The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a first novel, and it feels like one. The prose is overwritten and tends toward the purple, and it resorts to using the same descriptions far too often. Like, we don’t need to know that Jalid has “tiger eyes” each time he looks at Sherzhad, do we? Or that Sherzhad has luscious, waist-length hair? There also seemed to be something weird going on with transitions, because I often had to backtrack to figure out how we got from one scene to another, or from one point of view to another, etc.
It’s hard to redeem the caliph who murders a new bride every night, and this book puts forth a valiant effort. But in doing so, it sort of lets him off the hook for his crimes, which is a little off-putting. The tumultuous love story between Jalid and Sherzhad probably would have captured my interest if I read this as a teenager, but as an adult it felt a bit on the melodramatic side. Plus, whenever I started to get into it, there was, “Oh yeah, but this guy has killed a bunch of women,” and that sort of killed the mood for me.
The world-building is pretty shaky and doesn’t seem to be firmly rooted in Middle Eastern history or in a new, magical world. It ends up being a sort of mashup of the two, but the magic plays such a tangential part in the story that it feels a little out of place. There are curses and random powers inserted mostly for the sake of convenience and without feeling as though they are truly woven into the fabric of this time and place. And, like, why was there a magic carpet that never even did anything? I could have done without the half-baked love triangle, too.
I gave the book three stars, so obviously it wasn’t all bad. It held my interest well enough even if it annoyed me at times, and there are far too few retellings of fairy tales outside the European canon. It ends on a little bit of ambiguity/cliffhanger which seems to set it up for a sequel, in which the love triangle is destined to take center stage. I don’t think I will be reading it.