Fair Warning: Spoilers ahead for this series!
“But which of these two kings was the true villain of this story? For a story was only as good as its villain.”
Having fled the besieged capital of Khorasan, Shahrzad finds herself encamped on the edges of the kingdom, in the territory of a nomadic desert sheikh, along with Tariq’s army. Here she is reunited with her father and sister, and must face the toll the book of spells took on her father’s body and mind as the price for extracting her from the palace. Her allies now regard her with suspicion, but she cannot reveal the curse that has been guiding Khalid’s hand for so long. Instead, she must find a way to regain their trust even as she searches for a way to break the spell, and free the kingdom so that no more girls have to die. But the King of Parthia is about to join the conflict, taking advantage of Khorasan’s time of weakness, and Khalid’s nefarious uncle will not be satisfied with anything less than total victory.
In this second installment of The Wrath and the Dawn, separated from Khalid, Shahrzad tries to win back some measure of the trust of her former allies, buying time for them to break the curse. This is a difficult proposition given that the protagonists are in different locations, and the pacing of the plot suffers a bit for it. Shazi focuses on learning to control the magical talents she inherited from her father, but never had a chance to master. Though she seems reluctant to take her sister into her confidence on the matter of the curse, she does share her worries about the damage using the book of spells has done to their father, Jahandar. Shazi and Irsa are rebuilding the bond from their childhood, but under circumstances that reinforce the fact that they are no longer children, and their relationship will have to adjust accordingly. Watching them figure this out is one of the highlights of the novel.
While Shahrzad tries to harness her newfound power, Khalid is in Rey dealing with the fall out of the raid and the ramifications of not heeding the demands of the curse. Ahdieh goes to great lengths trying to show that Khalid has been redeemed now that he has decided to try to break the curse rather than obey it. In the aftermath of the attack on Khorasan, he goes out into the streets to help the common people pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes. But he does this even knowing that he needs to be preparing his kingdom for another attack, this time from Parthia. Later in the book, when Khalid is laying siege to an enemy holding, Ahdieh carefully points out how his strategy involves firing the granaries and intimidating the army, rather than a more haphazard attack that might harm civilians. But of course, those civilians are simply going to starve to death later. Khalid could have been sufficiently redeemed for the purposes of the story by acknowledging his past wrongs, and dedicating himself to breaking the curse; the rest is overkill that makes him look irrational.
The Rose and the Dagger brings the duology to an ending that is both happy and unsatisfying. At least happily ever after is vague enough to allow you to imagine whatever future you feel best suits the characters. The Rose and the Dagger is yet another novel with a soppy epilogue that can’t seem to imagine a happily ever after that consists of anything other than marriage and babies. After all the emphasis on well-developed female characters, the strong relationships between the various women, and Ahdieh’s focus on how Khalid comes to respect Shahrzad’s agency, the epilogue was sadly lacking in imagination about what Shazi’s future was likely to hold. Even during the warm family scene, she could be attending affairs of state, but instead she and Khalid discuss getting her sister married. It is an overly neat and thoroughly disappointing ending to a somewhat lacklustre second installment.
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