Friday, 10 February 2017

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I wanted to like The Wrath and the Dawn so much. I've been trying to find books by writers of colour and stories from different backgrounds, plus this series has been big in the blogosphere. Plus this book cover is bea-u-tiful.

The book is a love story, inspired by One Thousand and One Nights - a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales. Set in Khorasan, the 18 year old Caliph marries a new woman every dawn and has her executed at sunrise. So everyone is pretty suspicious when 16 year old Shahrzad, volunteers to be his next bride. Of course unbeknown to him, she is there to find out why these executions have been happening and then, kill him for the execution of her best friend and, all the other innocent girls. Her charm gets her through dawn but something is holding her back from going through with her plan ...

The middle-eastern setting of this book, was  my favourite thing about this whole story. It's just so different and refreshing to see a group of characters in a background that we're not used to seeing in mainstream literature. It didn't feel like it was from an outsider's perspective either, you feel very much thrown into the world. The story also sprinkles in some magical realism too. For example, there are touches of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp too which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My biggest problem with it was that I couldn't connect with any the characters and so as a reader, I still felt like an outsider to everything that was going on. Without the setting, this story is essentially every dystopian love story ever told. I mean The Wrath and the Dawn is The Book of Ivy set in historical Iran.

Shahrzad is your stereo-typical heroine and in a way that is sort of shoved down your throat. The book tries to single her out because she's "witty" and "charming" and makes a "sacrifice" though a. she displays no characteristics that I would say are particularly witty or charming and b. not really a sacrifice if she doesn't go in there thinking she's going to die. In fact, I've got no idea why she lives for more than a day - she doesn't exactly stand out from anyone. I also really don't understand why dystopian (FYI - it's not actually dystopian, it's set in the past but it uses all the dystopian tropes) books have their hero/heroine so young - it's just so much less believable and almost erodes the gravitas of these characters just by the age. The Caliph for example, is presented as this brooding, cold, ruthless figure with these deep emotional wounds that he doesn't talk about and for some reason, kills his brides instead. But he's 18. And nothing he says or does matches him leads us to believe this is the voice and actions of an 18 year old. You literally have to forget he's 18 and imagine he's older or, accept that he's 18 and that for me unfortunately, lessens the extent to which I believe he's any of the earlier adjectives. He'd literally give an "order" and I'd be like, why are you listening to this little boy?

The love story was inevitable, because we've seen this story play out a thousand times elsewhere. Girl goes to kill guy because he's evil, girl realises he's not evil, girl falls in love with guy. But he never softens up so I don't really know what Shahrzad is falling in love with. I'm pretty sure he rapes her at the beginning (?) and then he becomes strangely possessive for no reason other than, this is the closest human interaction he's had because this is the first bride who's stuck around for more than a day. Renee Ahdieh uses these weird , dull bedtime stories that Shahrzad tells him, to forge this apparently great "connection" between them but it feels just that, forced.

The ending reveals why the Caliph has been executing these girls and of course, there's something "greater" and more sinister going on. The reveal explains the Caliph's previous behaviour but doesn't explain or justify any of his behaviour in the book. But the characters fail this story because I emotionally checked out of the story about half way through and didn't care why any of this was really happening. Once again, the setting is really incredible and captivating, but not enough for me to pick up any sequels.


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