What drew me most to this duology was its inspiration: based upon the epic 1,001 Arabian Nights, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran volunteers to marry the murderous Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid, who marries a different woman each day, only to kill her the following dawn.
I love re-tellings and with a premise such as this, how could I resist? I love tales of romance where the intended are so doomed it seems like there is no chance in hell they could ever be together, but the author somehow makes it work. What’s even better with this series is that Khalid and Shahrzad’s growing romance is realistic.
Shazi was a great character: she volunteers to marry Khalid after her best friend was one of his victims, but only for the sole purpose of killing him. She manages to extend her life by telling the Caliph a story each night, but refusing to tell him the ending until the following night. Slowly, she begins to gain his trust, and, eventually his love, until he promises her he will not add her to his list of murdered wives.
Khalid was a tortured character who was struggling to live with the weight of his actions on his shoulders. His pain was genuine and his love for Shazi was boundless. I love the fact that he refuses to say ‘I love you;’ rather, he would show his love through actions, not words.
The slow romance was the real winner of this book. It took a long time for Shazi to lower her defences and not want to strangle him every time she saw him. Definitely a slow burn here. What was difficult to wrap my head around was her continual remarks about how much she hated him, and then minutes later she’s almost swooning in her arms.
I think I might have appreciated their romance a little more if she had started to develop feelings for him after he revealed his big secret; however, that was close to the ending of the novel, so it’s understandable, from a writing perspective, why Ahdieh did not do that.
The secondary characters were wonderful as well. Despina was fantastic with her attitude and Jalal made me laugh constantly. I liked Tariq at the beginning and even felt sorry for him when Shazi continually dismissed him, even though she did, at one point, love him. This is something I do not like in YA fiction. When the female protagonist falls for another guy, her first love is left floundering in the wind and she ignores him so quickly, when not too long ago, they were head over heels in love. But …. Tariq did start to remind me a little of Tamlin in A Court of Mist and Fury, so I don’t mind that he got no loving anymore.
I will mention two quick nit-picks – the magic of this world was a little confusing and not well explained. I honestly had no idea this was a fantasy world – I mean, real, ancient countries such as Assyria exist at the same time, so I just assumed this was our world. It wasn’t until Khalid’s mother’s tutor arrived did I realise magic existed. And all of a sudden, Shazi had magic too. The book definitely would have benefitted if that had been further explored.
The second nit-pick is that the book doesn’t really explain the circumstances before the main plot begins, as in Khalid’s dead wives. At least, not until later in the book. I feel like the book was establishing its plot based on the reader’s knowledge of 1,001 Arabian Nights, when it should have been explained in the first few chapters. Too me, the descriptions of Khalid’s crimes were very subtle, scarcely there. We know that Shazi’s friend died by his order, but it is not fully explained until later.
Aside from that, the book was wonderful. Ahdieh has a wonderful way with words. Her descriptions are so vivid I was able to recall everything in front of my eyes as I read it. Her writing style is fluid, alive, and almost poetic. This book captivated me and I devoured it in one sitting.