Chosen for me by my loving fiance, who thought that I needed something a little lighter than some of the stuff I normally read, I have raced through The Wrath & The Dawn with eagerness. A well written tale based on the Arabian Nights, Ahdieh paints a picture of a tortured king and the young woman stubborn enough to save him with finesse and skill.
I have never read a version of Arabian Nights (Disney’s Aladdin does not count!) but was familiar with the concept prior to starting this novel, and a few chapters in had to put the book down and check that it was deliberately following the popular framing I knew already existed. Once satisfied that this was a deliberate narrative choice, I was able to settle down to enjoy the novel.
Shazi has volunteered to marry a troubled young prince, who executes his brides at dawn and has done for several months. The death of Shazi’s best friend has driven her to seek retribution against the man who caused the death, but instead she finds herself puzzled by the quietly spoken boy-king she faces. Two young people carrying heavy secrets, seeking to be understood in a world that can’t understand them find comfort in each other… but this is not to everyone’s pleasure.
I have enjoyed this novel surprisingly much – so much so that its sequel is on the way already (it is nice to read a duology rather than a 14 book series for a change!). Ahdieh takes a well known narrative frame (that of the queen telling stories to save her life), but focusses more on the surroundings of the story than that stories themselves, which from what I know is what the original Arabian Nights does. Her subtle nods to the original tales are clear and respectful, but it is obvious that her real fascination was with the couple, the development of their relationship and their individual motivations.
The parallel between the two main characters, Shazi and Khalid, is striking. Khalid, a murdering king, meets Shazi and decides for one night to hold her execution. Shazi, an innocent girl in love with another man who has never hurt another person, has entered the royal palace with the intention of killing Khalid. Her murderous intent is driven by the death of her best friend, while Khalid’s breaking of habit is driven by wanting to get to know the girl in front of him. Her anger and his interest collide several times, creating the complex romantic narrative outside of the normal ‘boy meets girl’ trope. Ahdieh shows their confusion with depth and skill, exploring how the couple can possibly come to be in love when their motivations are so against each other. The real heart break is when Shazi learns why Khalid does what he does, and suggests that he should kill her too. His determination to keep her alive, at the risk of losing his kingdom, is the greatest show of love the novel contains, as is the lead up to the final love-making scene in the novel – a stark contrast to the business-like transactions that have gone before. Ahdieh shows the internal conflicts of both protagonists thoroughly, and whilst there are occasional overt comments that stand out for the obviousness of the statement they put forwards, it is mostly done subtly and gently.
Ahdieh shows a world very dominated by men, where women have a role to play in the grand scheme of things, but always in a subservient manner. This suits the setting and style of the writing, but does raise several questions – why is Shazi the first to halt the king? What right does Tariq have to demand she go with him? Is her father wrong in not stopping her from marrying the king? There are 2 women in the novel – Shazi and Despina. Shazi is in an arranged marriage with the threat of death hanging over her, and Despina is a pregnant maid who dares not dishonour the father by telling him the truth. Both are, in their own way, strong characters, but the perceptions around them are that they need rescuing, taming and controlling. Shazi can hold her own against Khalid’s enemies, but Tariq cannot accept her independence and still sees her as a beautiful thing to be rescued. Khalid is the only male who comes to any realisation concerning Shazi’s independence, when he agrees that she is not a ‘thing’ to be sent away, but it is his love for her and fear of losing her that drives this and not a change of attitude towards women. Some of the repression experienced is difficult to read, albeit culturally sensitive.
It is interesting that when putting this into a genre I immediately went for ‘fantasy’. Magic and the supernatural only play a small part in the main narrative – the curse that Khalid is under happened prior to the events of the novel, and whilst Shazi’s father’s experiments with magic are interspersed throughout, they only really appear towards the end of the narrative. However, there is a strong sense of a fantastical culture and the writing suits the fantasy genre. I will be interested to see how this develops in the conclusion to the series.
This was an interesting take on an age-old tale, filled with innovative thinking and expression. It wasn’t full of surprises or shocks, not for a seasoned reader, but it was a nicely decorated and intriguing narrative filled with some stunning descriptions, especially of the clothes, and characters with depth that was expressed with skill and charm. Definitely recommended, though likely to a teenage audience!