The Rose & the Dagger | Renée Ahdieh

The Rose & the Dagger
Renée Ahdieh
Putnam Books (9780399546631)

3 star

 

I enjoyed reading the book as a conclusion of the story. Would I have read it in and of itself and still enjoyed it more than I could pick out its flaws, I am not entirely sure.  I was a huge fan of The Wrath & the Dawn because of how beautifully the love between Khalid and Shahrzad was written. How well Renée Ahdieh incorporated the story of 1001 nights into something she wanted to say about that tale. There was something truly beautiful within those sentences, and it tied deeply into her source material. It showed all of us something about love we usually don’t consider: how to accept a love you have been told is wrong, but feels right despite everything that has happened, and how to forgive both yourself and the other for what you have done to get that love.

But the ending was something I accused the publishers of doing: ending on a cliffhanger of events to make sure we would read the second part, while the story had been based on words. Not on violent storms, destruction and running horses. It didn’t fit in with what I knew about it, and it felt out of place at the end of the book. This usually is the publisher’s fault, because they want to entice readers who don’t really need that kind of incentive to continue on with a story they love. But somehow you can never make them understand that.

Renée Ahdieh proved it, to me, by continuing the story in the manner she had before. Many words, and light on the actions. I got the feeling that with the ending of The Wrath & the Dawn, she might have written herself into a corner she wasn’t wholly comfortable with getting out of. She did manage quite nicely, though. What I think the strength of this book is, is the way Shahrzad is now forced to defend her very personal love to the outside world, and the choices she has made to be with that man. In the first book, I never liked Tariq. I always thought it could have done without him, because it didn’t need his meddling to have events go the way they were already going. But now I see, thanks to The Wrath & the Dawn, that Tariq was never meant for the action.

Tariq is another facet of the emotionality of Renée Ahdieh’s story. The man who thinks he knows what the woman he loves needs, without every truly listening to what she has to tell him. This is what costs him, of course. It takes a long time for him to realise that he is in love alone, and that a woman’s heart cannot be so easily changed. His stubbornness to hold onto that, almost costs him her life, thus proving why he could never be right for her. While Shahrzad’s sister Irsa is also very weary of Khalid, she at least immediately sees that he is a different man around her sister. That maybe her sister can get him to be that way to the outside world as well.

I didn’t really care for the revelation of Khalid’s curse made people excuse what he had done very quickly. I would have liked to see Renée Ahdieh show some of her same insight in nuance. Yes, he had been under a curse. But that does not take away the fact that he killed a lot of girls, and that he allowed the curse to wreak its havoc by refusing to do the same to Shahrzad. I would certainly have the promised wrath for that: why was Shahrzad saved, why would Khalid plunge the country in darkness and destruction, for that one girl? Why not their daughter?

In that sense, I can certainly see why Shahrzad’s uncle cannot stand to be around her anymore. I can also see why Shahrzad, away from Khalid and out into a hostile world, would have a hard time adjusting. It lend credence to Reza’s attempt to overthrow Khalid and plunge the country into chaos. He is by all accounts a man blinded by grief and the wish to destroy, that he no longer cares what he destroys. Jahandar, on the other hand, is different. Like Tariq, he is misguided to the point where he can never admit that to himself. He believes, like Tariq, he is doing what is best without actually asking the people involved what they want. And I must admit, it’s not necessary for two such persons to exist in one story.

The story itself felt a bit disjointed, because we switch locations between Shahrzad treading water in an enemy camp, where she does nothing and has no influence, only to remain close to her father and sister. The first betrayed her and the second is quite the annoying know-it-all who will be kept safe by all the family surrounding her. I see no reason for Shahrzad to stay there, it is not as if her leaving would cost her family anything, and she is not exactly held prisoner yet. On the other hand, there is the almost fairtytale-like world of Musa and Artan. Moving into the territory of lore and myths again, Renée Ahdieh finds her strength and once again the story moves forward.

But in the end, the way to lift Khalid’s curse is laughably easy and has no consequences whatsoever. He could have done it himself if he had not had so much pride. He had everything to his disposal that Shahrzad had, which is Musa. I think it’s a missed opportunity for Renée Ahdieh to no delve deeper into this juxtaposition between the two. Because that is the essential difference between Shahrzad and Khalid. But I know space is limited when you only have a duology at your exposal. That said, the story should not have been longer, either. It feels as if The Wrath & the Dawn exists only to wrap up the essential part of breaking the curse. Which is done in half a page. And for this half a page I am counting both the sequence of getting the book away from Shahrzad’s father, and the subsequent destruction by Khalid in the desert.

The space could have been used far more efficiently if Renée Ahdieh had left out the budding romance between Irsa and Rahim. Irsa, as a character, falls completely flat anyway, except in her few conversations with Khalid. She is there simply as a roadblock, and then we get an entire storyline involving her. It does not balance out for me. The end of that romance too, felt very out of sync with everything else. Because each person got a happy or satisfying ending. It seems as if Rahim and Irsa have been thrown in just to show some sacrifice, some negative consequences to the story, but the truth is that it just doesn’t work.

Despina switching roles about four times in the book, however, works wonderfully well. I went with it every single time, and was surprised when she would turn again and show another set of hands. Where I always believed Yasmine to finally come to her senses, I never knew what role Despina would play. The subsequent fall-out between Jalal and Khalid was also well done, and more intricate than some of the relationships. I’d say that in this book,t hey worked about 50/50, while they had a far better score in The Rose & the Dagger. I’d say that overall, the first book performed a whole lot better.

It could easily have been a standalone, if it had been made a bit longer and the solution to Khalid’s curse a bit more straightforward and worthy of a finale. By throwing all her strength at The Rose & the Dagger, it is no wonder that The Wrath & the Dawn pales in comparison. However, you do need to read this book to finish out the story, and for that reason, I would never not recommend it. Read it, and expect a little less. That way, it is a quite enjoyable read that is even paced, and has Renée Ahdieh’s trademark sentence-work.

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