I recently finished reading The Rose and the Dagger after reading The Wrath and the Dawn last month, so I figured I’d pull both reviews together here for an overview of the duology. Both of these reviews were written right after finishing each book, so they contain my immediate (non-spoilery*) reactions. This series is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, where the main character Shahrzad volunteers to be one of the murderous young king’s doomed brides in order to avenge the death of her friend. Of course, Shazi soon discovers there are hidden layers to everything…
(*I’ve stayed away from specific spoilers, but if you haven’t read the The Wrath and the Dawn yet, my The Rose and the Dagger review may naturally spoil some things about it.)
THE WRATH AND THE DAWN
It took me a while to get into this one; there’s little introduction to the characters before the main event of the book begins, so it was hard to care about or follow what was happening. Throughout the book, the story is a little too confined on what’s happening with the main characters. The world outside is only glimpsed in passing statements, never with any detail. Shazi also took a while to grow on me (there was a little too much of everyone thinking she was so ~special~ at first), but she ended up being a strong protagonist. A little over her head maybe, but with a dry wit, sharp tongue, and lots of confidence.
I had my worries when reading the synopsis that emphasized the “girl falls in love with a monster” part of it, but one of the strengths of the story is that it dives into the complexities of every person involved and the circumstances they find themselves in. It seemed as if it was going to stumble into problematic traps at times, but the story usually twisted away from those. I liked how, even as she recognizes the situation isn’t what she first thought, Shazi is still determined to find out the truth and never forget her friend, Shiva. Khalid remained a bit of a mystery, but glimpses into his character promise an interesting inner life. And Despina was my personal favorite, as her scenes with Shazi pulse with energy and wit, providing a welcome respite from some of the doom&gloom. Around halfway through, the story began to pull me in, as it explored the dangerous twists of guilt, loss, revenge, responsibility–and of course, love.
THE ROSE AND THE DAGGER
While The Wrath and the Dawn was a slow burn that introduced these characters and made you care for them, The Rose and the Dagger is more exciting and action-packed–while still having a major focus on character and the themes from the first. There’s a bit of tug of war between the plots, and the threat of impending war never feels fully developed. There are lots of great individual scenes but don’t quite come together cohesively–and sometimes the scenes that are withheld feel like they would have been more interesting than the ones shown.
I appreciated how the relationship between Shazi and Khalid continued to develop here, and how they were able to have their own storylines and arcs while still having great chemistry and working together. If “I love you but you’re independent and don’t belong to me” is the new theme in YA fantasy romances, I’m 110% behind that (reversing the old possessiveness=love trope). We see a lot more of who Khalid is beyond being conflicted, and it’s nice to see his different layers as he interacts with new people outside of his usual place.
None of the characters change drastically from the first book, but they grow in realistic ways. It rarely feels like there’s unnecessary drama being added for the sake of the plot, and everyone’s reactions and actions feel organic to those characters (even if that also means they’re really frustrating *cough*Tariq*cough*). Irsa is a welcome addition, with her quieter, gentler personality and story among a bunch of strong-willed characters. Although, some great characters do not get nearly enough time in the story (give me more Despina–and Jalal! My god, what I wouldn’t give for a Despina prequel spinoff).
I think this series’ main flaw was pacing–both with how the story was spread out between the books and within each one. I’ve never been one to be against big series with 7 500 page books, but I do like the idea of a contained story in a duology. That said, this one seems to call for being more than a duology or, maybe more accurately, the story needed to be spread out more evenly between the two books.
We got to know the characters and their inner lives pretty well, but there was a lot introduced about the world and the various conflicts that were arising within it that didn’t get enough time or detail. In some ways the curse is the central plot of the story, but it also gets eclipsed by other storylines. Many really interesting side threads are almost explored, but the story can’t quite fit them all (talk about a red herring with Shazi’s magic). However, while the plot needed some reworking, overall The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger both have wonderful writing and engaging, complex characters.
If you’ve read this duology, did you prefer book one or book two? And were you left wanting more?