Every day, Khalid, the 18-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new wife who is killed at dawn. Shahrzad vows to avenge the death of her best friend, Shiva, and she volunteers to be Khalid’s new wife. Despite the odds, Shahrzad lives to see another day by telling Khalid a story each night. As Shahrzad battles her will and her heart, she learns that something is amiss and it’s linked to the boy king who has dark secrets.
This is a vivid and captivating retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. I enjoyed the descriptions of the lavish clothes, delectable foods, intricate palace, and rich setting of Persian culture. There is also subtle magic and I have a feeling that this will be explored in more depth during the second book. The friendships are believable and I liked how the secondary characters Despina, Jalal and Rahim weren’t afraid to call out their respective friends. Despina, the handmaiden, becomes a much-needed companion to Shahrzad. These two characters in particular develop a great rapport. My favourite character is Jalal who’s witty, charming and amusing.
Shahrzad is a strong independent female heroine, though there are times when she acts like a spoiled brat. Thankfully, Despina points this out to her. Similarly, Khalid sometimes lashes out in a petulant way and Jalal makes him aware of it. Whilst the friendships are great, I would have preferred a little less instalove. At one point I thought that it resembled a teenage romance, before remembering that they are teenagers. The love triangle doesn’t really add much to the story. I was actually more interested in learning about the intriguing romance between two of the secondary characters.
Ahdieh’s retelling is refreshing in that the Caliph is not portrayed as a misogynistic psychopath, even though most of his kingdom thinks that he is. Instead, he has layers and a troubled past. The reader also learns that there are dark forces at play. Khalid still has blood on his hands, but he’d had little choice in the matter. It’s not as black and white as one would first think.
The ending is dramatic and I am definitely going to read the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐