The Wrath and the Dawn & The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
This is a re-imagined tale of Shahrzad, (teller of the Thousand and One Nights), how she fell in love with the king who executed so many women before her (Book 1), and how she defied fate/magic for love while saving save her country (Book 2).
It takes a lot of skill to make a love story that you can root for. Not only do you have to care for the characters, you have to make your readers believe that they are perfect for one another (AND make them perfect for one another). I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t even figure out why people are together in real life, much less in fiction. But Ahdieh makes it work.
Sharhzad / Shazi is defiant and strong willed, adept with a bow. She is no mild princess. What she wants, when she volunteers to marry Khalid, knowing that he will have her executed in the morning, is not love, but to kill him in revenge for the murder of her best friend.
We also get Khalid’s point of view, which adds tension to the story, and acts as a much needed foil to Shazi’s impetuous nature. He’s cool, and controlled, and yet matches Shazi for the intensity of his passion and feelings towards everything.
The whole story is so lushly told, I could almost smell, and taste everything in it. My mouth kept watering with its descriptions of food. That is OK BY ME (Seriously, I was craving lamb for days). It had a richness/realness I like in a semi-historical setting (Persia in this case), that balanced nicely with the fantasy elements of the story.
The prose itself sometimes felt simple (it was smooth as butter), but going back over it (I took copious notes) it was clear the feeling was deceptive. There are things I could learn about inserting dialog into action, and minimizing dialog tags, and how to give enough space for events to have emotional impact.
Boy my emotions were up and down, with the characters, but I was completely invested in Shazi and Khalid as a couple.
Honestly, I felt the second book wasn’t long enough. It got straight to the action and the ending with the swift effectiveness that YA fiction is good for. I’m almost feel it needed a third book in between, but this might be because I’ve read more trilogies than duologies, or that threes resonate in a narrative sense. It’s probably just me. I did appreciate that there were no saggy parts to the story . I guess the only fault was that I wanted more – which is no fault at all.