The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights for young adults; The Rose and the Dagger, its sequel, is a fantasy political thriller that wraps up the story. I’m lumping the books together into one review because this felt less like two separate books in a series and more like one two-volume book. I cannot imagine that anyone who read the first would decline to read the second if they had enjoyed the first; and I cannot review the second by itself without spoiling the first, so it seems more prudent to review the two at once.
Thus this review will be spoiler-free.
I liken the style of this story to Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith: a two-volume story that is in two volumes because the first and second half have different foci, though they are clearly two parts of one whole.
The driving force of this story is a romance based on One Thousand and One Nights: Shahrzad volunteers to marry the boy-king Khalid, who is known to murder his brides with the dawn. She has decided to avenge her best friend Shiva, who was one of the brides to die at his hand. When he visits her on their wedding night, she seeks to stay his hand by telling a story that is at a cliffhanger when the dawn breaks. He gives her one more day. Shahrzad begins to make friends in the palace, including her spy handmaiden Despina and the guard Jalal.
Meanwhile, Shahrzad’s sweetheart Taliq, his uncle and Shahrzad’s father are building alliances to join an army to raze the capital and take Shahrzad back before death befalls her.
The first book’s focus is the plot summarized in the first paragraph; the second book’s focus is the plot summarized in the second.
Whether or not this book works for you will depend on whether or not you can sympathize with Shahrzad. For my own part, I found it quite enjoyable. I think it is quite difficult to create a compelling retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, but this did a remarkable job of it, though I do wish there were a few more stories within the main one.
The world was also quite enjoyable. This medieval Arabian world sprinkled with smatterings of ancient Greece was a much-needed break from the normal medieval European worlds.
At the same time, I have to address the elephant in this historical setting. Ancient Greek references mostly came into play with regards to religion. My understanding of the map suggests that this story takes place at approximately what is now the Afghanistani-Turkish border; there was a part of my mind that wondered…are we only referencing Greek gods here because it’s more palatable to the Christian-adjacent mainstream than Allah? (Oh, the irony.) Or is this supposed to be taking place pre-Islam? In which case, why is the Greek religion reaching this far east? Why are they praying to Zeus and Hera, of all possible deities? Am I just entirely ignorant in the ancient Greeks’ religious influence, and that religion actually spread far further east than the reaches of their empire? If so, why?
But steering around that pothole, I quite enjoyed the world, the characters and the plot. I truly enjoyed the Arabian setting and will be looking out for more fantasies set in such settings in the future. The characters were enjoyable and authentically young and flawed. I liked that the narrative did not shy away from letting Khalid, Shahrzad and Tariq make mistakes.
All in all, it was an enjoyable ride.