Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (1st Jun 2015)
One Life to One Dawn.
In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.
Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?
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Warning: this is one of those dangerous, “I’m going to sweep you off your feet and there’s not a single thing you can do about it” kinda books. The hype for this book has been overwhelming, with many readers already claiming it as their best book of the year. (My very own worst and best books of 2015 will be up in the next few days, keep a hawkish eye on this link here, wait for it to turn blue, this means my magical list has been activated).
Anyway - as the story goes with any hyped up book, as always, I steered clear of this upon release and instead just resigned myself to watching people post pictures of the insanely stunning cover art that adorned the front. It’s a work of art, and having coveted the book myself in hardback edition now, I can admit it’s even more beautiful in person.
As for the story - it’s one, like I said, that will sweep you off your feet. I’ve read very few, if any books at all actually, that feature middle eastern characters but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the characters in this book were and their attributes were well researched and written. The premise warned that this was a re-telling of A Thousand and One Nights - an Arabian cult favourite story that I’ve never heard of or read - and purposefully I shied away from reading any reviews or anything at all that would give me more insight into the story, even though I was itching to find out what the original story was about. And I’m glad I steered clear of any information, having gone in blind, the story was that much more amazing for me, and very distinctly different from anything I’ve read all year.
The story writing was beautiful, elegant, and for lack of a better word, very flowy. There was purpose as well as prose to the authors writing and I found myself getting wonderfully lost in the way she wrote, the descriptions that didn’t feel like descriptions at all, but were so rich that I felt like I was inside the middle of it all. It could also be due to the fact that I’m already very aware of Arab culture, clothing and cuisine and could readily immerse myself in it more than a culture I didn’t know about. Either way, the writing was a treat for me to read after a huge reading slump, it picks you up and takes you along on the journey.
Is it just me, or does the character of Shazi remind anyone else of Aelin/Twylla from Throne of Glass and The Sin Eater’s Daughter? I think perhaps it’s the whole castle setting, the hierarchy of order and power, e.g. a King or ruler vs a common person and how their relationship forms. Shazi was also as badass as those other characters for me too, with her strong will, sharp tongue and wit especially given that in such a context, girls are meant to be these meek characters, only to be seen and not heard in front of men - but Shazi breaks through all that. Not just her though, the secondary and tertiary females are just as amazing, from Despina to Jasmine, all outspoken individuals in their own way, forces to be reckoned with and I love and appreciate that the author brought such a strong host of female characters to the story.
As for the males. Khalid. OH KHALID. *lets out a tween-esque sigh*.
He comes across as this young King, misguided, lost, cray cray and yeah he does sound exactly like that - when you hear that at 18 years old, he takes a bride each night, only to have them killed by morning, with a silk cord around their neck. Insane, right? Again, not having any idea about the previous and original foretelling behind this whole tale, I remained on the tips of my toes in wondering what the effinggg efff is going on?! As the story unfolded though, it was only natural that I was meant to fall for this young boy king with such troubled burdens upon his heft, beautiful, bronzed shoulders. *cough to dispel the air* I felt like the way we come to unravel Khalid’s character through Shazi was wonderfully done, their relationship blossomed tentatively, with each being untrusting of the other yet slowly coming to discover who each were, and what they meant to each other. I totally ship these two now. *enormous grin* Let me leave you a passage that will make your little hearts weak.
“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” he whispered.
“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.” The weapons still in her grasp, she shoved against his chest.
“No.” His hands dropped to her waist. “Destroy me.”
The bow and arrow clattered to the ground as he brought his mouth to hers.
And there was no turning back.”
Shazi was a standout character for me too. I felt like she was very aware of herself and who she really was without any qualms. She wasn’t just an accessory to the king in the end, but a force to be reckoned with on her own and she made that startlingly clear from the start. I appreciated that. She was funny, honest, strong and determined. While some may say her resolve in carrying out her original plans wasn’t that strong and she didn’t try that hard - I somewhat agree that she didn’t exactly give it her best efforts in that task - at least more of an effort should have been made to show her dedication to that. While this is not an excuse, but from the start also, you could see that while she hated Khalid, she was also curious and intrigued by him which let her to falter somewhat in her plans - her desire to find out the fishy truth of what was going on also kept her from actually carrying out her revenge and boy am I glad she did. Her resolve changes over the course of the book and you can see exactly when and how she went from hate and revenge, to curiosity, to understanding and more. I like that it wasn’t instantaneous, she was torn in her ideals once she started to get to know him, which made their relationship more real for me. Ship ship ship ship weeee.
The secondary characters were great - every single one of them. From Despina, to Jalal who I adored, to the magical teacher that came to the palace. The only character I didn’t love as much perhaps, was Tariq. I felt like his relationship and bond to Shazi wasn’t that well constructed, just snippets of their past and their friendship/romance wasn’t enough for me to make it feel real. I wanted more of a background to not just them together, but also more on each individual like Shazi and Tariq themselves would have helped in fleshing them out just that little bit more. While we at least see development in Shazi throughout the book, we don’t see anything close to that for Tariq - made if we did, I’d like his character more. But even then, there’s absolutely no dispute in who I ship, between Tariq and Shazi and Khalid and Shazi, hands down, I know who I’m on board with.
Though given the ending oyeeee oyeeee oyee why why why! *cries silently to self for need of next book* Given the ending, I feel like the author isn’t done with the Shazi and Tariq ship and will probably transpire events that will make me want to swap allegiances. Sigh, guess we’ll just have to wait and see. *marks calendar for May next year, for The Roser and the Dagger*. This was a great book for me and I’m glad I finally gave it a chance - really enjoyed it; from the writing, the characters to the retelling. While I wouldn’t claim it as the best book of the year, I still think it was a great read, very distinct in nature in comparison to the contemporaries and fantasies that are currently out, and a firm favourite for me for this year.