The premise is what drew me to this book. I was somewhat familiar with One Thousand and One Nights, and the story of a murderous king was too intriguing to pass up.
Every night, king Khalid marries a new bride. Every morning, he has her killed. After the king murders sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s best friend, she volunteers to marry him and vows to get revenge. However, she quickly discovers that the motive behind the murders is much more complex than she imagined. The king is not everything he seems. This book is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights.
The Arabic setting is the best part of the novel. It’s so vivid. I love the rich descriptions of the clothing, food, landscape, and architecture. It makes it so easy to imagine this exotic location. For the most part, the writing is strong. There are a few times where I thought it bordered on melodramatic and purple (way too much description of people’s mysterious color-changing eyes), but overall, I really like the descriptiveness and the atmosphere that the writing creates.
The dialogue and the secondary characters are great. The dialogue is so sharp. There is a lot of verbal sparring between the characters, and it’s very entertaining to read. The secondary characters have vibrant personalities that really show in their dialogue. Jalal is my favorite character. I love his charisma and sense of humor. I want a whole book written from his perspective.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like either of the main characters. If I had known that this book was so romance-heavy, I probably wouldn’t have read it. I’m massively picky about romances. The smallest thing can be a huge turn-off for me. I just couldn’t get in to this romance, and honestly, it creeped me out a little. I think I was most bothered by the sex scene that happens on Khalid and Shahrzad’s wedding night. It creeps me out that Khalid wants to have sex with a girl who believes that he will murder her in the morning. Shahrzad is a somewhat-willing participant in the scene, but the power dynamic is so yucky (and slightly rapey) that I immediately hated Khalid. There was nothing that the author could do to overcome my dislike of him after that scene. I disliked him the whole way through.
This book is supposed to be a hate-to-love story, but I didn’t believe the hate or the love. Shahrzad never tries to kill Khalid, and she doesn’t even have a good plan for how to do it. She also falls in love with him very quickly, so she can’t hate him that badly. I’m not sure why they fell in love. What makes Shahrzad different from all of the other girls that Khalid murdered? She doesn’t seem that special to me.
Shahrzad’s boyfriend Tariq also confuses me. He’s totally in love (or maybe lust) with her, but she falls in insta-love with Khalid. So, she obviously doesn’t love Tariq very much. I spent the whole book wondering how Shahrzad and Tariq could have such different ideas about their relationship.
I know this seems like a lot of criticism. I did like the book. I was completely absorbed in the plot and the world, and I was never bored while reading. This novel puts a unique spin on the One Thousand and One Nights story. But, I don’t think I’ll be reading the next book. I just wasn’t in love with the romance.