The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, and follows, in third-person, a few perspectives - the main one being that of Shahrzad, a strong, independent woman. Shahrzad's kingdom is ruled by the Caliph, Khalid, who marries a woman each day and has them murdered the next. After her best friend becomes a victim of this ritual, Shahrzad volunteers to be Khalid's next wife, determined to have revenge.
This book initially drew me in with beautiful writing and vivid descriptions. I was enraptured with the setting of the story. The author nailed descriptions of food too. I swear, this story had me drooling at points, because there was so much food and it sounded so nice and I could almost taste it. I have to say that the writing and descriptions were my favourite part of this book.
Unfortunately, after a promising beginning which piqued my interest, especially the side plot about Shahrzad's father ... nothing seemed to happen. There was a whole chunk of story in the middle that just seemed to drag on and on for me. There was even a point where I was questioning whether it was really a lack of time that was stopping me from reading, or if it was this book that had put me in a slump. Turns out it was the lack of time thing (since it took me approximately 3 years to finish Uprooted last month which I loved), but still, that's not something you want to be asking yourself. I swore to myself that even if the ending blew me away, I would not forget how bored I was feeling in the middle.
I did like the character of Shahrzad. As previously mentioned, she was a strong, independent girl, but she wasn't necessarily physically strong (though she was great with a bow and arrow which was a definite plus - especially since I was on an Arrow binge at the time), and I liked that it showed you could be strong without having to fight people. To add to this, I appreciated that she wasn't always totally in control of her emotions and she felt fear and love and worry and she could be a little mischievous or a little insecure. My point is, she had many dimensions.
There were many other characters in this story, and I appreciated their presence, but I felt like I hardly knew them - even (and perhaps especially) Khalid. I wanted to understand this character who had his wives killed every morning, yet spared Shahrzad day after day. After finding out the "big secret" (which isn't really a secret to the reader - I'll get back to that), I was left wondering why Khalid would spare one girl, after the so many others before her [when the entire kingdom is supposedly on the line]. I guess what I'm saying is that I couldn't understand why Khalid made the decisions he did, and his character wasn't explored enough for me. Which leads into my issues with the romance...
I didn't know much about Khalid, and Shahrzad certainly didn't either. Yet, there is this romance between them and Shahrzad insists that she loves Khalid. How can you love someone whose personality you barely know, yet you know all the bad things they have done? Khalid almost fit my typical book crush qualities - you can see that he is supposed to be one of those guys who has a hard exterior, but a kind heart. However, I didn't see enough of that heart for Shahrzad's interest in him to make sense. Maybe I'm being picky, but there were so many possible consequences to this romance that I was always thinking in the back of my mind... is this really worth it?
I'll quickly touch on that secret that I mentioned earlier. It's pretty clear to the reader early on what Khalid's secret is (to do with the killing of his brides), but the reveal in the book doesn't happen until very late, which was very frustrating for me. I just wanted to hear the exact details earlier on, but no, I had to wait. I'll say no more, for fear of spoilers, but the dragging out felt unnecessary to me.
I mentioned earlier that I didn't want to forget being bored in the middle if the ending blew me away - well, the ending was impressive. The last 100 or so pages drew me right back into the story and renewed my interest. So much stuff started happening that I was on the edge of my seat. Another part of the book that I loved was the tales Shahrzad told to Khalid every night. She was a wonderful storyteller, and those stories kept me reading.
Overall, I think this book is worth reading if the premise interests you. I can understand that many people wouldn't have the issues I had with this, and despite me writing a lot about the parts I didn't like, the parts I did like took up more of the story. Plus, a YA fantasy focused on non-white characters? That's a definite win!