The Rose and the Dagger, Renee Ahdieh

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The Premise

Returned to her family and separated from the man she loves, Shazi must now reconcile her love for a ‘monster’ with the family that believe they have rescued her. But there are darker forces at work – the curse which drove Khalid to his initial killings is rearing its head now that he has stopped bowing to its requirements, and the whole kingdom stands poised to fall as nature and greed stand firm. With betrayal coming from every angle, who can Shazi and Khalid trust with their secret? And can the curse really be broken?

The Verdict

It’s nice to read a duology which is truly that – two books in which all the action takes place and everything is wrapped up, even more so when some of the issues I raised before are addressed.

So let’s start there with the gender imbalance of power. Ahdieh showed a stubborn young woman and her maid, )really a spy in her chambers), in the first novel, as exceptions to the rule, where they stood out because of their independence and strength in a very male dominated world. I commented on this last time, and was pleased to see the development of a few more female characters in The Rose and The Dagger, namely the character development of Shazi’s sister Irsa, probably my favourite character. Unlike Shazi and Despina, Irsa is not the exception that surprises everyone because a woman is strong. Rather, Irsa is a true representation of the progression from childhood into womanhood – a character with faults who learns to overcome them. She is overplayed initially as the ‘perfect’ younger sister, who rarely has a temper and is loyal to her family but also her kingdom. Ahdieh begins to unravel this as Irsa helps Shazi to hide the ring belonging to Khalid, and continues to do this throughout the novel, such as where Irsa uses her innocent reputation to steal the book her father clings to. Ahdieh begins to develop more rounded and believable characters that are different to the standard ones that plagued the first book. You could lift Shazi and Khalid and plant them into any young person’s book and they would fit (with a little tweaking), whereas Irsa moves away from this generic characterisation and begins to show some of Ahdieh’s talents in creating unique fictional characters. I believe she still has a way to go, but this was definitely a step in the right direction.

As a result of this improved characterisation of Irsa, the focus on the strength of the male characters was drawn away – in fact, Ahdieh exploited more of their weaknesses and highlighted the importance of the female role. This was most apparent at the conclusion, where Yasmine replaces her father on the throne and is considered a far more fitting ruler. There is a lot of potential in this novel for the development of characters that was left unexplored, and Yasmine was one who suffered – she was a means towards an end rather than a person in the narrative, which was a shame.

The plot was satisfying and the conclusion was well done. I always prefer a nice big twist, which the reveal that Despina was in fact the Sultan’s daughter didn’t quite satisfy, but for a young person’s novel, everything was well wrapped up and explained. I enjoyed the ‘battle’ scene, if it can be called that, and found Ahdieh’s descriptions eliciting very visual images, demonstrating her skill with descriptive language. All the different strands of the story tied up, and the cliched happy ending was nice – a break from some of the more serious stuff I find myself reading sometimes!

Overall, the series was a creative retelling of a popular tale, filled with likeable characters, one stand out little sister, and descriptions that brought the location to life. I enjoyed the plot, although I found it predictable, but I would definitely read something by Ahdieh again if I came across it.

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