The Rose & the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh

2 / 5 stars
Read in April 2020
Book #2 in The Wrath & The Dawn series

     “But if you ask me, the best way to go about flying is to cut the strings tying you down…” Her words began to sound muffled, as though she were underwater, yet her smile continued to burn bright. “Cut the strings, Shazi. Fly.”  

After fleeing the capital and leaving behind her husband and the city she has grown to love, Shahrzad “Shazi” al-Khayzuran, the Calipha of Khorasan, takes refuge in a desert encampment with the help of her childhood friend and first love, Tariq. In the camp, she reunites with her timid sister, Irsa, and her father, Jahandar, who was injured when he used a magical book to attack the city and allow Shazi to escape. Tensions rise in the camp as leaders debate whether to trust Shahrzad and discuss how they should involve themselves in the impending war between two neighboring kingdoms.

Although she longs to return to Khalid, Shazi remains in the camp and uses her magic carpet to sneak off at night, seeking answers to the curse plaguing her husband. Meanwhile, Tariq struggles with his unrequited love for Shazi, and Irsa grows frustrated at her sister’s lack of trust in her. When Shazi discovers she must destroy her father’s book to break Khalid’s curse, she brings Khalid to the camp and enlists the help of her friends with this dangerous task. Although they must find a way to work together in spite of their differences, they cannot ignore that they will soon have to choose sides in the battle to come.

Ahdieh’s descriptions once again shine in this book as her details on Khorasan’s settings, food, and clothing bring Shahrzad’s world to life. The magical elements hinted at in the first book become even more important in this tale, and the character dynamics explode as central figures come together in this anticipated finale.

However, instead of building on the strong foundation of characters and conflict set up in the first book, The Rose & the Dagger unfortunately falls flat. Even with the addition of another romantic subplot, the romantic tension of each couple is lost in the characters’ interpersonal squabbles. Although this book offers more magic and mystical creatures, they are barely explored and do not make much of an impact. Lastly, the pacing of this story is extremely jarring, with the majority of the book focusing on heightening stakes for conflicts that are then resolved in a matter of pages.

While this series is perfect for readers seeking a unique retelling of a classic tale, it is disappointing from a fantasy perspective and will likely leave readers wanting more from what could have been a thrilling and romantic Middle Eastern-inspired story.

**For a more detailed and spoiler-filled summary of my thoughts on this book, please continue reading below.***

By the end of The Wrath & the Dawn, I was pretty excited for this book. The climax of TWatD was filled with magic, romantic tension, and the convergence of characters who spent most of the book apart. I hoped all of this would continue to build to make the second book into an epic finale.

Unfortunately, this book flopped more than it rocked. Shazi’s and Khalid’s romance fell flat, Tariq’s pining for Shazi grew old, and side characters were not explored enough or used to their full potential. And I mean all of the side characters: Despina, Yasmine, Jalal, the Rajput, Irsa, Rahim, Arman, Musa, Jahandar, Omar, and even the Sultan of Parthia… am I forgetting anyone?

Although I didn’t see the Despina plot twist coming, which merited one extra star, I don’t think its overall impact was very successful since Despina disappeared during the entire middle portion of the book. I also would have loved to see Yasmine play more of an active part, as her one scene in TWatD left me intrigued, but unfortunately she wasn’t really utilized either. While I appreciated Irsa’s coming to the forefront in this book, she wasn’t a very active character and could have done so much more as Shazi’s confidante and sidekick rather than the ignored younger sister caught in a romantic subplot.

Characters aside, the pacing in this book was pretty poor. Conflicts were built up the entire book that then concluded so quickly I wondered why they ever seemed surmountable in the first place. The destruction of Jahandar’s evil book, the book that would break the curse around which this entire series revolves? This moment could have been an even more intense Ron-vs.-Slytherin’s-locket scenario, but instead Khalid basically just took a nap in the desert.  Additionally, the war between Parthia and Khorasan seemed pointless after Khalid barely had to raise a finger to force Parthia to surrender. I would’ve liked to have seen more page time dedicated to these two conflicts and could have done without the excessive camp scenes or the moment where Jahandar uses his magic to save Khalid’s life.

Lastly, after she was ignored by basically everyone for the entire book, Irsa deserved to be happy… so why did Rahim have to die?? Irsa deserved better #justiceforirsa.

I would love to know your thoughts, and if you have any recommendation for other Middle Eastern-inspired fantasies please leave them in the comments!

 

 

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