I was about to give The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh 4 stars, but then I just couldn’t do it.
I did absolutely enjoy the story and many aspects of the novel, which I will outline below, but there were an equal number of things that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around and didn’t exactly like. I am a bit disappointed in this because so many reviews I read of the novel were very complimentary, but I can see why readers would love the story and find it engrossing and intoxicating, so I can’t say that I don’t understand the hype. What I will say is that, for me, there were a few more problems with The Wrath and the Dawn than I would’ve liked, so that made it hard for me to give it an above average rating.
I think it’s easiest if I list the things I really liked about The Wrath and the Dawn and then the things I really didn’t, so you can see what I mean. When you break it down to the number of amazing vs. disappointing elements, I believe it is clear why I settled on a 3 rather than a 4-star rating.
What I Really Liked About The Wrath and the Dawn:
- The Culture and World Building ~ I am half Lebanese myself, and while I adore Middle Eastern food and culture and am marrying a Persian man, I can’t say that I have ever read a novel set in the Middle East. Ahdieh undoubtedly creates a rich and sumptuous world in The Wrath and the Dawn and Khorasan is a kingdom I could easily visualize and get swept up in. Ahdieh’s descriptions of the Middle Eastern clothing, food and landscapes are detailed and intricate, and I found it very fun to try and picture Caliph Khalid’s palace and the various outfits that Shahrzad wore. My mouth also quite literally watered at the descriptions of the food (see the quote below – this is food that I am very accustomed to eating at my own family gatherings!) and I think that in this day and age, we need more Middle Eastern settings to stand out in pop culture and literature. I fully commend Ahdieh for creating such an engrossing and vivid world for her story.
“Soon, platters of food were brought before them – steaming, buttery basmati rice with bright orange saffron staining its center, surrounded by lamb in a savory sauce of dates, caramelized onions, and tangy barberries; skewers of marinated chicken and roasted tomatoes, served alongside chilled yogurt and cucumbers; fresh herbs and lavash bread, with rounds of goat cheese and sliced red radishes splashing brilliant colors against a polished wood backdrop.”
- The Truly Strong Female Character, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran ~ Having just finished Stalking Jack the Ripper, I was in need of a defiant and self-respecting female character. (I’m sorry, but I believe Audrey Rose was sorely lacking in that department and you can read my review of Stalking Jack the Ripper to find out why.) Shahrzad al-Khayzuran is very confident, but she is also human and open to changing her opinions. She isn’t arrogant or narrow-minded and I appreciated the fact that she grew and developed very much throughout the novel, particularly in her relationship with Khalid. I liked Shazi a lot, and I found all of her dialogues, especially with her handmaiden Despina, to be super witty and entertaining.
- The Man that Lets Her Be Strong ~ I also always appreciate it when a male character encourages his female counterpart to be strong, to harness her power and to grow her self-esteem. Although it was touchy at first, Khalid truly does become a character that pushes Shazi to be better and gives her the opportunity to challenge herself and become the queen she is meant to be. This is a truly amazing interaction to behold between the two main characters.
“‘Do better than this, Shazi. My queen is without limitations. Boundless in all that she does. Show them.’”
“‘Shahrzad al-Khayzuran! You are not weak. You are not indecisive. You are strong. Fierce. Capable beyond measure.’”
~ Khalid to Shahrzad
What I Didn’t Love About The Wrath and the Dawn:
- The Instalove ~ It made very little sense to me how Shazi and Khalid just fell in love all of a sudden, and I feel that comes down to a failing with the pacing and storytelling in The Wrath and the Dawn. It seemed really abrupt that Shazi went from wanting to kill Khalid to saying that he is the air she breathes. I’ll get into more detail about this in a second, but in the very beginning of the narrative, very little dialogue or interaction between Shazi and Khalid is shown, so it sort of comes across that they become attracted to one another and fall in love instantly, all in the span of one night when they leave the palace to have some fun together. This annoyed me a bit because I was expecting this scenic and very romantic relationship that sort of never happened, in my opinion, and was very rushed.
- The Disjointedness ~ This sort of relates to the Instalove idea: I felt that the plot of The Wrath and the Dawn was somewhat disjointed and lacked focus. The novel is supposed to be about Shahrzad volunteering to be Khalid’s bride and saving herself from being murdered at dawn (as all of Khalid’s other wives are) by telling him stories that will pique his interest and then will lead to affection on his part. This concept is fascinating and could make for a totally unique love story…but for whatever reason, Ahdieh chose to abandon the concept very early on in the story. As readers, we watch Shazi tell Khalid two or three stories, and then it is alluded to that she tells him more, but we never witness it, so it feels like the entire crux of the novel is ignored. We also never see Khalid fall in love with Shazi through her stories, and this sort of made me feel jilted or like the story was incorrectly branded and marketed.
- The Scattered Nature of the Storylines ~ In the same sense that the narrative of The Wrath and the Dawn felt very disjointed, the plot came across as incredibly scattered to me. I think that Ahdieh tried to accomplish too much in one novel, and rather than honing her focus on Shazi and Khalid and their quest to understand each other and explore what ruling Khorasan together can mean, Ahdieh chose to explore side plots related to Shazi’s father Jahandar and her childhood sweetheart Tariq. While this created some conflict in regards to her growing feelings for Khalid, it also came across as drama for the sake of it. The same is true of the conflicts between Khalid and the ruler of the neighbouring kingdom, Parthia – I believe it would have been enough to explore further how the people of Khorasan feel about their seemingly malicious and monstrous boy-king, rather than adding in a conflict with another territory entirely.
- The Random Tidbits That Go Unexplained ~ Following on the previous point, Ahdieh mentions a lot of ideas that are never explained. The whole novel seems to be one big cliffhanger because so much of the characters’ development is left to be done. For example, Shazi and her father Jahandar’s magical abilities are never explored (What was with the burning book and the magic carpet?), Despina’s pregnancy and her pseudo-relationship with Jalal is left entirely unresolved, and Shazi’s younger sister comes across as a huge and important character in the first few chapters, only to disappear midway through the story. The final 20 pages of the novel are also very frustrating in that they are not only a cliffhanger, but they also introduce some elements to the story that were not present before and that aren’t explained at all, such as why Jalal would want Shazi to leave Khorasan forever after he encouraged her romance with Khalid, whether or not Khalid knew that Khorasan was going to burn, and the notion that Jahandar, who up until this point seems unfailingly loyal to his daughters, failed them as a father for their whole lives. I wanted desperately for the end of the novel to blow me away and solidify that 4-star rating, but is just did not! If anything, it confused me more and made me feel less inclined to pick up the sequel.
It makes me sad, but it really looks like I didn’t like more about The Wrath and the Dawn than I liked. Having said that, it wasn’t a dreadful or tedious read, so I would probably still recommend it as one of the slightly better young adult novels I have read recently. All in all, though, The Wrath and the Dawn was, for me, mediocre at best.
❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart