Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch...she's falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend. She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
Beautifully written and lusciously imagined, The Wrath and The Dawn is the kind of book that I get completely and utterly lost in. It's been a long time since read a book that I fell so completely into that I only realised how long I'd been reading when my phone rang with my best friend asking why I hadn't picked her up for our "date night" yet. I'm not kidding, this actually happened.
If you're looking for a fact-paced story set across a sweeping kingdom with characters all over the place, then this probably isn't the book for you. This is a slow burn, almost a character study in our protagonist, and one set almost entirely within the same palace. A story about head versus heart, love versus hate, selfishness versus selflessness and what it means to be true to yourself.
The story itself is a fairly simple one. As the book itself says near the end: Just one boy and one girl. Shazi enters the palace of Khalid with a simple goal in mind. To kill the boy-king who has married and put to death countless innocent girls before her, including her best friend Shiva. It's here that Shazi discovers, and to her horror, begins to fall in love with, the boy behind the monster. The kingdom of Khorasan, the courts, supporting characters, culture, everything that frames the story is what lifts it beyond the realms of just another YA story. The detail in the book is so rich, so vivid and so gorgeously imagined that you can practically touch the silks and gemstones of the clothes and taste the spice and flower blossom in the air. You may have noticed, but my imagination ran away with me a little while I was reading this book! And I have another window open on my laptop as I type looking at trips to Morocco...
Shazi is a wonderful character, flawed and utterly believeable. The whole idea of this fierce and determined girl falling foul of her own heart as she comes to love the boy she intends to kill could have been incredibly insulting, the kind of thing that sets the Women's Rights movement back by about 50 years, and believe me I'm pretty easy to rankle with that sort of thing. But Renee Ahdieh portrays Shazi as a real person, not your typical "feisty" YA heroine that you see in every other book. Yes she makes mistakes, and yes she strays from her path even though it pains her to do it, but it's believable, and it's very human. Shazi's husband, the boy-king Khalid is a closed book at first, alternating between stern ruler and tentative lover. I wasn't entirely sure what drew Shazi to him at first. He opens up as the story unfolds, but still, I didn't 100% buy in to their relationship. His bruden and secretive nature are intriguing sure, but once the thrill of infatuation and verbal jousting wears off, I don't see his connection with Shazi as more than obsession with someone who is a novelty to him. That said, Tariq is still my favourite corner in this love triangle. Shazi's childhood friend and first love, he's determined to rescue her from what he believes to be her prison, his steadfast belief blinding him to what is in front of his eyes between Shazi and Khalid. It's header to believe in the romance between Shazi and Tariq, even though she described him as her first love, but that's probably because they're rarely together on the pages. Special mentions to Shazi's handmaiden Despina and Khalid's cousin Jalal. The relentless po-facedness of Khalid and Shazi's inner turmoil can get pretty heavy, so it's nice to get some relief with these charming, happy-go-lucky characters, even though Despina would probably be beheaded for being such a painfully unprofessional servant!
It may seem odd to say, but it's worth a mention that this is one of the only YA books I've come across recently (excluding Leigh Bardugo's wonderful Six of Crows) that doesn't feature a cookie-cutter, white heroine. It doesn't happen nearly often enough and it's good to finally see some diversity breaking through into mainstream YA. This is no box-ticking exercise or white-wash of a Middle Eastern tale, it's just presented as what it is, a beautifully written, well crafted tale which happens to feature non-white leads.
I was a little bit disappointed with the inclusion of magic in the story, in that it's so fleeting. There's a brief glimpse of what may or may not be a magic carpet, a curse that will destroy Khalid's kingdom if he does not take 100 lives and Shazi's father's shaky grasp over powers of his own, but they're frustratingly unexplored. Why does someone have the power to curse Khalid, yet no one else apparently has the power to reverse or remedy that curse? The character who places it is described briefly in passing, but where did he get his gift? Are such powers commonplace in Khorasan? There's a very brief mention of Shazi possibly possessing a dormant gift, but this ultimately goes nowhere in the book. The hints of magic seem to sit a little awkwardly with the real, albeit it fantastic, world setting. Hopefully this is something that will be explored a bit more in the sequel; The Rose and The Dagger. Which I have already pre-ordered.
Marie Lu describes The Wrath and The Dawn as "an intoxicating gem of a story" on the cover, and loathed as I am to copy what someone else has said, I couldn't put it better myself. The story is small, the location contained, the supporting character list limited, but the simple tale, the beautifully descriptive writing and believable characters make for a heady combination that I fell utterly in love with.
One quick thing - if you have the hard/paperback version of the book, do yourself a favour and check out the glossary at the back first. I didn't see it until the end but it makes things a lot easier when dealing with names, words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to Western readers.