedding, have disinterested sex* (which elicits no apparent mental/emotional response or repercussions at all for Shahrzad), and they spend the rest of the night storytelling. The next day, Shahrzad catches herself wanting to know what he thinks about her:

The first day passes, and on that second night together (still without any hint of how Shahrzad responds emotionally/mentally to having sex with her best friend’s murderer, aaaaugh), she starts obsessing over why Khalid will use her sexually but won’t kiss her:

On the second day, she and her handmaid spy on the menfolk as they hold a private tournament. Shahrzad tells herself she just wants to assess how well Khalid can defend himself from a physical attack, but his swordsmanship isn’t what’s on her mind when he steps into the arena:

That’s right. Approximately forty hours after marrying him, Shahrzad’s all flustered over and jealously protective of Khalid’s sweaty chest.

Lizzy, if you’d been killed and I was plotting to assassinate your (serial-killer) murderer, I can assure you that it would take me more than a day and a half to feel attracted to them. I’m guessing it would take months at the very least before I could even view them as a person—especially if their reason for killing you was still a mystery to me.

Shahrzad doesn’t learn the reason for Shiva’s death until nearly the end of the book. That’s right, she spends the entirety of the book in love with Khalid despite having not a single clue why he murdered her best friend and dozens of other girls.

This book’s trivialization of the loss of a lifelong sister-friendship is disgusting, reducing it from an excruciating experience to a convenient (and inconsistent) plot device. “Oh, sure, losing your beloved sister sucks, but look: it’s a hot, brooding guy! No mere sisterly grief can withstand these chiseled abs!” I’m crying actual rage-tears as I write this. It’s infuriating.

How I’d (Maybe) Salvage This Story

Things would’ve been a bit different if I’d had the writing of this book. For example:

  1. I’d keep Khalid’s curse a secret from the reader. I’d let both Shahrzad and the reader hate him, and oh-so-slowly start to see that he’s not a monster.
  2. I’d give Khalid a personality and redeemable qualities. I might give him some puppies, a filly, or a young falcon to dote on—anything that’d let him exhibit patience, kindness, and all those positive traits he never shows in the book. I’d also make him a better friend to Jalal, because readers swoon for people who’re good to their friends.
  3. I’d have Shahrzad attempt to kill him multiple times. She’d almost succeed at least once, and he can then be shown weakened and vulnerable. Her attempts would drastically increase the amount of action in the story (yay, action!), and would create neat problems and sticky situations from which to build more action.
  4. Shahrzad would spend the book slowly coming to view Khalid as more than just a monster. In the sequel, she’d probably spend her time away from him reflecting on what she’d observed of him (you know, snuggling those puppies, friending it up with Jalal, etc.), and she’d develop some warmth for the good man she realizes he truly is. But that warmth wouldn’t turn to love until they’re reunited and build a relationship on (shock!) mutual trust and respect.

These changes wouldn’t solve all of the book’s issues, but you get the idea. My version would respect Shahrzad’s friendship with Shiva. It’d have a realistic, romantic romance. It’d have action and fleshier characters and by God it’d make sense. I mean, yes, I’m flattering myself saying I could pull all that off. But it’d at least be what I strove for.

Bah.

Book review quick note

*This is regarding the sex scenes between Shahrzad and Khalid.

In my original version of this review, I wasn’t certain how I should refer to the sex: as sex or as rape. I ultimately decided to call it sex, because Shahrzad initiated it with a specific goal in mind (to lull Khalid into not being on his guard around her).

However, a fellow reviewer whom I greatly respect commented on my original review, and argued for calling it rape. You can read our discussion on the topic in the comments section of my review on Booklikes. I was convinced enough by her argument to edit my reviews and call the sex rape, but I’ve since decided that that felt disingenuous (as that wasn’t my initial reading of the scene), and am reverting my review to its original state.

The sex in this book is definitely not healthy; there’s a massive power imbalance (Khalid is the king who will kill Shahrzad—his wife and subject—in a few hours), and Shahrzad absolutely does not want to have sex with him. This is not romantic, and I do appreciate that the book didn’t try to make me view it as romantic.

Unfortunately, the book fails to make Shahrzad or the reader fully aware of how deeply disturbing the sex is. The sex happens, and is promptly forgotten by both Shahrzad and the reader—except when Shahrzad wonders why Khalid will use her sexually but not kiss her (and, thus, is used to develop their relationship). She feels and thinks nothing about it, and, as a result, the reader is manipulated into feeling and thinking nothing about it as well.

Whether you view these two scenes as rape or not, the book seriously mishandled the sex by not highlighting how awful it would be for any woman to be pressured (by her circumstances/self-imposed mission) to have sex with her best friend’s murderer, a man for whom she feels nothing but terror and loathing.

Book review in closing

I had a few other complaints to mention, but I’m just done.

Will I be picking up the sequel? Not unless reviewers I respect have good things to say about it. I’m too personally offended by this one.

Now excuse me while my rage and I curl up with a cup of coffee.

I love you,

Liam


33 thoughts on “The Wrath and the Dawn

  1. I… I don’t really have words for how frustrating this entire thing sounded. Though I do have a silly question. I realize this is loosely based off the Scheherazade tale, very loosely, but why… why if we need human sacrifices are we killing innocent women? That doesn’t sound like a very good form of penitence for ones murdery sins. Why not sacrifice a new terrible criminal each day? Still get your sacrifice? Likely lowering the local crime statistic while doing so? Just seems like a convenient plot device rather than something that was thought out, and I was wondering if they explained why? In the original story it was because of the unfaithfulness of the first wife, correct? (This scholar went straight to Wikipedia… don’t tell my students.)

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    1. Khalid went all kill-the-brides because (spoiler!) his first wife killed herself; she wasn’t mistreated by him, but she was lonely and depressed and he wasn’t exactly playing the supportive husband. So her grieving father cursed Khalid, forcing him to choose between killing one hundred brides or watching everyone in his land die. Because nothing says “I blame you for this horrible tragedy, how could you cause my daughter’s death” like making a dude kill the daughters of a hundred other fathers. Yep.

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  2. I’ve been on the edge about this book for a few months now but everything you’ve described makes me want to stay far away from it, especially the part about the loss of her best friend being a plot device, and the rape being completely glossed over.

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    1. You know, it’s been several months since I read the book, and I still have to take some rage-inhibiting deep breaths whenever it comes up in conversation. I’d definitely caution you against reading it, if you tend to frown at books that casually use rape and murder/loss for the sake of furthering their romance plotlines. But if you do decide to read it–do you ever hate-read things, or do you never waste your time?–I’d be eager to hear your thoughts on it! And who knows, maybe the book has other merits that you’d enjoy, and that I was too upset to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wasting my time on books is one of my vices, I have been known to read sequels to books I hated in order to see where the story would go (morbid curiosity will be the death of me one day, I swear), so that’s not a problem, but the rape and murder/loss deal has me relunctant to pick it up. I mean I’m definitely intrigued about it, you’re the first person I’ve come across who had anything negative to say about this book, so I’m really curious as to why reviewers I trust were able to overlook these situations and actually enjoy the book. If anything, I now want to see why there’s been so much hype surrounding it, so I might very well pick it up sometime soon (and by ‘might’ I mean I probably will because I am weak when it comes to curiosity).

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      2. Wasting my time on books is one of my vices, I have been known to read sequels to books I hated in order to see where the story would go (morbid curiosity will be the death of me one day, I swear)…

        Oh man, it’s great to hear I’m not the only one who does this. I recently groaned my way through The Winner’s Crime, and I’m high on my library’s wait-list for The Winner’s Kiss. Why do we do this to ourselves?

        It’s baffling, seeing so many rave reviews for this book–but I was glad to see that a few of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads and Booklikes also disliked it, if not as, uh, passionately as me. As for the reviewers who’re usually sharp-eyed and have good taste: maybe they’re suckers for sappy romances in Middle Eastern-ish settings, so they’re willing to let some things slide. (Surely I’m not the only person who’s guilty of doing that.)

        Three cheers for your overwhelming curiosity. I’ll be impatiently eagerly awaiting your review!

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      3. I’m going to go with morbid curiosity and a high bs tolerance on that question, at least in my case.
        I’m also a sucker for this kind of romance actually (I’m willing to forgive A LOT of things if the book can make me squeal and/or cry) but even I have my limits.
        I’ll let you know how it goes then 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I was one click away from buying The Wrath and the Dawn the other day. Just one-click. I was that eager to buy it. I’m so so glad I didn’t. All of the problems you had with it are guaranteed problems I would have. I just hate it when over-hyped books don’t deliver. And the reviews for this one have overlooked WAY too much by the looks of it. Complete and total disregard for the psychological effects of rape. WHAT ABOUT YOUR FRIEND SHIVA? Sorry, but my best friend has the exact same personality as Shahrazad, and if I died and she just fell in love with my killer 2 days after, I’d unfriend her right now. HE KILLED YOUR FRIEND(inner caps lock demon coming out).I’ve noticed that a lot of YA books lately present the falling-in-love part so simply – like ‘oh he looks hot. I’m in love.’ And now you’re telling ‘oh he killed my friend. But he’s hot. I’m in love.’ It hardly sounds like Shahrazad struggles to come to terms with this, or even resists it. Kill the guy already. This is now off my reading list.

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    1. On the one hand, I’m glad to save your wallet an unnecessary purchase–but on the other hand, I might encourage you to give the book a try despite my rageful review. I do think I would’ve liked it better if my friend Lizzy hadn’t died before I read it; the book just had the misfortune of touching a VERY raw nerve for me, and I obviously rage-spewed all over it. It probably has plenty of merits that I was blind to because of it; almost everyone else in the world likes/loves it, so that must mean something.

      But yeah, “kill the guy already” was pretty much my exact chant the entire time I was reading it. Just, you know, add in a couple curse words and some rage-weeping. 😀

      If you do read it, I’d 1000% love to hear what you think of it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry that this is random, it’s just that I’ve read your comment and stopped at the “I do think I would’ve liked it better if my friend Lizzy hadn’t died before I read it.” Firstly, I’m really sorry for your loss. May she rest in peace.
        And secondly, I just want to say that you have every right to be angry at how the topic of losing someone you really loved was handled in the book. I, myself, couldn’t believe at how fast Shahrazad forgot her pain just to admire how hot Khalid was. I mean, it was just A FEW DAYS. She didn’t even know him! It’s disturbing. (And don’t even get me started on the sex scenes.)
        Again, sorry for the randomness of my comment.
        All the love and best wishes. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much for this comment; it’s incredibly comforting to be told that my anger and frustration here is valid, and that other readers found this book’s handling of loss (and those sex scenes) disturbing. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comment, really. ❤

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  4. I do agree with that (I’m also very sorry for your loss) but I’ve also read many a book that everyone seems to love that I absolutely hate. And personally I adore the Arabian Nights, and I don’t want this book to murder my respect for Shahrazad. At least attempt to kill him once…

    For the sake of a good ‘ol’ fashioned rage-review, I think I’ll give it ago! 🙂 Who knows- I might be siding with the minority for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, the Arabian Nights have been on my TBR list since I was a kid. I really need to get around to actually reading it sometime.

      Awesome! I’ll be eagerly (read: impatiently) awaiting your review, whether it’s ragey or not. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ll love it 🙂 (psst- this is top secret, but the book I’m writing has a fiery character called Shahrazad). It’s great. Thank you! 🙂

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  5. Due to popular demand this book is currently unavailable at the moment. We kindly as that you visit our site when the book is next available. 😀 (this is a terrible joke, because I’m not even half way)

    Haha I really don’t even know who would read it, but I do know that writing is my passion. I’m interested in reading these Arabian Nights retellings though! I’m going to buy The Wrath and the Dawn and that E.K. Johnston retelling and compare them *looks at tbr pile with concern*

    Before that I’ll get through the numerous ARCs I requested. I really shouldn’t have asked for so many, but I thought my requests would be rejected. *sobs*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judging from the success of The Wrath and the Dawn (and similar titles), I bet you’d find a healthy market for your book. I hope you give publishing a serious go!

      Oof, good luck with the ARCs. I’m afraid of exactly that problem, so I’m not bothering with ARCs at all. I like to read at my own pace, anyway. You and your TBR will be in my thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have both The Wrath and the Dawn and A Thousand Nights by my side as I write this comment. Really excited to read them 😀 Might even go ahead and read them before the ARCs (praying so hard that both of them don’t disappoint)

        I think it depends on the person, because I went crazy with requests when I first made my NetGalley account, whereas others don’t go all out like me. But I also think it’s a great way to get on publisher’s radar as a reviewer. I would recommend it, but maybe sometime in the future when you have time and feel like you can enjoy it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You should still give it a try, if you were excited about it! I’m in the minority for a reason; there’s a great chance that all the problems I had with it wouldn’t bother you nearly as much, if at all.

      Really, if my friend Lizzy hadn’t died before I read it, I think I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more. It just touched some very raw nerves with me, and I couldn’t see past that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I understand what you mean – I’m really sorry about that, by the way 😦
        There are just a lot of things that you pointed out about The Wrath and the Dawn that I’m not sure I could see past, either, and I feel like I’d just be getting pissed off for the majority of the book haha

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      2. No reason to piss yourself off reading a book you already know will piss yourself off. Unless you get in the mood for a solid rage-read, I suppose! Those can be fun. 🙂

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  6. I’ve literally just finished writing a review for TWATD and I have to say: YES TO EVERYTHING YOU’VE WRITTEN AND THEN YES A LITTLE BIT MORE. This is such a fantastic, sharp critique and it had me nodding my head and laughing at some many different points. So good!

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  7. One point of correction: Shahrzad initiates sex with Khalid on their wedding night, presumably because she’s trying to get close to him to learn his weaknesses. It’s not clear how sex is initiated the second night, but I would assume it’s similar. When he visits her on her wedding night, he fairly explicitly says that he doesn’t expect sex from her. In other words, she initiates sex with him off her own volition, in pursuit of her own goals. I actually spent the whole book thinking he’d raped her, too, until I went back and reread the passage.

    The rest of your review I find fairly accurate. I completely agree that the book was a story about him, told from her perspective 😦

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    1. Thank you for pointing that out, Rebekah!

      I’ll admit that I initially wasn’t sure whether to call those scenes “sex” or “rape,” and ultimately decided to call them “sex”—but another reviewer read my review, and explained why she did believe it was rape (and expressed general outrage that other people couldn’t recognize it as such). I gave my reasoning for believing it wasn’t rape, but I ultimately felt convinced enough by her argument to edit my review.

      Here’s a link to that conversation, if you’d like to read it (between myself and Her Fine Eyes; you’ll have to scroll past my review first):

      http://heyashers.booklikes.com/post/1299255/the-wrath-and-the-dawn

      But I’ve been kind of regretting making those edits ever since. Especially after writing my post about the rape in A Thousand Pieces of You, I’ve been wanting to revert this review to its original form, and add a note (with a link) that I had a conversation with someone who presented the scene as rape. Doing so feels more honest, because it accurate reflects both my own reading experience, and the outside information that later affected how I read those scenes. Your comment is the kick I needed to finally get around to doing that!

      Thank you so much for the comment and perspective (and the motivation to finally edit this post); I really appreciate all of it. 😊

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  8. I’m so glad to realise that I’m not the only one that didn’t like this book.

    I was really disappointed that she ends up in love with her rapist. I agree that the rape scenes were really difficult to spot, as they were over so quick and weren’t described in much detail. Your discussion with Her Fine Eyes was very interesting.

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