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?
After all of the hype and the buzz surrounding retellings at the moment, I was positively dying to get my mitts on that beautiful cover and dive into an exotic, sensual retelling of One Thousand And One Nights. I’m sorry to say this, but I just don’t get the hype. Not even a little bit. Nuh uh. For me, this was one big, fat, bejewelled disappointment.
Brace yourselves kids, because this is not going to be pretty.
If there was one thing that I quite liked about TWATD, it was the writing. Ahdieh’s prose is lush and descriptive, and despite a tiresome need to tell the reader what colour tikka every male character was wearing at any given time, I liked the richness that her style bought to the story. It was obvious how much research had gone into ensuring the authentic descriptions of weapons, clothes and food and although I felt like there were several info dumps along the way, I appreciated the diversity of the setting. I also quite enjoyed the stories that Shahrzad told Khalid, but probably because it was the only time that I wasn’t annoyed by the complete nonsense that kept coming out of her mouth.
Speaking of Shazi, she’s supposed to be a beguiling enchantress, who catches the monstrous Caliph of Khorasan off guard with her talent for storytelling, allowing her to live to see another dawn. To be honest, I don’t understand why he didn’t want to kill her right from the off, because she was about as petulant, indecisive and shallow a protagonist as I’ve ever come across. I wanted to read about a spirited character torn between loyalty to her dead best friend and burgeoning feelings for a boy who is not what anyone thinks. Instead of inner conflict and emotional impact, we get a wishy-washy child who spends 50% of her time deciding not to kill the king and the other 50% having inner proclamations of murderous revenge. Eventually even the random outbursts of inner rage fade, because guess what? The tiger-eyed boy king is pretty. Seriously. GIRL, what happened to your conviction? What about the hundreds of dead women which include your best friend, for Christ’s sake? Did your brain melt in the Arabian heat and leak out of your ears until it was nothing more than a puddle on the floor? Because if I had to guess, that’s what I would say happened.
Enter the Caliph, who is supposed to be a tortured, burdened ruler who hides his emotions behind impenetrable barriers. He should be a character full of mystery and depth, but he was probably the most uninteresting YA boyfriend since Jacob Black. Also, lets get something straight: he’s not a cheeky bad boy, he’s a murderer. He might have committed atrocities for reasons which he believes to be right, but that does not make him an eligible bachelor. He’s killed hundreds of women to protect his secret and yet within a matter of days he’s suddenly damn-the-consequences-head-over-heels-in-love? A reformed man with no desire to protect himself any longer? I could almost start to believe the drastic change if there was any reasoning given to explain why Shazi is so different, but all it took for them to become soulmates was some lacklustre storytelling and one trip to the market.
If only the others knew it was that easy, eh!
Ahdieh tries so hard to convince the reader of the connection between Khalid and Shazi, but she just didn’t spend enough time developing them as individual characters or a pairing. The fact that their vomit inducing love appears out of thin air as if conjured by Aladdin’s genie aside, it also portrays an utterly unhealthy ideal. I’m confused by what the intended message of their relationship, and essentially the book, is supposed to be. Perhaps that angsty dudes who are okay with non-consensual wedding night sex have hidden depths full of flowers and rainbows that will be revealed if you hang long enough? That it’s desirable to be in a relationship with someone who lies and hides things from you AND is also prone to random spells of violence? That to find love, you should give up what you believe in and apologise for calling out someone on their bad behaviour? Young girls all over the world are reading this book and chalking up Khalid as their new book boyfriend, and I don’t think that’s okay.
The creepy romance also masks that fact that basically nothing happens in this book. In fact, I think if Ahdieh wrote in a less descriptive style, the book would have been about 25% shorter. The occasional introduction of elements that seemed like promising plot points (e.g. the magic carpet) were never actually developed and the reveal of Khalid’s secret lacked any real depth or shock factor for Shazi or the reader. I almost feel like this would have been a much better book with more believable characters if Ahdieh had used the first installment to lay the groundwork for Shazi and Khalid’s relationship, before moving onto the implications and ramifications in a second novel.
I was so ready for this to be my next book crush, but in all honestly, the only time that I got even a little bit hot under the collar was when the food was being described. I’ll take the delicious sounding bread pls, but I’m more than happy for you to keep the next instalment in the bizarre and boring lives of Shazi and Khalid. Soz.
- Author: Renee Ahdieh
- Release Date: 12th May 2015
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
- Pages: 395
- Rating: 2.5/5
- In short: Pretty outfits and exotic settings disguise non-existent plot and utterly creepy romance.