The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. Khalid, the Caliph (or king) marries a new bride each night and then has her put to death each dawn. One of these unfortunate brides is Shahrzad’s friend and so she volunteers herself as a bride with the intention of killing the caliph and avenging her murdered friend. I found this book a little bit hard to connect with at first but after a few chapters I was hooked and it just kept getting better.
Shazi (Shahrzad) is a strong-willed and impetuous and goes in with a pretty flimsy plan, in my opinion. She hopes to stay her execution by telling the caliph a story but leaving it unfinished so that he will want to come back the following night to continue it. She assumes that the caliph is a heartless monster who just enjoys using girls and then killing them. She spares no thought for why he might be doing these awful things, or if there might be some larger explanation. Her single-minded plan turned me off a little bit and I had a hard time connecting with her at the start. Shazi soon starts to realize that things are not just black and white, they are much more complicated than they first seem.
Khalid was also hard to connect with at the start and I think that parallels how Shazi felt about him. He’s built these walls around himself to protect the outside from the monster he believes himself to be. He holds everyone at arms length and keeps his secrets close, making it hard for Shazi, or anyone really, to develop any kind of a relationship with him. I really loved how Khalid’s personality is more quiet. He’s powerful but he doesn’t flaunt his power and he’s a man of few words. He communicates as much with his eyes and body language as he does with his words and I loved that. It’s nice to have a male protagonist that isn’t in your face with their ego, over the top with their professions of love, or a clone of every other male in the book.
As the story continues, Shazi and Khalid find themselves growing closer despite their situations. Their relationship felt very organic to me. There’s no insta-love and there’s nothing easy about the relationship. Shazi feels a huge amount of guilt about her growing feelings for Khalid. She’s betraying her original purpose for marrying Khalid and in turn betraying the memory of her murdered friend and her family. Khalid, on the other hand, feels like he’s betraying his people by falling for Shazi and is torn between his duty to his people as their king, and his own wants and needs. Their relationship is complex and understated and beautifully written. There are some swoon-worthy moments, but they are not over the top. The romance is very well done. Eventually, all secrets are revealed and that’s where things really got good. I was so happy that the author didn’t draw things out just for the sake of drama.
The writing is really beautiful and flows nicely – as you would expect of a story about a story. The descriptions and world-building are wonderful. The descriptions of the clothing, the architecture, the climate, the room decor – it all makes this book very atmospheric and brings the reader there.
Overall, I loved this debut and can’t wait for the second book in the series. Despite a somewhat slow start, the great romance, strong characters, a great supporting cast, beautiful writing and detailed world-building make for a fantastic start to this series.
Note: I received this book for free from Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.