Ratings: ☕☕ (2/5)
Last year there was a lot of hype surrounding retellings of the classic One Thousand and One Nights (also called The Arabian Nights) and one of the books to steal the spotlight was Renee Ahdeih’s The Wrath and The Dawn. Since I
missed the hype train for this book last year, I decided to read TWAD a few months back to find out for myself why people loved this book so much.
I am still trying to find that out.
The Writing: It’s not like TWAD is poorly written. If anything, I found Renee Ahdeih’s writing to be captivating and incredibly powerful. The setting and atmosphere of the story, the exotic culture of ancient Arab was so on point that I couldn’t help but be transported to that time and culture. In fact, the writing was the only reason why I couldn’t bring myself to put this book down despite my long list of issues with it–Ahdeih has some serious writing magic that I would love to master myself someday.
But unfortunately, brilliant writing alone cannot earn a book 5 steaming coffee cups (read stars) from me–I need an intriguing plot, unforgettable characters, and a killer ending to make me add a book on my favourite reads list.
In the case of The Wrath and The Dawn, the characters and the ending were the reasons why I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the sequel.
The Characters: This will sound rather harsh but One Thousand and One Nights is known mainly for it’s female lead character, Scheherazade, a queen so intelligent and witty that she turns a misogynist psychopath (no really, king Shahryar actually became a psychopath in the very beginning of the story after his wife cheated on him) into a kind and just ruler who learns to respect all women. Given that TWAD is a retelling, I was prepared for some differences from the original but the blurb had tricked me into hoping for a strong, inspiring female lead. I was sorely disappointed here.
Shahrzad was the furthest thing from a badass heroine–she was inexcusably arrogant, stubborn and had serious anger management issues. She voluntered to be the king’s wife in order to exact revenge on him for murdering her best friend and throughout the whole book she kept talking about how much Khalid disgusted her…and that’s all she did. She had no plan, she did not plot against her husband, she did not even try to get her vengeance. She talked about how brave and strong she was and how she could take on anyone with nothing but a bow and arrow, but we never really see her actually doing that except in one scene–just one scene!
And the way she kept throwing herself into dangerous situations carelessly and impulsively with no thoughts about the consequences of her actions simply infuriated me. How in the world an irresponsible and reckless can be described as “strong” is beyond me.
Let’s not even get started on Khalid. Though I initially felt pity for the situation that forced him to murder so many women, I couldn’t help but think it was unfair to let Shahrzad live. I understood that he couldn’t bring himself to kill her because he loved her, though why he loved her is beyond me, but was it not cruel to the families who had already lost a daughter to him before? How does one life matter more than the rest?
The rest of the characters weren’t really that memorable except for maybe Jamal. I found Tariq to be an irritating nuisance, and Shahrzad’s father (whose name escapes me) to be a mildly interesting antagonist who lacked any real depth. I sort of liked Isra, our MC’s sister, but her appearance was so rare that I couldn’t really see what her purpose was in the story.
The Plot: This book was heavy on the romance and lacking in almost every other genre it’s been listed in, which again would have been fine with me if the romance wasn’t the extra cheesy insta-love kind. It’s not so much that there wasn’t chemistry between the characters, but rather the fact that chemistry was all they had between them. I could not see any reason for Shahrzad to fall so hopelessly in love with Khalid. Similarly, the few times we saw things from Khalid’s POV, all he kept saying was how much Shahrzad’s beauty had bewitched him. Clearly, he was only in love with her looks.
Speaking of the romance, I just have to talk about a particular scene that was unnecessarily thrown at us in the very beginning of the story: the sex scene between Shahrzad and Khalid.
Give me two minutes while I finish throwing up.
It’s not that I am against sex in YA; I’m okay with it provided that there’s a trigger warning or something for younger readers of YA who should not be reading sex scenes. What I’m against is sex…sorry, no, a woman…being objectified. And that’s pretty much what happens here. In the very beginning of this book, Shahrzad uses her body for…well I really cannot see any reason why she had to do that since I doubt Khalid wanted to have sex with a woman he planned to hang in the morning (if he did want that then that’s another reason for me to hate him) and it’s not like sex was the thing that had let her live to see another morning. (And again, if that’s the reason why Khalid let her live then I am beyond disgusted). In fact, even if she did have some ulterior motive to use her body like that, I definitely would have sympathized with her situation if only she showed some sort of reaction to it. This girl is supposed to be a strong, albeit emotional, sixteen year old who is out for blood. Even if she has absolutely no qualms in using sex as a weapon, it is grossly unrealistic that she would not be just a little bit affected by it. Instead, we see her giving away her virginity like it was extra change, something that I cannot picture a “strong” character being able to do, and it only made things weird especially when she began to look forward to doing it again.
Aside from the above, there really isn’t much to say about the plot but this is more because TWAD is only the first book. We see a strong element of magic and the beginning of a rising rebellion against Khalid, and also a whole lot of court politics, all of which were made even more interesting by Ahdeih’s brilliant writing. However, the romance really took the attention away from all of these other parts of the plot, but I have a feeling we’ll see more magic and rebellion in the second book.
The Ending: The ending of this book was rather abrupt. I am not quite sure how I feel about it, but it didn’t really change my overall negative feelings about this book or even interest me enough to continue with the series.
I will end my rant with a link to a review of this book by Jean from Happy Indulgences, whose criticism was much kinder than mine. I honestly cannot bring myself to recommend this book, but if you still want to read it I would suggest comparing both positive and negative reviews before you pull out your wallet. When a book has this much hype, it may be a good idea to check out a few unpopular opinions too.