The Wrath and the Dawn: Review

April 22, 2015 2.5 star books, 2015, fantasy, Layla 29 ★★½

The Wrath and the Dawn: ReviewThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Series: The Wrath and the Dawn #1
Published by Penguin, Putnam Children's on May 12, 2015
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 388 pages
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

My subtitle for The Wrath and the Dawn: A (Whole New) World of No.

This book seemed chock-full of things I love: a good enemies-to-friends romance! something inspired by One Thousand and One Nights! and, last but not least, as an Arab-American, a story with a kickass Middle Eastern protagonist. So you can see why I fully expected to enjoy this one. I kept on seeing rave reviews for this on GoodReads and Twitter, so my hopes were way up.

But in truth? I was not the biggest fan of this book, you all, and I’m still sad about it. (Though I am not alone in my black sheep pen: Wendy was mostly underwhelmed by this, too.)

I want to begin, though, by making mention of the things I did like: Shazi is pretty excellent. She is brave, she knows how to use a bow and arrow, she’s mouthy, and she’s out for revenge. These are all qualities I very much admire in a woman. But it is precisely because she is so passionate about her beliefs at the beginning of the novel – she is there to kill Khalid and avenge all those murdered women – that I wish the resolution of this conflict had been given some more weight. (Like, I wish her feelings about Khalid had changed with actual evidence that he was not a psychopath, instead of random characters showing up and saying, “You know, he was a really sweet six year-old, these killings are so unlike him. Anyway, he’s pretty broken – won’t you heal him with your love?”) I also liked Shazi’s relationship with Yasmine and, to some extent, her relationship with Despina. The banter between Shazi and Yasmine is probably my favorite part of the book, hands down.

On the other hand, I had fairly significant trouble with the major relationship of the story (in particular, reading that relationship as a romance) as well as the prose style.  The premise of The Wrath and the Dawn is pretty much that of One Thousand and One Nights, which I knew going into this one. You may also know the story: there’s a king who takes brides and murders them the next morning and a woman who keeps herself alive by telling stories. Each night, she leaves her story on a cliffhanger to ensure that she makes it to see another dawn.

Now let me be clear from the very beginning: you are going to have to do some real heavy-lifting as a storyteller to convince me that a serial murderer is a swoon-worthy lead. A romance inspired by One Thousand and One Nights is going to have to come up with some reeeaaaally innovative plot developments to actually *become* a compelling romance for me. (Some suggestions: there’s an evil twin running around! the women aren’t dead, he just needs people to believe they are! everyone died in a train crash and this isn’t the real Narnia, anyway!) In this case, the indication that “all is not as it seems” had me constantly waiting for the twist that would make Khalid into someone who was not a terrible murderer.

black sheep alert not againThis moment, when it comes, comes far too late in the story for me. Additionally, it isn’t well-developed enough for me to give a happy sigh of relief and / or feel like it excuses Khalid’s wife-killing ways. It also doesn’t do much to resolve the major conflict of the novel – can Shazi love a murdering murderer who murdered her cousin? – because by the time we know Khalid’s deep dark secrets, Shazi is already in love with him. She’s conflicted about it, sure, and calls herself out on wanting to make excuses for Khalid (she can’t), but the book’s (and Shazi’s) ultimate position on Khalid seems to be something along the lines of “well, he may be a monster, but he’s MY monster.”

And I think we’re supposed to believe that he isn’t in fact a monster, but I didn’t feel that the narrative evidence was really there to support this conclusion. With better plotting and a more developed backstory, I might have felt differently. However, in some ways, it doesn’t matter: Shazi falls in love with him while never being 100% settled on the question of whether he has good reasons for his wife-killing or not. Spoiler, there are no good reasons.  View Spoiler »

In short, I wanted there to be more work around Shazi’s attraction to Khalid (and his attraction to her). As it is, I wasn’t really convinced that any of the backstory for Khalid’s motivations mattered in a meaningful way. Additionally, I was concerned about the gendered dynamics of their relationship: Khalid is cold, withdrawn, and violent in his passions; Shazi is portrayed as an exceptional woman who’s able to break through his walls and is responsible for fixing him. (She is told, for example, that “the more a person pushes others away, the clearer it becomes he is in need of love the most.”) And this is a burden that it often laid on women. I disliked seeing it reiterated here.

Last, but not least, I was really not a huge fan of the writing or the world-building for this one. On the whole, I could have used more magic and further engagement with the stories from One Thousand and One Nights. As it was, the Arabian Nights felt more like backdrop for a romance than anything else. Additionally, I found much of the writing to be off-putting. I know that I’m alone in this – and that many thought the prose was lush and evocative – but there were lots of places where I really stumbled on the word-choice or the use of metaphor. (A good rule of thumb for me as a reader is that if I have to stop and think hard about why someone has chosen that word, it’s probably not the right word.)

Some examples: “Like the poison toying with its remedy, Shahrzad’s hands ignored her and took control.” (Does poison toy with its remedy? Does poison have agency?) “He said it gently, with the poise of an afterthought.” (What is the “poise” of an afterthought?) “Like a poisoned glass of wine, meant to intoxicate and exsanguinate.” (Does poisoned wine cause exsanguination?) It’s not that any of this is wrong, per se, just that the word choice seemed off to me. And this happened all the time. At another moment in the story, Khalid “shuttered his gaze” and “latched the screens shut.”

Furthermore, there are other moments where the same descriptions and metaphors are really overused – Khalid’s “tiger-eyes” make an appearance at multiple points in the story, he’s frequently described as “ice and stone,” and anytime they kiss, they are always trapping each other’s necks between their palms. (This seems to me in especially poor taste as his previous brides have all been hanged to death.) Finally, if I never have to hear a (female, obviously) character described as having “curves in all the right places” ever again, I can die happy. But that one is a pet peeve for me. Your mileage may vary.

This is to say that I know many folks were moved by the writing, but I really struggled with it. I never found it to be an immersive reading experience because I felt like I was always being thrown off-balance by the word choice and use of metaphor, as well as the general ickiness of the relationship. I know Ahdieh is a debut author, though, so I hope her next book will be better.

In any case, this wasn’t the book for me. I’m still holding out for a great story about One Thousand and One Nights – if you know any, feel free to throw them in my general direction. But lots of folks loved this, so I suspect I’m in the minority on this one. Baa.

Have you read The Wrath and the Dawn yet? What did you think?

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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


29 Responses to “The Wrath and the Dawn: Review”

  1. Zoe @ Stories on Stage

    YES. THANK YOU LAYLA. There was so much hype about this one, and I ended up feeling the same about it as you did. I felt like the romance kind of came out of nowhere, you know? Thank you for sharing and fabulous review! <3
    Zoe @ Stories on Stage recently posted…The Secrets We Keep

  2. Diane

    I’m so curious to see where I end up on this. It sounds right up my alley. However there have been a few times where I’ve been really let down by something most others loved (Snow Like Ashes and Girl of Fire and Thorns being two notable examples).

    At least now if I don’t my expectations aren’t too inflated! Good review! Still hoping I love it. We’ll see!
    Diane recently posted…Fairest by Marissa Meyer

    • Layla

      This was my feeling too. (Like, it has lots of things I like, and thus seemed like a potentially perfect book for me! It deals with subjects I like, was reported to have a totally swoon-worthy romance and awesome writing. SHOULD HAVE LOVED. But I did not.) I’ll be curious to see where you end up on this, too – I think either way you go, you’ll be in good company, though. :)

      I still haven’t read Girl of Fire and Thorns though it has been in my TBR pile for ages. Good to know that that one isn’t one I should approach with high expectations, maybe?

      I hope you love it too. Looking forward to hearing what you think!
      Layla recently posted…A Court of Thorns and Roses: Review

  3. Shannelle

    Well, this is disappointing. This is actually the first negative review I’ve seen for it, so my expectations for it are now considerably lower.
    Shannelle recently posted…I Talk iZombie

    • Layla

      Just … maybe take those expectations down a notch. I wish I had? I wonder if I would’ve liked it more. I was really disappointed in the writing. I’d heard so many good things about it! But her prose style just didn’t work for me.

      On the other hand, lots of folks have liked this one, so who can say! Look forward to reading your review of this if/when you read it, anyway. :)
      Layla recently posted…A Court of Thorns and Roses: Review

    • Layla

      Hey, I hope your excitement about this is rewarded! I really, really wanted to like it, too. (Lots of readers seemed to be ecstatic about this one, so I’d say that the odds at least are on your side. :)) I hope you’ll like it, and look forward to reading your review of it in any case, whether you’re a black sheep or not!
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  4. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I am often a black sheep, so I share your feelings on being the odd-ball out on certain novels, but this is a real shame. I am quite looking forward to this and I hope I enjoy it but at least I know now to lower my expectations and that I won’t be the first, or only, black sheep if I find myself as disappointed as you. Lovely review and thanks for your honesty, Layla!
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

    • Layla

      I know! For some reason, I feel like I’ve been overwhelmed by black sheep-ness this year, although that hasn’t been all bad – it’s sometimes nice to love something even if no one else loves it, because then you still have that book you love! Which is the best.

      I was really looking forward to this one, so I get it. I hope you’ll let me know how you feel about it when you finish – I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about it, whether you’re a black sheep or not!
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

  5. Amanda

    I really really liked this book but I couldn’t love it for much of what your review mentions. I wanted more of a build up from the enemies to lovers too. As you say, Shazi was excellent! I wanted Khalid to deserve her because he was excellent too -not just for the hope he could be.

    And I do agree- I would have loved more stories from Shazi! I was really glad though this didn’t get too love-triangulated which I was really afraid of. Something about the magic was what bothered me more than anything. I don’t know why, just didn’t love it.

    I am really looking forward to reading the final edition though and to the sequel.
    Amanda recently posted…Review: Silver Bay

    • Layla

      Yeah, there were plenty of excellent reasons for Khalid to fall for Shazi, but it wasn’t clear to me (while the story was progressing) what precisely he liked about her. (Like, I get that the spoilery-spoiler-backstory was very serious, which means he needed to have some dang good reasons for suddenly choosing to STOP killing all the ladies.) And as for Shazi’s attraction to Khalid, I couldn’t see what she liked about him that outweighed her desire for revenge.

      I did also like the absence of a love triangle. (And that line about how having a shared past doesn’t mean you get to share a future together – 100% correct, A++.) Was it like the violence of the magic? For me, it was that there wasn’t enough of it and also that it wasn’t totally clear what was going on with Shazi’s dad. I got that there was dark magic afoot but beyond that …

      Yeah! I do wonder if some of the sentences that bothered me were edited out. I will probably opt out of the sequel unless it looks crazy good.
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

  6. J. Oh

    Oh man! I was really looking forward to this, so I’m bummed that you didn’t like it. But your reasons are so legit, and the examples of awkward writing that you gave really jar me, too. I’ll have to lower my expectations going in to this book.

    It seems like there will be quite a few retellings of One Thousand and One Nights coming this year. Or maybe I’m only saying that because I haven’t read a retelling yet, but I’ve heard of a few back to back, including A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. I’m curious to see how they’ll compare.

    • Layla

      You’ll have to let me know what you think of it once you read it, then. My hopes were (perhaps unreasonably) high for this book, so my disappointment in it was all the more crushing. I kind of wonder if approaching it with lowered expectations might not actually be best. But I was looking forward to it so so much! And I am not super good at lowering my expectations, so.

      With regards to the awkward writing, I felt like there was plenty more where that came from, unfortunately. But I do want to stress that I’m very much in the minority here – almost every other review I’ve read of this talks about how captivating the writing style is? So, maybe you’ll feel differently about it when you see it in the context of the novel.

      I’m going to keep an eye out for the Johnston one. I also saw last night that Disney Hyperion is releasing an Alternate Universe for Aladdin as a YA novel where Jafar finds the lamp first, so there’s going to be more (however loosely) Arabian Nights-inspired stuff in our future, I think!
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

    • Layla

      I know! I’m going to keep an eye out for that one and hope that it is the Arabian Nights story my heart deserves. ;) I think that was part of my issue with this particular retelling anyway – there is so much source material, and I really wanted more engagement with it. Tell me more stories! Give me some more magic! Less about this romance, please!

      It’s unfortunate – I know so many people loved this one, and I really wanted to.
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

    • Layla

      Here is the thing! You could come with SO MANY CRAZY THINGS and I would buy them! Admittedly, I have a slight preference for crazysauce backstories that leave approximately zero women murdered (they are all in safehouses somewhere, in my mind), but you know … I could potentially believe lots of things. I’m very credulous like that.

      And maybe I would’ve been open to Khalid’s backstory demonstrating he was not a crazy murderer if I’d found him to be sympathetic at all. But the point of view in the story is always third-person, so we don’t get inside his head, and we never really get to see what Shazi finds precisely so appealing about him.
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

    • Layla

      I was really looking forward to this one, too, and I was incredibly disappointed in it. And haha, yes, proceed with caution – I wonder if it isn’t better to approach it with more realistic expectations anyway. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more if so?

      To be fair, in order for this book to work for me, some seriously twisty plot twists were going to need to happen. Like Sixth Sense kind of shit. And what happened just wasn’t compelling enough for me. (You’ve got to give me some really solid reasons for murdering all your wives, or better yet, why not reveal that you NEVER MURDERED ANYONE?! Best possible world of all!)

      Anyway, I look forward to hearing what you think about this one. Let me know! I’m fascinated by how many folks love this one. Wish I’d been among them!
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

  7. Carina Olsen

    Noooooo. Gorgeous review, Layla. <3 I loved reading your thoughts about this book. So much. But damn. Now I am worried about reading this one :( I'm so sorry you were disappointed by it. Sigh. But reading your thoughts I understand why. Just. Ack. I really hope I will love this one. I think that I would love the boy a whole lot, despite him murdering people :p I'm weird like that, lol. So that would not bother me. But the writing you say. And your short quotes. Those seem to bother me a lot. Ugh. But yeah. Hoping to still like it :) I'm glad you didn't fully hate it, though. <3 Thank you for sharing sweetie :)
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #184

    • Layla

      Oh man, if you do not have a problem with this boy murdering people, you might very well love this book! That was definitely the biggest thing that got in the way of my feeling in the least inclined to ship him and Shazi. Anyway, I will say that since lots of folks did love this book, I wouldn’t be surprised if you did as well – it seems to be by and large the most popular reaction to this one. :) Anyway, if you do end up reading it, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it!
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

    • Layla

      Eh, it happens. It’s why telling someone the plot of the book is often not the best way to describe it, you know? Because hearing – “retelling of the Arabian nights! badass lady who wants to murder the king! nights of passion! magic!” – makes me want to drop everything I’m doing and run for that book. And yet, in practice, the storytelling left much to be desired for me.
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

  8. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Yanno, I’m kind of happy this book didn’t wind up in my mailbox. Yeah, the premise is awesome but, like you said, to convince me that a serial killer is redeemable — a love interest, even — there’d have to be some major twists and storytelling in action. I have the feeling I’d join you in the Gang of the Black Sheep with this story, as I have little patience with “healed by love” and no concrete reason for “loving” a serial killer.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Pre-Squee: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

    • Layla

      I knooooooow. And the thing is, I fully expected those twists to happen because the back cover material was all, “Wooo, nothing is as it seems, woooooo!”

      As it turns out, things are almost exactly how they seem. (Yes, there’s backstory, but it was hard to take the backstory seriously when he decides NOT to kill Shazi pretty quickly and, in addition, Shazi falls in love with him without having access to that information, anyway.) He still killed all those ladies! Did he feel bad about it? Yes. But he still does it anyway! I really would have been happier overall if there’d been an evil twin in the picture.

      “Healed by love” is one of my least favorite tropes. Man, it gets me every time (especially when it’s about an exceptional woman who is the only one that our violent and domineering alpha male can let into his heart). Blech! Don’t fix people! This isn’t a good thing, you guys!
      Layla recently posted…Mini Reviews: Magonia, Rook, and The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Guide

    • Layla

      Yeah, the premise for the novel was really interesting. I’ll admit that I expected the book to complicate Shazi and Khalid’s relationship more than it did, and that I wanted Shazi’s stories to be more of a focus than they were. (We get her stories for the first two or three nights, and then Khalid decides to spare her.)

      Again, it’s a debut novel, so I’m hoping the next one will be better. And I did read an ARC so it’s possible that some of this was fixed before making it to a final draft, but man, I really wanted some of the writing to be more clear in places.
      Layla recently posted…The Wrath and the Dawn: Review