Review (Amazon): 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.
My Review (Spoilers):
Wow, I really could not get behind this book. I typically like YA, but this one had confusing (and/or bad) writing, and the plot never went anywhere. There’s a sequel, so presumably the author thought that she’d sell some more books by not revealing anything in book 1, but not from this reader. Typically a series has a plot which finishes in the specific book, and then an overarching plot which finishes in the series. This book was missing the first part of that, and I will never know if it’s also missing the latter.
I will admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of 1001 Nights/Arabian Nights. I’m not sure how I missed that, but alas. Maybe that would have filled some gaps for me.
The book begins with “a young man” and his father, General al-Khoury, having a conversation on a rooftop. I think it was supposed to be the hook to get you interested in the book, but it did not reveal enough to leave me with anything but confusion about who these characters were and what they were alluding to. (At the end of the book, I still don’t know.)
Then we meet Shahrzad. She’s getting all done up by her hand maidens, but we know there’s something going on. The suggestion is that she won’t live til morning, and there’s mention of another girl, Shiva, who we eventually learn is Shahrzad’s best friend. Shahrzad’s father comes to visit, and she promises that everything will be fine, and he should go home to her sister and be strong. She then meets the king, or caliph, and reveals to the reader that she intends to live to the following day, and her intention is to kill the king.
Cut to Tariq and Rahim, who we eventually piece together (sort of) that Tariq is Shahrzad’s boyfriend (sort of?) and Rahim is (I guess) his friend. Shahrzad sent Tariq’s family a letter, which he goes home to receive. We learn that Shiva was Tariq’s cousin, and upon her death, which Shahrzad is apparently avenging, Shiva’s mother, Tariq’s aunt, killed herself. Not much is revealed in the letter except that Shahrzad apologizes to Tariq for “her betrayal”. (aka we still don’t really know what is going on)
Cut back to Shahrzad. She’s waiting in her chamber for the king to arrive, and when he does, he makes a bit of small talk and then asks her why she volunteered. Is she willing to throw away her life at sixteen? (Finally, we are getting somewhere.) She begins to tell Khalid a story, and says that at the end, she will answer his question of why she volunteered. She begins the story of Agib and Mount Adamant, and talks until dawn when she stops as she has made it through the night. Khalid grants her one more night.
Meanwhile Shahrzad’s father and sister are preparing to go into hiding, but not before her father stops to pick up a book. I think this is important, but the whole story line of the father is exceptionally confusing.
When Shahrzad awakes, we’re introduced to Despina, her hand maiden, who although claiming to be curious about Shahrzad (as she’s the only one who has made it through the night) as well as a spy, she’s just an annoyance throughout the whole book and is not a spy in any way. Once Shahrzad is ready, she is escorted by “the best swordsman in Rey”, the Rajput, who is basically her bodyguard/watcher to the courtyards where the soldiers practice. She’s hoping to see the caliph in action as he is “the second best swordsman in Rey”, but when he’s not there, she awkwardly pretends she wants to learn how to use a bow and arrow. The caliph’s (only?) friend, Jalal, “teaches” her, and he’s fully aware that she already knows what she’s doing. He does give her a little insight into Khalid – he became a different person once his mother died. Jalal wants Shahrzad to help Khalid go back to the person he was before her death. Khalid finally enters the training field, and upon leaving, he tells Shahrzad that he’ll “see her tonight”, and when her stomach flutters, we know that her original plan won’t happen.
He meets her again that night, and they have sex, although he doesn’t kiss her (which she is thankful for because she’s already smitten with him but still has some small hope that she will still avenge Shiva’s death), and then she continues the story. Again, she makes it til morning. And again, she wants to go see the caliph fighting. There’s a tournament going on, and she watches as Khalid fights with his specialty weapon, two shamshir swords. The following evening, he doesn’t visit, but instead, she’s visited by the soldiers who take her to be killed. The cord is tied around her neck, and she is dropped…only to be released at the last minute.
Khalid comes to visit her to make amends and to tell her that he’s leaving for a week and she won’t be bothered while he’s away. Not much happens while he’s away. Shahrzad evades an attempted poisoning, and she meets Khalid’s childhood tutor who tells her of a troubled childhood, and then gives her a threadbare carpet because she possesses magic power. (Huh?)
When Khalid returns, Shahrzad takes him out into the city without a bodyguard, presumably to kill him although there’s no suggestion of how she plans to do that. They’re attacked in the street, but come out unscathed, and are so overcome with emotion that they kiss in the alley, and they’re now inexplicably in love.
We learn that Despina is pregnant, and it’s Jamal’s baby, and despite (I think) this book being set in ancient times, Shahrzad takes the modern stance and continues to push Despina to tell him and make things right which I found really out of period.
Shahrzad has moved on from trying to figure out a way to kill the caliph, but now instead is trying to figure out why the wives have to die (because she loves him now). She tries telling him another story about a wife trying to figure out her husband’s secret, but Khalid easily catches onto what she’s doing and beyond not telling her anything, gets really upset.
There’s a big event where a bunch of different emirs across the kingdom are coming to the castle, one of whom is Tariq. He’s there to get Shahrzad out, but she doesn’t want to leave because she hasn’t figured out the mystery, but also she’s in love with Khalid. At the same time, her father is presumably learning how to do some sort of dark magic with the book that he took from the library. He’s sacrificing animals, but beyond that, we have no idea what he is doing. When Tariq returns with the news that he did not bring Shahrzad back with him Jahandar (Shahrzad’s father) tells Tariq that he can help him get her back. Dunh dunh dunh
Another attempt is made on Shahrzad’s life, but of course is again foiled. But Khalid takes her to his chamber to recover – the first time she’s ever been there. Once Khalid leaves, she snoops around and finds a book of letters of apology to the families of every wife who he killed. No reasons were given as to why they had to die, and it’s obvious that the letters were never intended to be sent. She finds the one for Shiva’s family which breaks her, and then she finds one partly written and abruptly stopped to her family. He has to answer for what he did!! (Even though she still loves him and doesn’t want to kill him any more)
She intends to ask Khalid, but a confusing unexplained situation occurs where his headache is unbearable (presumably related to his lack of sleep?) and his uncle comes in and cures the headache with some sort of magic. After the headache goes away, he then tells her why all these women had to die. He married his first wife Ava when he was very young through an arranged marriage. She grew more and more withdrawn and he wasn’t giving her the attention she needed as he was trying to figure out how to rule the kingdom. He told her he loved her but she knew he didn’t mean it, and she kills herself.
After Ava’s burial, her father curses Khalid. “One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.” He tried to resist but the rains stopped, drying up the city, but Shahrzad mentions that it has rained since she’s been there, and that maybe the curse has weakened.
It seems like things are going well between the two until Shahrzad’s father follows through on his plan and lights a bunch of fires using his magic allowing Tariq to enter the castle and get Shahrzad while Khalid is gone for a few weeks. She is torn between resisting and not, but she wants to find her father and stop what he is doing. They encounter Jalal, and he tells Tariq to take Shahrzad out of Rey and make sure she never comes back. And the book ends.
Verdict: 2.5 stars
Many things are discussed but not followed through or explained properly. These include the magic, the caliph’s headaches (and the treatment for them), the fact that the caliph’s people are looking for Shahrzad’s family (why?) but can’t find them (are they actually looking?). Also, the curse. What? It doesn’t say marry a new woman every night and then kill her. Why not kill a hundred prisoners? The whole thing just felt very amateur and jumped around quite a bit which made it really hard to keep track of. Also it was a lot of staring into tiger eyes and leaning forward and taking “his lower lip between hers”. There are many other better YA books to spend your time reading, but it’s unfortunate because it’s always nice to read a book with non-white characters. I really wish this one had been better.