The Rose & the Dagger by Renée AhdiehThe Rose & the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
Series: The Wrath & the Dawn #2
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on April 26th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Goodreads

The darker the sky, the brighter the stars.

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

The saga that began with The Wrath and the Dawn takes its final turn as Shahrzad risks everything to find her way back to her one true love again.

3.5 Stars

It was because they were two parts of a whole. He did not belong to her. And she did not belong to him. It was never about belonging to someone. It was about belonging together.

This book was so difficult for me to rate and review for a couple of reasons:
1. I loved The Wrath & the Dawn and it was one of my favourite books of 2015 so I was extremely pumped for The Rose & the Dagger and had really high expectations.
2. I was in a reading slump when I read this and I never know how much that impacts the way I perceive a book.
3. This book took me forever to read. More than a month if I remember correctly which is very unusual for me, especially when I didn’t have university during that time.

Having said that, I did really enjoy The Rose & the Dagger and I wouldn’t call it a disappointment but it did leave me feeling…underwhelmed. In hindsight I now wonder, if perhaps I remember TWatD as being better than it actually was or if this book was in fact not as good as the first one. I don’t know, but as it stands, I enjoyed The Rose & the Dagger and consider it a worthy follow-up, but I didn’t love it.

In theory I should have liked the second instalment better than the first. I don’t usually enjoy books where the romance is at the centre of the plot the way it was in TWatD and TRatD is significantly less heavy on the romance, though it still has some very cute and ship-worthy moments. The sequel is more action-packed, more political and with higher stakes, all things I love. And yet…from Renée Ahdieh I just couldn’t totally buy it, as much as it hurts me to say this.

The Characters

Shazi is queen, both literally and metaphorically. She’s a great character, even though I didn’t like her as much here as in the first one. Still stubborn to the end, feisty and determined, arrogant but also witty, fiercely loyal. She’s a character you can root for even if at times you want to slap her in the face and scream for her to not act so childish. She has flaws, but overall she remains a lovable and very much empowering female character.

Destiny was for fools. Shahrzad would not wait for her life to happen. She would make it happen.

Khalid surprised me since I actually enjoyed him more than in the previous book. While he lacked agency in book 1, he really came into his own here. He has his priorities straight and thinks of his land and people first. His self-loathing is sometimes hard to witness, but as the book goes along he learns to forgive: both others and himself. He’s prepared to make sacrifices for what he loves and truly becomes a king, someone I could actually see ruling his people and doing it well.

Irsa is Shazi’s younger sister and we only really get to meet her in this book. She’s perhaps the most relatable character in the novel, gentle and innocent, insecure and somewhat in awe of her older sibling. Yet she has an intelligent mind and strong will and she goes through a lot of development throughout the novel, learning her own worth and becoming a strong, empowering woman.

“Some things do not have to be said. You didn’t have to tell me you were in love with Khalid Ibn al-Rashid. And I didn’t have to tell you I cried myself to sleep for weeks after you left. Love speaks for itself.”

Tariq annoyed me. I know the author was trying to find a balance between redeeming him and pointing out his flaws, but I just wanted him out of the picture. He didn’t really do much to contribute to the plot except create drama and I found him to be a bit unnecessary to be honest.

TRatD also introduces some other new characters like Artan, who I really enjoyed but wanted more of and Rahim, who l liked well enough but View Spoiler »

The Relationships

For me, the golden heart of the novel is still the relationship between Shahrzad and Khalid. I love it so much. Not only is every moment they spend together sweet and full of tenderness, but they are such equals in everything and have so much mutual respect that you can’t help but want them together. There was less angst this time around, their relationship was more mature but not less swoon-worthy. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many scenes with two of them together as I wanted, but then again, they had more important things to deal with than their romance.

“I’ve missed the silence of you listening to me.” Shahrzad attempted a weak smile. “No one listens to me as you do.” His expression turned quizzical. “You don’t wait to speak,” she clarified. “You truly listen.” “Only to you,” Khalid replied gently.

I really appreciated that we got to see some family relationships, namely between Shazi and Irsa and Shazi and her father. I found the moments between the two sisters to be heartfelt and honest, the way Irsa looks up to her sister but Shahrzad couldn’t really see her as more than a little girl, couldn’t see the strong woman Irsa has become.
I had mixed feelings about Shazi’s father and I’m still not sure about how I feel his arc was handled. For those of you who have read the book, you know what I mean.

Then there is the love triangle. Now see, though there was a love triangle in the first book, it really didn’t bother me for various reasons. But here it really irked me. The triangular nature was more pronounced and though we never got an indecisive Shazi, it just felt a bit pointless to me. There was so much going on already, did we really need all that focus on it? Also, View Spoiler »

For those of you who are going into this book hoping there will be lots of Despina and Jalal moments, I’m sorry to disappoint. Their relationship was underdeveloped and barely came into play.

World-building

For me there are always two kinds of world-building: the first is the way things are explained. How fleshed out is the world? How do things fit together? Is there an internal logic? The second, is the establishment of atmosphere. Do I feel like I’m in this place? Are all my senses involved? Do I know what things look like? I have come to realize that Renée Ahdieh excels at the latter but kind of failed at the former.

There is no question that this series lives and breathes Persian culture. It’s one of the things I love most about it. I felt like I was in the desert with these characters, like I could see everything they did. However, from a logical standpoint, this book was all over the place. There were no explanations for…anything. Politics? I’m still not sure. Religion? *Shoulder shrug* How does the magic work? Still don’t know. The whole book was building up to this alleged unbreakable curse but that whole part was so anti-climacticView Spoiler » In summary, the whole thing was just WAY too convenient.

Plot

The plot felt directionless. Random, unnecessary elements were thrown in, other important elements left undeveloped. Subplots wandered around the book aimlessly. It would have been better for Ahdieh to make more of what she had already introduced in the first book, instead continuously adding new things to the mix.

Also, everything was too convenient. As I mentioned above, the book often felt anti-climactic. And, I don’t know if this has to do with the novel itself or my reading slump, but I was kind of…bored? I never felt the need to pick the book back up and I sometimes struggled with the pacing. The book lacked suspense. Although the stakes were very high, I never felt seriously worried for the characters.

Then there is the ending which wrapped everything up too nicely for my taste. Yes, it was satisfying to some extent, but boy was it hard for me to swallow all that cheesiness. I don’t like it when every subplot gets a neat little bow and that ending was neat x 1,001.

Writing

Alright so this is a bit difficult for me to admit but I wasn’t too smitten with the writing. I know, I know, I can see you all staring at me with shocked faces. In my review of TWatD I praised the writing and said it was one of my favourite aspects of the book. It was flowery, but not overly purple and had a beautiful lyricism to it. But for some reason it didn’t work for me this time around.

For one thing, we have these word repetitions. For example, Ahdieh uses the word “ordeal” seven times on two and a half pages. Then it’s that constant use of “For” instead of “Because” at the beginning of every other sentence. The author also has a very heavy tendency to write in fragments and repeating the same syntax over and over again. She would CONSTANTLY make a fragment its own paragraph like so:

Who would threaten two girls of common birth?
As Irsa cut a sideways glance at her sister, she remembered.
Shahrzad was no longer the mere daughter of a lowly keeper of books.
She was the Calipha of Khorasan.
An asset for any enemy of Khalid Ibn al-Rashid.
Of which there were many.
In the same instant the realization dawned on her, Irsa banished the thought.

Or here

But once Shahrzad found a solution she could tell Tariq the truth.
Perhaps then his hatred for Khalid would begin to dissipate.
And reconciliation could begin.
For ending this curse was not simply about ending their suffering.
Shahrzad had to put a stop to the war she had set in motion.
It was not just a matter of love, it was a matter of life.
And she meant to right it, once and for all.

I mean, why? Why did each of these sentences have to be their own paragraph? You could pretty much open any page in the book and you would get these lists of fragments. To me, that’s not poetic, it’s annoying and feels stilted, unauthentic and purposefully melodramatic. I understand this separation is for emphasis and to ensure the stylistic structure of the writing, but isn’t there a point where you should let the reader read your writing in their own way?

Themes

I’m putting in this category because I briefly want to mention how much I appreciated all the “girl power” aspects this book brought to the table. We have a couple of really strong female characters who all show their strength in different ways and are just generally awesome, while still staying flawed and relatable. The book left me with a feeling of empowerment which was really a very nice surprise.

No. He was not here to retrieve his wife. For his wife was not a thing to be retrieved.

In Summary

Despite all my above mentioned quibbles, I really didn’t dislike this book. It was a good book, just not as good as the first one. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in the story as I would have liked and didn’t always feel like picking it back up again, maybe because I wasn’t that interested in the storyline itself. I liked most of the characters and their relationships but struggled with the world-building and plot.

I do still highly recommend both this series and this book. I think it will leave readers satisfied and there are many wonderful aspects to it. It just wasn’t as good I had hoped.