What It’s About
A magical retelling of the Arabian Nights, with love triangles, political intrigue and ancient curses.
Why I Think You’d Like It
When I was a kid, it was easy for books to sweep me up. As soon as I picked up a book, I would get lost in the world. I would care about the characters so deeply that I would periodically close books and whisper to the spines, begging the pages to not kill off this character and please make sure this one evil jerk gets punished. I’d yell at them and curse the author’s name if they ended on cliffhangers, and then run off to get the very next book. Growing up has brought more good than bad, but I really miss that feeling of total immersement. Books can still make me feel that way, but some I enjoy more cerebrally, and others gradually earn it. Suspension of disbelief has become more elusive.
This book brought back that feeling almost instantly.
The protagonist, Sharzad, is simultaneously larger than life and intimately relatable. She is fierce, brave, brash, clever and beautiful, but she has more than enough moments of short sightedness and human failings. You want her to win because she has good intentions and an admirable strength of will. You’re scared she won’t because she is ultimately human just like us. Khalid, the young caliph who she marries to stop him from murdering his nightly brides, is a great character as well. Renee Ahdieh does a fantastic job hinting that there will be a big reveal of how he has been compelled to become a murderer, and in the meantime characterizing him as flawed but longing to break free of his crimes. Long before you know why, you want there to be a reason that will let you like him, and the reveal hits that perfect blend of surprising and inevitable. Lesser authors have failed to make less monstrous characters relatable, but you care about Khalid. The supporting cast is fantastic as well. I can’t reveal too much about them without spoilers, but every one starts out fascinating and only become more so as the story fleshes them out.
The setting is marvelously rich and magical. The pacing will stop you from putting this book down for a moment longer than necessary. The resolution is satisfying… once you get to the second book, that is. The Wrath and the Dawn wraps up several major plot threads but does end on a cliffhanger, which The Rose and the Dagger resolves perfectly. That’s why I am recommending both books together. It seems unfair not to warn you that, once you pick up the first book, you will absolutely have to read the second.
But hey, who says that’s a bad thing?
Mostly violence. There are sword fights, assassination attempts and references to a past suicide.
There is some sexual content, but despite the source material it is all consensual. In the first few pages, Sharzad believes that Khalid will expect her to sleep with him, but Khalid makes it clear that she does not have to make herself available to him. She does continue with her plan, because she intends to use her sexuality along with her stories to end the slaughter. It is a conflicted choice, but it is unambiguously her choice. There’s also a brief scene where she is harassed while in disguise on the street, but that ends poorly for the harassers.
Also, the only drawn out, sensual scenes are the ones where consent is not only present, but enthusiastic.