The Rose & the Dagger, the sequel to Renée Ahdieh’s phenomenal debut The Wrath & the Dawn, brings Shahrzad’s story to a close. In the first book, Shahrzad was determined to avenge her best friend and the countless other young women killed by the ruthless Khalid Ibn al-Rashid, the Caliph of Khorasan. All she had to do was kill the monster. But Shahrzad never expected to find that underneath the leader’s cruel mask was a lonely young man, burdened with an inescapable curse. Instead of revenge, she did the unspeakable, she fell in love. But the world around the two young lovers still burned with hatred and those directly affected by the Caliph’s actions rallied in retaliation. Forced back into the arms of those who hate her husband, Shahrzad must find a way to stop a war that seems inevitable and free Khalid from the curse that threatens to separate them for good.
Renée Ahdieh once again shows what a fantastic writer she is, combining complex characters with a compelling storyline and stunning setting. In the first book, readers’ insight into Khalid was limited to Shahzrad’s point of view and while this helped in the mystery surrounding the enigmatic leader, I wanted a better understanding of his character. This sequel offers just that. After the city of Rey is nearly destroyed, Khalid refuses to abandon his people, despite knowing they all view him as a monster. He knows that Shahrzad is safer away from him and elects not to go after her, sacrificing the one person who may have given him peace. Though in many ways standoffish, Khalid shows an ability to overcome his former animosity towards certain other characters, but at the same time still holding others to a high standard of honor.
Shahrzad’s determined nature is a force to be reckoned with. From the very beginning, she’s demanded to be heard and respected. She knows what she wants and can’t be dissuaded from pursuing what she believes is right. Though she has come to love Khalid, she never wavers in her loyalty to her sister and her hope for her father. Although I really wanted to see Khalid open up more to his cousin Jalal, Shahrzad’s relationship with her sister Irsa is held in direct contrast. Their mutual openness isn’t always easy, but their connection with one another makes them instantly more relatable. As the first book is mainly focused on the growing relationship between Shahrzad and Khalid, we hardly ever got to see them apart. This concluding novel gives both characters a chance to shine as each begins to forge their own path.
There are several minor characters that I wished we could have learned more about. Most notable is Artan Temujin. Shahrzad meets him through a mutual friend and though he is tasked with teaching her how to hone her own magical abilities, it is his connections that give her hope that Khalid’s curse can be broken. I loved that he challenges Shahrzad, but his own story is left largely untold and his personality is so big, I expected the author to develop him more. Tariq, Shahrzad’s former suitor, spent most of the last book playing the part of a man scorned by his first love and bent on taking revenge on the man he thinks has stolen her. I immediately felt that Tariq had so much more potential and wanted to see him grow as a character. I was extremely happy to see where Ahdieh chose to take his storyline.
Renée Ahdieh’s series makes an excellent case for duologies and love stories that don’t involve love-triangles. There are some elements I wished had been explored more, mainly Shahrzad’s own magical gift and magic’s larger role in this universe. Still, not enough can be said for Ahdieh’s ability to write such an irresistible, steadfast, and moving romance.