& Reviews: The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. Young Adult Romance. Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. April 2016.

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. Young Adult Romance. Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. April 2016.

The Book Itself: In the same style as the series’ first installment, this cover features a model meant to be Shahrzad, overlaid by a simple, graphic screen. I love the concept and I think it matches the mood and the setting of the series very well.

**Please do not continue if you have not read the series’ first installment, and intend to. Even reading the synopsis of this book will give you a spoiler for the contents of the first book. Thank you!

My Review: 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.

Last week I reviewed a book I was actually rather reluctant to read – The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. I was reluctant because I’m pretty familiar with the plot of Arabian Nights/A Thousand and One Nights, and The Wrath and the Dawn sounded like an exact copy. While it did rely on that plot extensively, I thought both the plot and romance to be well-written, and worth reading the sequel.

The Rose and the Dagger picks up quickly after the events of the last story. Shehrzad and her luvah are separated, Shehrzad now with her sister, father, and childhood sweetheart (yay love triangles? Not really) out in the desert. We get a little bit more of the magic system with this book, as Shehrzad dabbles a little bit more in what she can do, and rides around on her magic carpet a little. She meets other magic users, and goes through a (very brief, rather skimmed over) training. The focus of this story is still the romance, with a little of that annoying love triangle thrown in. It also has one of the hastiest (most hasty?) and hurried endings I have ever read.

The writing is still so, so good. Ahdieh has a way of using description and scene that keeps you reading, but doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing anything. Shehrzad and Khalid’s love can feel a little overblown at times (they like their sweeping declarations), but I still like watching their relationship develop. And who doesn’t like a good reunion?! Seeing these two reconnect after time apart is just one of those warm-and-fuzzy reading moments that you flip the pages faster to read. You can’t wait until they get together again. Plus, it’s pretty hot when they do.

The magic definitely seems like a tacked-on theme. Not enough time or detail was paid to the magic system, or who can use magic in what way for it to seem fully developed. As it stands, it’s just a way for Shehrzad to seem a little less helpless in her world. It’s a shame that magic is treated so half-heartedly. It could have been a really cool aspect to the story, but I am left with a lot of questions about its place in this fictional world.

My biggest problem is the ending. Both books are very well-paced, with characters making decisions and moves that make sense for their personality. But the last thirty pages are so jam-packed with EVENTS, none of which truly get enough time for us to feel them as readers, or for them to truly impact the characters. It feels like Ahdieh was given a finite number of pages that she absolutely could not go over, and when she was writing, she suddenly realized that she needed to wrap it up, and SOON (I know in all likelihood, this is not how it happened, but that’s how rushed it feels). Too much happens in too little of space, that I feel cheated out of an actual, satisfying and well-crafted ending.

It feels quite like the series finale to the TV show Castle, which felt similarly shocking and rushed to me. Although in the Venn Diagram of “People Who Have Read the Conclusion to The Wrath and the Dawn“ and “People Who Watch Castle“ there is probably a very narrow spectrum of people in that middle space. Comment if you are one of those people, so I can justify this paragraph.

Overall, the duology is good, if very rushed at the end, and a bit underdeveloped in certain aspects. It is a romance first, with a sprinkling of magic for color.

My Grade: B-

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& Reviews: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh. Hardcover version.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh. Hardcover version.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Young Adult Romance. Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. May 2015.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Young Adult Romance. Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. May 2015.

The Book Itself: I’m putting both the paperback and hardcover versions here, because even though the hardcover is only different in that a screen-like pattern is overlaid on top of the main picture, I like it so much better. I’m not a big fan of pretty girls and/or boys gracing the covers of YA fiction (or even adult romance novels), because 1. It might affect how you picture the main character(s). And 2. I just don’t like it. The people always looked forced in their pose, or they look stuck up or haughty, or…I don’t know… it’s a pet peeve. I read the paperback version of this book, but I might go out and buy the hardcover for my collection.

My Review: Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.  

I was so very reluctant to read this book, but the overwhelming love and gushing about it on social media proved too much. Yes, I caved to peer pressure.

Why would I drag my feet so? I didn’t like that this book sounded like it was going to be, verbatim, Arabian Nights. A Thousand and One Nights. Scheherazade’s Tale. Call it what you will, but the synopsis of this book is that classic folktale. The names aren’t even changed. A young woman marries a man who kills his brides each morning. She stays alive by telling stories, captivating him with the narrative and characters, and timing them so that she must stop in the middle of a tale when the sun rises. The king spares her life to hear the rest of the story, only for the whole process to repeat again the next night, for one thousand nights.

In the original version of the story, the king was jaded from a past unfaithful lover, and thus would murder a new virgin bride every morning so that she could never be unfaithful to him (yep – super dark). He couldn’t bring himself to kill Sheherezade at the end of the thousand nights because he fell in love with her.

In other, less Grimms-Brother-esque versions of the story, the king is bewitched somehow – an enchanted scimitar that forces him to murder the brides, a prophecy, a curse, etc. And that is the avenue that The Wrath and the Dawn takes (not a spoiler – this is revealed on the first page. You knew the hunky love interest wasn’t going to be truly evil anyway).

Just don’t call it an “original story” I wanted to cry as I read some of the blurbs of praise on the back of the book. This has literally already been written before.

But not quite like this. This is a modernization, in a way, of a very, very old tale that has already been translated, re-told, and edited hundreds of times. It adds a pinch of that YA-romance that sells books these days and voila  – people are calling it a new classic. I am still stubborn, and say that it was already a very old classic, and is just ever so slightly tweaked here.  But it is a good story nonetheless.

I like that it isn’t instant love. Although how could it – this guy just murdered Shahrzad’s best friend. It’s a relationship that builds, from fear into curiosity into understanding into luuurve. It gets pretty spicy, too – no “G” rating here, folks. Some scenes were surprisingly sensual and sexified (that was the least sexy way I could think of to write “sexy”).

The writing and scene building are also very well done. And the secondary characters have colorful personalities that really round them out. Mostly the pacing was superb, and I found myself getting completely caught up in this steamy romance in a beautiful setting.

Couple of things: the stories this Shehrzad told weren’t as compelling as I thought they could be. They are supposed to make a murderer not want to kill you, girl. Come up with something better than Aladdin!

And there is a minor storyline/theme of magic that is so little paid attention to that I wished the book hadn’t included it at all. And yeah, there’s a magic carpet…again with the Aladdin.

It sounds like I hate/liked it, but really it’s a good story. If you’re very familiar with A Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, you will find it lacking a whole lot of original spice, but it’s a well-paced YA romance with great character building and setting.

My Grade: B

& Reviews: Dust by Hugh Howey

Dust by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: CreateSpace. August 2013.

Dust by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: CreateSpace. August 2013.

The Book Itself: This simple, graphic cover brings to mind the barren, undesirable landscape outside of the silos. It looks pretty damn ominous to me, a good final note to end a dystopian series on.

My Review: In a time when secrets and lies were the foundations of life, someone has discovered the truth. And they are going to tell.

Jules knows what her predecessors created. She knows they are the reason life has to be lived in this way.

And she won’t stand for it.

But Jules no longer has supporters. And there is far more to fear than the toxic world beyond her walls.

A poison is growing from within Silo 18.

One that cannot be stopped.

Unless Silo 1 step in

I followed up Shift, Hugh Howey’s self-published sequel to his very well-done omnibus Wool, with this novel so that I could really read the series from start to finish and get my impressions of it as a whole.

My impression? The first book is by far the best.

Dust picks up where Wool left off, with Juliet now the major of her silo, Donald causing trouble/generally going nuts over in Silo 1, and Solo/Jimmy worrying about being around people again over in his own silo. His concerns eventually become moot point because Juliet is just going to drill over there anyway, and all the worlds collide.

This book tries to pick up the action from Shift, and in doing so, several things get lost in the shuffle.

First, good old Donald. I never connected with Donald in Shift and I don’t feel any closer to him now. He makes even more stupid decisions, is basically haunted by his former boss, and never really redeems himself from being an emotional wreck. We meet his sister, Charlotte. Her main purpose in the story is to worry about her brother and put her background in mechanical skills to work finding out more about the world beyond the silos. I don’t feel overly connected to her either.

Several promising plot points are abandoned, whether from the series’ previous installments or Dust creating stories of its own. There is an extremely confusing side story about Elise, one of the children living with Solo/Jimmy in Silo 17, and then moving over into Silo 18.

Semi-spoiler alert here, folks. But the side story goes nowhere so I do not think you would be hurt for reading about it. For no apparent reason, the church that sets up shop in Silo 17 decides to kidnap Elise and marry her off to a grown man against her will or understanding. It is very unclear why they think marrying children is a sold plan for a future in a new silo. Is every adult going to marry multiple children, and thus (really grossly) repopulate the silo with dozens more new children? There is no indication of the church really having much of a presence in either of the other books. In fact, I am only really made aware of the church’s existence in the beginning of Dust, when Juliet talks to a priest about her unpopular decisions to drill beneath the silos. So why spend a brief handful of pages on this creepy set up when it ultimately serves no conclusion or purpose? Jimmy gets Elise back, they move on, and no one from the church comes after them. If the entire purpose was to show just how low people could sink in the wake of destruction, it is not done very clearly or, I think, effectively.

The ending tries to put too positive an ending on a tragic (and not yet finished!) story. We do not know the definitive fate of anyone other than the handful of people interacting at the end of the story. Did silos that fell in this book truly fall? And what about every other silo out there? It feels less like a conclusion rounding out a series and more like a to-be-continued, lets-leave-things-open ending. Not what I was expecting, and rather disappointing to a series that started off so strong for me. I did like this last story better than the second installment, simply for the return of characters I loved from Wool and the breakneck pace. But the plot lines for this Silo Saga still seem overall a little wobbly to me.

My Grade: C

& Reviews: Shift by High Howey

Shift by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books. January 2013

Shift by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books. January 2013

The Book Itself: This version of this series covers does a great job of keeping it simple and graphic while also staying true to the story. Wool had an ashy, molten look, probably hearkening to the flames that cleanse the airlock leading to the outside world. In this one, workers are frozen and woken up in shifts over the course of hundreds of years. The cracked, icy feel of the cover reflects that nicely.

My Review: In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened. This is the second volume in the New York Times best-selling Wool series

I read Wool a few years ago (and re-read it before continuing the series this time around) and fell a little in book-love with the world. Humans mess everything up, and are now forced to live in silos beneath the ground. Conspiracies run deep and one’s entire life is relegated to how many flights of stairs one can bear to climb. I thought the concept was imaginative and well done, and I truly liked the characters.

Shift is a prequel/sequel to Wool, and it tries to fill in the gaps of some of the character’s actions and plot events from Wool. It tries to turn back the clock and reveal how the silos came to be, and why some of the flaws we saw in the system in the first book are really much more serious than we thought.

Unfortunately, Shift really feels like it falls into the sophomore slump of book series: the second book feels like a bridge (sometimes a very flimsy one) between the entrance to the trilogy and its exit. At times it tries too hard to fill in the little gaps in the story. And when it does go into detail about the bigger picture, I am left with too many unanswered questions and head scratches.

We meet Donald. Donald formerly studied architecture and is now trying to make it in the world of politics. He gets into a sticky situation when his boss, a senator, asks him to create a hypothetical silo to house people underground. And we all know how “hypothetical” that turns out to be…

It is difficult to feel sympathetic for Donald. He whines. He pines. He is, in general, a very conflicted man. About everything. While it can be nice to have a character genuinely conflicted about the end of days, and the social/political/societal implications of all of that, you just kind of want to smack him sometimes.

We yo-yo between scenes from the “past” – supposedly modern day America, where Donald is creating silos and remaining completely naïve about why he is doing so  – and scenes from the story’s present – focusing on the silo where Donald is routinely frozen and then re-animated in order to solve issues with other silos. AND THEN we have a few extra side stories thrown in for good measure: Legacy, a teenager in a silo about to go rogue, and Jimmy, more commonly known as Solo, the survivor Juliet meets in the other silo in Wool.

I think Legacy and Jimmy’s stories are attempts at humanizing and backfilling the story of the silos. I bought more into Jimmy’s than I did Legacy’s. Legacy’s story did not further explain what makes silos go rogue. In fact, it only served to confuse me more. Jimmy’s story was a pure going-for-the-heartstrings piece. Somehow Jimmy survives 90% of his silo dying in a mass exodus or killing each other (why the member of this silo suddenly feel the need to leave or murder each other remains forever unclear). The rest of his story goes over his incredibly lonely, terrified existence.

AND THEN THEY BRING IN AN ADORABLE CAT COMPANION AND I FREAKED OUT BECAUSE ANY TIME THEY BRING IN A CUTE FLUFFY ANIMAL, IT IS ONLY SO THEY CAN REACH IN AND RIP OUT YOUR HEART BY MAKING THE CUTE FLUFFY ANIMAL DIE A TERRIBLE DEATH. EVERY TIME THE CAT SHOWED UP IN THE BOOK, I EXPECTED THEM TO KILL IT OFF AND MURDER MY SOUL.

But I digress. Dwelling on Legacy and Jimmy’s stories was sometimes more compelling than whatever Annoying Donald was doing at the time. So while I think the time the story spent on them was a little pandering and maybe…not worth it? Sometimes I liked them better than the main story. Not a good sign, maybe.

My biggest issue is that I had to suspend a lot of disbelief about the circumstances of the silos. For a book that is used essentially to further set up the world of Wool, and to fill in information, I had So. Many. Questions. Many of which would be spoilers if I listed them here. But suffice to say that I still don’t know how they have the materials to even operate the silos (how are they manufacturing the plastic and metal to make all of those suits?!). I don’t know truly why or even how the world became wrecked to the point of needing the silos. And I really don’t understand the method by which silos get X-ed off the map. The answer is literally foggy (which is a pun-y joke if you read Shift…).

So while I still love the world Wool is set in, and I liked moments in Shift, I don’t think this prequel/sequel bridged the gap very thoroughly. I was left with a lot of questions and a lot of new characters I didn’t love as much as I did in the first book.

My Grade: C