The Wrath & the Dawn
Putnam (imprint of Penguin Group USA) 9780399176654
I am not the first to love this book, or to rave about how well composed its sentences are. And I am going to do that, because it lives up to the praise. When I write pieces like this for the bookstore I am employed by, I usually pick books that have not already gotten so much publicity. Those sell themselves, and on that site I want to showcase books that haven’t gotten praise but should definitely be bought because they are every bit as good. But this blog is about what I read for fun, and of course I could not pass up The Wrath & the Dawn.
You expect an inevitable predictability when you are reworking a known tale (as people know most of your storyline beforehand). The real pitfall of those novels is the way in which an author will or will not twist the story to make it their own. It is very easy to make excuses for a dark character because you want them and their redemption to be the focal point of your story. When you have a man who murders all his brides the next morning, you can’t just make something up and have everything be alright. The Wrath & the Dawn deserves most of its given praise for avoiding exactly this. There is such beauty and elegance in the way Renée Ahdieh approaches the problem of committing dark acts versus responsibility versus guilt. Not only for the boy-king, but for the girl who loves him as well.
It reminded me a little of a side-story in the excellent fantasy novel Tigana, which I also thought was so honest about a warped view and accepting love that you must learn to forgive yourself for. For the most part, this story feels to me like what I think would really have happened between Sheherazade and the sultan in the original tale. She came to him to prevent him from killing any more brides, weaved stories to capture his interest and bore him several children in the process. In life, emotion is messy and very contradictory. You can blame and hate someone and still love them. Ahdieh captures that with a gorgeous hand.
I must say I did not find all of the plot as compelling. Tariq feels inserted to make sure certain events happen with a more personal feel, while that is not exactly needed. There are already enough people out for blood. He may prove – in the second volume – more material, but once again I do very much appreciate how Ahdieh lets him interact with her other characters. The end feels a bit rushed, where there is usually much character-driven story, it is suddenly much more of a sequence of actions and events that shuffles the players onto different locations on the chess board, ready for the second volume. That is why I am assuming this is more the publisher’s hand than that of Ahdieh, to tempt readers to buy the second novel. Which, by the way, I have never understood. If I love a book, why would I need a constructed temptation to buy the second book? The first book and its quality is the temptation.
Publishers don’t really seem to understand how we book lovers work. When I find a book and an author that I love or even just really like, I put them on my permanent reading list. I follow their releases and I buy them. We don’t just love the book, we love the author for giving us such a book, and thus we will continue on with them. We are quite the loyal bunch when we start to fangirl. Or fanboy. You get my drift. When it comes to Renée Ahdieh, you can be certain I am reading that second novel. I am curious to see where the story is going to be taken, now that it has veered out of Sheherazade-story and into its own. Considering how well drawn her characters are, I think I will love it just as much. Her ways of telling The Wrath & the Dawn has gone in slightly different directions than I had imagined them, so I think the plot will also grow from here. And she certainly won’t lose her eloquence, which means I can look forward to more beautiful sentences.
What I loved the most? I cannot say for fear I will spoil it for some of you who haven’t gotten that far yet. But it is the scene after Jalal concludes his background check of Tariq and Khalid tells Sharzad about the secret passageway. My heart just burst. So subtle, so beautiful, so gorgeously written. That scene gets a 5 star rating in and of itself.