The Wrath and the Dawn
Spoiler Rating: High
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.
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.
The Writing Style
The first fifteen pages of the book had me firmly in its enchanting little grasp. I mean, just look at 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.
- Shahrzad: the heroine. Brave, short-tempered, weak-willed. Aggravating.
- Khalid: the murderous Caliph and Shahrzad’s new husband. Quiet, angsty, remote. I have no idea what Shahrzad finds attractive about him.
- 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.
- 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:
- Shahrzad marries Khalid, intending to kill him.
- Shahrzad and Khalid almost instantly fall in love, and angst about it.
- Tariq seeks financial and military support to help him kill Khalid and free Shahrzad.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
*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.
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,