Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy | Romance
Synopsis: Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch … she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
Would I recommend? One thousand times yes. If you enjoyed the Winner’s Curse, give this a go!
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Anybody who has been active in the book blogging community recently has heard about this book. It has been getting so much hype from all directions, and I don’t think I’ve read a bad review yet. Some of my most hard-to-please reviewers have given this book four or five star ratings, and that was enough to convince me to read this. I haven’t read the original Arabian Nights story that this is a retelling of, so I had no idea what to expect before going into this.
If you couldn’t tell from my rating, I absolutely loved this book. Being a Pakistani, I’ve been given exposure to Arabic culture and language ever since I was a child, and seeing familiar words and names being integrated into such a critically-acclaimed novel was one of the things I really enjoyed. I realize that the names are hard to pronounce, and the foreign words may seem very similar and thus confusing to people who are unfamiliar with Arabic languages, but there IS a glossary at the back, so don’t be worried about that. I will say that I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as fantasy. Everything felt so familiar to me, and except for the magic parts (that were few in number anyways), it felt like a normal fiction novel.
The story was awesome. I fell in love with the main characters within just a few pages. The tone was on point, and the writing was unbelievably beautiful. There were several moments in this book that are going to stay with me for a very long time because they were so powerful and wonderfully written. The romance was completely believable. Gosh, I loved this book so much.
This book follows the caliph of Khorasan, 18-year old Khalid, who marries a new girl every night only to have her executed in the morning. Shahrzad, our protagonist, volunteers to be Khalid’s wife when her best friend is killed at his hands- she has clear goals: to get revenge and to stop this once and for all. Shahrzad uses her wits and manages to prolong her pending execution. But everything isn’t as black-and-white as she initially thought; she expected to see a mad-man, a monster in her husband- instead, all she sees is a boy with dark secrets.
Renee Ahdieh doesn’t beat about the bush. In the first twenty or thirty pages, you are well on your way into the story. Despite it being a romance, the story itself was very fast-paced and captivating. I couldn’t put it down because I was so invested in the lives of these characters.
The world-building in this was phenomenal. Like I said before, I was familiar with most of the cultural aspects of this, but it was wonderfully done. Renee Ahdieh provides such vivid details. She builds up the culture, the world with various descriptions of things like attire, jewelry, furniture, food, language, weaponry. I haven’t read such brilliant descriptive writing in a very long time.
I took off 0.5 stars from this because of two reasons: 1) the romance was a little insta-lovey, but that’s such a minor point because in sixty or seventy pages, Khalid and Shahrzad became one of my major OTPs, and 2) I didn’t much care about the chapters that didn’t involve Shahrzad and Khalid, and they would sometimes break the flow for me.
Shahrzad quickly became one of my favorite female protagonists. She’s right up there with Kestrel from the Winner’s trilogy. I feel like the “Katniss” trope has become so dominant in YA literature that we often overlook the women who may not be bad-ass physically, but their wit, their strategic smarts and their inherent intelligence is what makes them special. Kestrel is one of those characters, and Shahrzad is too. She can’t kick ass like Katniss can, but she will outsmart you- you can bet on it. She was so sassy, and she was such an obvious feminist and her feminism oozed out of her, and I loved that.
Khalid. Khalid, Khalid, Khalid. The caliph of Khorasan; I mean, what can I say? I don’t want to say that I’m literally in love with him, because that would be problematic since he is a murderer and what not, but I can’t help it; I’m in love with him. Much like the Darkling from the Grisha trilogy, I find myself drawn to his character. Not only is he unbelievably sexy, but he’s also a very, very complex character. There were so many layers to him, and I enjoyed every single moment when he was on the page. I can’t say too much, because I don’t want to give anything away.
The romance was so well-done. I really loved Shahrzad and Khalid’s encounters. They were full of awkwardness and tension, and I really enjoyed how Shahrzad would totally catch Khalid by surprise with her sass. And Khalid would say the cutest, sweetest things to Shahrzad. I found myself swooning quite a lot.
On to the secondary characters. I loved Despina (Shahrzad’s handmaiden.) She was such a wonderful, funny character. Jalal, Khalid’s cousin, also grew on me and I wasn’t expecting him to. Tariq – Shahrzad’s ex-lover- however, annoyed me. I quite liked him initially, but then he just started getting on my nerves.
I refuse to believe that this is Renee Ahdieh’s debut novel. How can it be her debut novel?! The writing was flawless. Ahdieh has completely mastered the art of setting up an atmosphere, of penning down wonderful, tense moments, of constructing fantastic characters. Her writing is far from simple, but it flows smoothly. It’s lyrical and beautiful and even slightly whimsical; it almost reminded me of Laini Taylor’s writing. I absolutely adored it, and I can’t wait for the second book. I will definitely be reading anything that Ahdieh puts forth. She’s just that good.
“It’s a fitting punishment for a monster. To want something so much- to hold it in your arms- and know beyond a doubt you will never deserve it.”