This magical read is based on A Thousand and One Nights, the Arabian tale of Shaharazad. Girls are being murdered by the young caliph of Khorasan. Every day he marries one, and in the morning they are strangled with a silk cord. After Shahrzad’s best friend, Shiva, is murdered in this same fashion, Shahrzad volunteers to be the next doomed bride in order to exact vengeance on the cruel king. But when her chance for revenge arrives, she realizes she can’t do it…because she’s developed feelings for the caliph. Duh-duh-duh…
First, the good. The setting is sumptuous! Adhieh paints a lush landscape of fragrant foods, colorful silks and damask, stern warriors wielding scimitars and falcons. The setting is definitely one of my favorite characters, and keeps the book interesting when the plot lags.
Like in the beginning. This one got off to a slow start for me. I didn’t buy the fact that the caliph (named Khalid) would be so entranced with Shahrzad’s storytelling that he would postpone killing her just to listen to the rest of her tale. Shahrzad frustrated me as well, as her behavior seemed flippant and foolhardy, despite the fact that her life hung in the balance. The alternating viewpoint of her childhood love Tariq, who set the wheels of a rebellion in motion after finding out about Shahrzad’s impetuous choice to wed the caliph, kept me going in the beginning. But luckily, it got better.
Shahrzad is a fiery and enjoyable heroine, with a quick tongue and wit, and a strong sense of loyalty to her friends. I didn’t mind the Stockholm syndrome-esque element of her relationship with Khalid, their love grew slowly and organically enough that I bought it. The secondary characters were great, and I liked how we got to spend time with many of them, from Tariq to Despina and Jalal. The intrigue grows to a head as Shahrzad uncovers the real truth behind the murders and truly falls for Khalid, right as her family and friends put their rebellion in motion and try to rescue her. This book definitely ended on a cliffhanger, so fair warning if that is your pet peeve.
Overall, I really enjoyed this and would recommend it. My main complaint seems to be with the 1,001 Nights backstory, which Ahdieh only had partial control over. Khalid feels inconsistent in his treatment of the curse which requires him to kill his brides. First he decides to kill all these girls to avoid his other subjects suffering, but then stops to save Shahrzad, even though he knows it will cause more death and make all the prior girls’ deaths meaningless. But, setting that aside, the story and characters were wonderful. I will be reading the sequel!