Writing a review of a book that disappointed you can be hard, especially when that book has a lot of love behind it. There are a lot of positive reviews out there for Renee Andeih’s The Wrath & The Dawn but I’m afraid this isn’t one of them. But that’s okay. We don’t all share the same experiences, life wouldn’t be life if we did, and the same goes for books, because we take a part of ourselves into the stories we read.
For me, characterisation is the most important part of a novel, and it’s what I focus on most in my reviews.
The Wrath & The Dawn is a retelling of A One Thousand and One Nights. Each night the Caliph of Khorasan marries a new bride from his city, and at sunrise each morning he orders her death. Shahrzad’s oldest friend has been sacrificed to the boy-king’s murderous appetite. To avenge her friend’s death and stop the suffering of more families, Shahrzad volunteers to become the Caliph’s new bride. Only when she’s closest to him can she kill him.
The concept for the story is a compelling one; Beauty and the Beast meets Bluebeard’s Castle. The mystery surrounding the young ruler’s compulsion to kill his wives against the outrage of his people, and the question of whether Shahrzad will survive the fate of her predecessors easily draws you in. To survive the night, Shahrzad tells the Caliph, Khalid, a story but leaves it open ended once the dawn arrives, promising to conclude the tale if he lets her live until the next day. Curious, he does. For me, this was what charged Khalid and Shahrzad’s interactions. Underneath the innocuous story-telling is the real threat of death, but after the second night the tale is never continued and the spark is lost.
The narrative relies heavily on showing rather than telling, and in terms of character it’s where the writing suffers the most. Shahrzad is the book’s brave and fierce protagonist. Side characters continually mention her strength and her thoughts suggest a fiery nature, but her actions don’t reflect this. Risking her life to uncover the truth and using a story as a bargaining chip suggests her courage and cunning at the start of the novel, but then she spends several chapters locked away in her chambers, chaperoned by a handmaid she could easily shake. Once she is imprisoned in her chamber she loses the fight in her.
Details that could show her defiance, like her dislike of ornate clothes and jewellery, aren’t utilised enough. Instead, the reader is given lengthy descriptions of what she wears. I wanted her to throw her mantle off and find a pair of plain cotton trousers, anything that showed the defiant young woman she is supposed to be.
Shahrzad is the first of Khalid’s wives to survive the night, which made me wonder if the clothes and jewels belonged to his first wife. It’s an uncomfortable thought.
Her attraction to Khalid (and his attraction to her) was puzzling. He reveals little of himself, beyond his brooding exterior and flashing tiger-eyes. He only tells her his favourite colour under duress. It’s understandable he’s closed off. He expects to kill her like his other wives, but mystery can only be so alluring. Shahrzad conveniently forgets that the man she’s growing close to is responsible for her best friend’s death, which seems hard to believe when it’s the reason she married him.
I wanted Khalid to do more. Why doesn’t he sneak into the city to help the families he’s devastated? It seems surprising that no one has tried to kill him before.
Jalal was a shining light in The Wrath & The Dawn. As the Caliph’s cousin, he offers the reader relief from the brooding ruler. He’s charismatic which makes him easy to like, but not necessarily trust and that made him a compelling character. I wanted to see a similar side to Tariq. Before Shahrzad married Khalid, she and Tariq were lovers. He was also her best friend’s cousin. He starts as an intriguing character with a trusty sidekick (the eagle or Rhahim, take your pick), but when he realises Shahrzhad has fallen for her captor he becomes a little one-dimensional. He fixates on his hatred of Khalid and that turns him into a hateful character rather than one the reader can empathise with. There isn’t room for anything but his resentment, which is a shame because he has the potential to be so much more.
The Wrath & The Dawn starts as a promising tale of deception and betrayal but ultimately loses its momentum.