The Rose and the Dagger, Renee Ahdieh

  • Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 13.20.51.pngThe Rose and the Dagger, Renee Ahdieh

Rating: * * * *

Series: The Wrath and the Dawn #2

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

 Publication Date: April 2016
Goodreads synopsis:

The much anticipated sequel to the breathtaking The Wrath and the Dawn, lauded by Publishers Weekly as “a potent page-turner of intrigue and romance.”

I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.

While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn’t yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.

I absolutely loved ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’ and ‘The Rose and the Dagger’ proved to be an exciting and enjoyable follow up.
This second (and final) novel in the series had a fast-paced and thrilling plot, which built to a crescendo in the final hundred or so pages. The last 25 percent was filled with twists, and I absolutely did not see the one at 75 percent coming. I love being surprised by books, especially when the book is the final one in a series – being shocked and kept guessing until the very end makes for an impactful series ending and makes the novels all the more memorable.
One of my favourite parts of ‘The Rose and the Dagger’ was Jahandar’s characterisation. I really enjoyed the sections which focused on him and his longing for the magical book, the one which wreaked such havoc in the first novel. These sections brought out the contrast between Jahandar and his daughter – Shazi has an innate confidence and quick wit which draws others towards her and empowers her, but Jahandar suffers from a lack of self confidence and security and has a constant and weakening fixation on how others view him. Additionally, while Shazi has gained power by becoming the Calipha of Khorasan and also a feeling of fulfilment through her relationship with Khalid, Jahandar lost his job and with it his sense of fulfilment and status. I found Jahandar’s insecurity and his addiction to the book moving, because it highlighted his unhappiness and disappointment with himself. He was a stand out character for me in both books of this series, and I am glad that he had a key role to play.
Other highlights of the novel for me were Shazi’s storytelling – I particularly loved her tale of ‘The Girl Who Grasped the Moon’. I also really liked the sections with Shazi flying on the magic carpet and discovering and exploring her powers. I was glad to see this, as I commented in my review of the first novel that I wished to see more development of the magical elements of the series.
I did find that the fast pace and fact that this is a only two book series meant that some things were resolved too quickly, particularly the Tariq situation and rivalry between him and Khalid. The speed at which this ended felt too sudden and convenient for me, as did the rapidity at which some other characters came round and accepted Khalid, with very little conflict, despite the fact that all his wives before Shazi were put to death. These things did, unfortunately, detract from my enjoyment and meant that I did not love this novel quite as much as I did the previous one.
However, overall this series was a fantastic and original take on the Arabian Nights story and I know that I will reread both these books soon. I definitely look forward eagerly to whatever Renee Ahdieh writes next.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

  • The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh

Rating: * * * * * Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 17.20.25.png

Series: The Wrath and the Dawn #1

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Publication date: May 2015

Goodreads synopsis: 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?

I started ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’ on Friday and read it in a day, because I absolutely could not put this Arabian Nights retelling down. Renee Ahdieh is herself a Sharhzad, able to craft addictive and imaginative stories which leave her audience enthralled and bursting for more.

One of the main aspects of this novel that led me to enjoy it so much was its characters. Shazi was a wonderful lead – strong, silver-tongued and, of course, a great storyteller. She always had a witty retort up her sleeve and her comebacks brought a lot of humour to the novel. She also was not afraid to provoke the Caliph with probing and meaningful stories, like Bluebeard. My favourite part of her character was that while we saw her great courage, we also saw that she was not completely fearless – through her narration, we witnessed the worries she harboured underneath, and that made her more relatable and made me feel closer to her.

I also really liked many other characters, including: Despina, who is Shazi’s handmaiden and is a match for her in wit – she and Shazi’s friendship was really enjoyable; Jalal, who  was charming and amusing but also fiercely loyal to Shazi and his king; Shazi’s father, Jahandar, whose use of magic intrigued me and is something I look forward to seeing more of in the next book; and, of course, Khalid, the Caliph who values honesty above all things and comes out with beautiful lines like this one:

‘Love is – a shade of what I feel.’ 

Lines like that are abundant in the novel and have convinced me that no one writes romance quite as mesmerisingly as Renee Ahdieh.

Renee Ahdieh is extremely talented at writing both dialogue and description. The descriptions in ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’ were captivating and very atmospheric, creating rich and vivid images. I especially found this for the scene where Khalid and Shazi left the castle and passed all the market stalls. I really loved the stunning descriptions of Shazi and Despina’s clothes, too. The dialogue was at times witty and at other points very moving, but always very fluid and powerful. Additionally, I enjoyed Khalid’s letters, which had great emotional depth to them.

All in all, ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’ was fantastic – it’s the kind of novel that you wish to reread and relive as soon as you have finished it. It swept me away into a vividly imagined world, and I’m so glad that I waited until now to read it, since I only have a couple of days left until I can return to that dazzling world and the awesome characters therein in the sequel.

 

‘The Rose and the Dagger’ comes out on April 26th.

 

 

 

 

The Madness, Alison Rattle

  • The Madness, Alison Rattle

Rating: * * * * TheMadnessAlisonRattle

Series: This is a stand alone novel.

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Publication Date: 2014

‘Sixteen-year-old Marnie lives in the idyllic coastal village of Clevedon. Despite being crippled by a childhood exposure to polio, she seems set to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and become a ‘dipper’, escorting fragile female bathers into the sea. Her life is simple and safe. But then she meets Noah. Charming, handsome, son-of-the-local-Lord, Noah. She quickly develops a passion for him – a passion which consumes her.

As Marnie’s infatuation turns to fixation she starts to lose her grip on reality, and a harrowing and dangerous obsession develops that seems certain to end in tragedy. Set in the early Victorian era when propriety, modesty and repression were the rule, this is a taut psychological drama in which the breakdown of a young woman’s emotional state will have a devastating impact on all those around her.’

‘The Madness’ is the first Alison Rattle novel I have read, and I would definitely read more of her work based on this. Her great strength is that she gets the balance of research exactly right: the novel, set in the Victorian Period, is very atmospheric and clearly well-researched, yet at the same time, it is not so bogged down in historical detail that it becomes at all dull. It is very clear when reading the novel that Alison Rattle has a passion for history, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that it is set in Clevedon, rather than a big city, as I knew absolutely nothing about ‘dippers’ or about that village in the Victorian era, and felt that I learned much about them through reading the novel.

‘The Madness’ is absolutely heartbreaking. It tells the story of Marnie, who is shunned by other villagers because she has been crippled from polio. She is isolated, and finally makes a friend in the upper class Noah, but it becomes clear that their relationship means something different to him than it does to her. Marnie’s stability begins to break down and it’s all because of the way she is treated by others. It’s deeply, deeply moving, and Marnie’s story reminded me of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, in the way that it is both devastating and beautiful.

Alison Rattle writes Marnie’s story in a manner which is truly, as the blurb of my copy states, ‘engrossing.’ I absolutely could not pull myself out of the book, and even though I have now finished it, I know Marnie’s story will stay with me for a long time, for Marnie’s is a story which touches the heart.

 

The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury

  • The Sleeping Prince, Melinda SalisburyTheSleepingPrince

Series: #2 The Sin Eater’s Daughter Series

Rating: * * * * *

Publisher: Scholastic

Publication Date: Feb 2016

 

 

Goodreads Synopsis: ‘Return to the darkly beautiful world of The Sin Eater’s Daughter with a sequel that will leave you awed, terrified . . . and desperate for more.

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won’t reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.’

It is always slightly nerve-wracking reading a sequel when you really enjoyed the first novel in the series, because you now have high expectations and do not want to feel let down. It’s particularly nerve-wracking when the said sequel has a different viewpoint to the former book, as you wonder whether you’ll like the lead character as much and will respond to them in the same way.

As soon as I started ‘The Sleeping Prince’, my nerves were set at ease – I knew I would enjoy this book just as much as the last. In fact – I loved it even more! The novel is packed with wonderful and unforgettable characters, has more twists and layers than Spaghetti Junction, and is hugely imaginative with many unique ideas. If I had to sum the novel up in three words, the words I would choose would be: thrilling, unpredictable, and creative.

Errin, the heroine, is instantly likeable. The quality she has that defines her and the one I most admire is her determination, whether it’s in scraping together money for the rent as the one left with this responsibility in the household, or it’s in her apothecary work, or it’s in being the first to get to Scarron. Hers is one of my favourite first person voices.

Errin is joined by a cast of awesome and memorable characters. There’s the mysterious and protective Silas; Unwin, the creepy Justice of the town where Errin lives; Sister Hope, a forceful and slightly malicious priestess. And of course, there’s the titular character, the Sleeping Prince. He’s dangerous and resentful, but also very charismatic and smooth. He also has a very surprising lapdog.

The novel begins with a stunning and hugely dramatic prologue, which had me immediately hooked. It continues to be wholly engaging and addictive. There are twists and revelations throughout the plot, right until the very last page, and indeed, last sentence! With that ending, I am truly not sure how I am going to be able to cope with the wait for the next book.

My favourite thing about ‘The Sleeping Prince’ is its inventiveness. It has so many distinctive and fascinating elements, such as the ideas of vita and philtresmiths and the consequences of their roles – Nigredo and Citrinitas -, as well as Sin Eating, which is explained further in this novel. I absolutely adore the fairytales they have in this world: the stories of The Sleeping Prince, of Aurek and Aurelia and of The Scarlet Varulv. For me, the best fantasies contain and incorporate folklore – like the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo – and the folklore in this series is fantastic. I really wish that Melinda Salisbury would write a short story collection of these fairytales!

Overall, ‘The Sleeping Prince’ is a spectacular sequel and is my favourite book of 2016 so far!

 

The Winner’s Kiss, Marie Rutkoski

  • The Winner’s Kiss by Marie RutkoskiTheWinner

Rating: * * * * *

Series: The Winner’s Curse #3

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: March 2016

Goodreads synopsis: ‘War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?’

It was a long wait for the last book in this series, but the wait was completely worth it. The Winner’s Kiss was a wonderful finale to a much loved trilogy, full of action and emotion. I could not put it down, and now that I have finished it, I cannot get it out of my head!

One of my favourite things about the final book in a series is reflecting on how far the characters have come and how much they have changed. Kestrel, the main protagonist, has certainly come a long way. She has become stronger, more considerate of others and more aware of the changes that need to be made in the society she lives in. However, she has retained the keen and wily mind that makes her such a distinctive and engaging heroine. This ability to outwit others proves very useful in this finale and makes for many unpredictable twists. One such turn related to Kestrel’s cunning comes very close to the end of the novel in a tense and heart-pounding scene, and I didn’t see it coming! Marie Rutkoski keeps you guessing right until the very end, and I love that.

The character, aside from Kestrel and Arin, that really stood out for me was Roshar. I particularly loved his decision to name his tiger ‘Little Arin.’ He constantly infuriates Arin with his witty jabs and boldness, as seen here:

”Roshar, the tiger has grown.’

‘And what a sweet big boy he is.’

‘You can’t bring him into a dining hall filled with hundreds of people.’

‘He’ll behave. He has the mien and manners of a prince.’

‘O, like you?’

‘I resent your tone.’ ‘

He also has a sober and more sensitive side and this full development and exploration of secondary characters is one of the things that make this series so phenomenal.

Marie Rutkoski’s writing is completely compelling. It has a lyrical, poetic quality to it, with captivating imagery and metaphors – particularly a metaphor about forgiveness that comes near to the end – and the narration and dialogue is authentic, memorable and also thought-provoking. Some of the lines are so beautifully crafted that as soon as I read them they become firm favourites and I mark them out. This series is truly writing for young adults at its very best.

The Winner’s Kiss is a captivating end to a captivating series, a series which is one of my absolute favourites and one I treasure. I am devastated that I have reached the end of it, but I know that it is one I will come back to time and time again.

‘She thought of her past. Her whole life. ‘I want better choices.’

‘Then we must make a world that has them.”