The Rose and the Dagger
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Release: April 26th 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, YA
#2 in the Wrath and the Dawn duology
Series: The Wrath and the Dawn (#1)
In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid's empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.
While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn't yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.
Okay, okay. I really do seem do be, like, the only person to not have loved this book. I just scrolled down the ratings and reviews and I think the lowest I've seen someone give was three stars. And I hate to be a party pooper, but... this one just wasn't for me, just like the first installment already wasn't.
Honestly, there's nothing about this book that I particularly and actively dislike or anything, just the opposite — there are so many things that I admire and love and genuinely think were great. However, even though I love a lot of the book's facades separately and on their own, it fails to create a whole that really comes together for me.
You see, I love the writing to hell and back. It's melodic and magical in a way that is absolutely perfect for the story Ahdieh is telling with this novel, it is poetic and simplistic at the same time, conveying all it wants and needs to tell with clear and lyrical precision. It is truly magnificent and there is serious talent there, I can feel it.
The themes are awesome, too. Love, friendship, loyalty and most importantly, feminism. Women are the truly strong ones in this book, the ones who endure and persist. There's just something so empowering and modern about a book set in (more or less) historical Middle Asia, where (in some countries) women to this day still aren't even allowed to drive a car. And not only that, not only is this novel peppered with a diverse cast of strong and heroic women who are all powerful in their own way and in their own right, it is also about the men in their lives who respect them and their strength. And all of that is simply so, so beautiful.
And yet. I had some problems with the characters sometimes, because apart from a few character traits that were remarked upon time and time again, they didn't really stand out because of their shining personality. Let me explain. Shahrzad is a stubborn girl, intent on what she wants and stopping at nothing to achieve her goals. Literally every single character makes a quip about her stubbornness, which makes that trait of hers, which is one of her only traits, almost ridiculous because it is shoved down my throat with such force, so often. It's like the book is hanging up huge signs of "Hey, Shahrzad is headstrong!! Okay, so she is memorable in that!!" that I can't help but feel as if it's trying way too hard to make up for the fact that it is, as I already mentioned, her singular distinguishing feature. By pointing it out so much and insisting it makes her stand out or something. Nah, son. And it's like this for most of the remaining cast: Irsa's loneliness and isolation, Tariq's unrequited love for Shahrzad, Rahim as the quiet mediator, Despina's wickedness, the list goes on. Really, the only character who at least has some sort of depth that we actually get a glimpse of is Khalid. No more, no less.
And then there's the fact that there's almost nothing happening. This novel is 400+ pages long and I could sum everything that happens up in three sentences. <spoiler>Shahrzad spends most of the early novel pining for Khalid but can actually conveniently fly to him on her magical flying carpet whenever she wants which makes her pining completely unnecessary. They break the curse way too easily which is kind of cheap and then face the Sultan because for some reason, the brewing civil war in Khorasan is basically resolved simply because Khalid and Tariq don't hate each other anymore. Somehow, they actually get the Sultan to surrender without bloodshed.</spoiler> That's it. And then the pages were filled with vivid descriptions of places, expressions, of emotions and probably most of all, food. In a way, I loved these details, because they added a nice layer to the world-building, but they simply take up too much space after a time. Sorry, but I don't care what color Shazi's sirwal trousers and qamis are anymore after all of her previous outfits have been explained in excruciating detail already.
So, yeah, that's it. I can definitely see why so many people love this duology, but personally, I couldn't bring myself to care immensely for the characters and their fates, and while there were lots of things that I loved, there were also lots of them that I definitely did not. In the end, it is far from the worst you could do though, so in all fairness, I'd still recommend reading the books, especially if the plot sounds appealing.