The much anticipated sequel to The Wrath and The Dawn continues the story of Shahrzad al-Khayzuran and her beloved husband Khalid, the murderous Caliph of Khorasan.
In the first novel, Khalid reveals to Shahrzad his terrible secret. He married his first wife in an arranged marriage when he was seventeen. His father wanted him to marry Yasmine el-Sharif, daughter of the Sultan of Parthia, so as to unite the kingdoms of Khorasan and Parthia but Khalid did not wish to marry Yasmine. To avoid insulting the Sultan he quietly married a young girl named Ava. The marriage was not a happy one as the young couple grew apart. Ava was happy when she became pregnant, but when she lost the baby she committed suicide. Ava's father called Khalid to his home and revealed the curse he had laid upon him and paid for with his own life. "One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold."
Ava's father wants Khalid to sacrifice one hundred daughters to the dawn so that their families may know his pain and the loss of the future and so that they will hate Khalid as he does. In order to place the curse, Ava's father sacrificed himself through potent dark magic. At first Khalid refused, but a drought began in Rey; the rains ceased and the wells dried up. The people of Rey became sick and began to die. Khalid realized the curse was real and so began to take a bride every night.
The novel ends with Shahrzad's father, Jahandar using the dark magic from the secret book he's found to destroy Rey in an attempt to rescue his daughter. He creates a terrible storm that lays waste to Rey, burning the city. Tariq and Rahim race to the palace to rescue Shahrzad and face the awful truth that Tariq's beloved Shazi loves Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan. Jalal allows to Tariq and Rahim to take Shahrzad, while Reza bin-Latief, father of Shiva meets with the Sultan of Parthia to plan their humiliation and annihilation of Khalid.
The Rose and The Dagger opens with Shahrzad, her sister Irsa and her father Jahandar in the camp of Omar al-Sadiq, the emir of Badawi who has formed an alliance with Reza bin-Latief. Her father Jahandar al-Khayzuran was found by Shahrzad, Tariq and Rahim outside Rey, the night of the fire storm that destroyed the city. He was clutching an old, leather-bound book, his hands and feet burned. They were unable to pry the book from his hands. In the camp, Reza is not happy when he sees Shahrzad alive; he considers her to have betrayed him and tells her to consider which side she is on.
Meanwhile, Khalid remains in the ruins of his palace and of his city, Rey. The head of the palace guards, Kalal al-Khoury confronts Khalid, telling him he cannot continue to cover for Khalid's repeated disappearances. He also tells Khalid that he has learned he is going to be a father and thinks he may want to marry the woman carrying his child.
In the Badawi camp, Shahrzad's father Jahandar al-Khayzuran realizes that the book he used has magical powers well beyond what he expected and what he was able to control. Although he knows the book should be destroyed, Jahandar believes that now that he understands what it is capable of, he may be able to control it. Although Jahandar feels remorse over what happened in the city, he senses that his daughter Shahrzad has even more power than he. He decides he will teach Shahrzad how to use her powers.
Shahrzad discovers the rug that Musa-Zaragoza, the magus (magician) from the Fire Temple, gave her is a magic carpet which she can control. Irsa is shocked at Shahrzad's ability to do so. Her hands sense an energy within the carpet and are able to make it rise from the floor. But she has yet to understand how the carpet might help her.
In Rey, Khalid is surprised to see Despina with the Rajput. Vikram's shoulder has been destroyed by Tariq's obsidian arrow and he tells Khalid he is unable to use his left hand. The Rajput wants to leave Rey and to take Despina as his wife. Despite his shock Khalid agrees to keep their marriage secret and allows them to leave. Khalid continues to disappear into the city at all times, much to Jalal's anger. On one excursion he goes to help repair the city's oldest library where Shahrzad's father once worked. It is here that Jalal angrily confronts Khalid. Jalal believes Khalid sent Despina, the woman pregnant with his child, away as an act of revenge for him sending Shahrzad away from Rey with Tariq. Khalid does not reveal Despina and Vikram's situation to Jalal because he doesn't yet know the reason for her actions. Despite Khalid telling Jalal he did not send her away as a means of revenge, Jalal warns Khalid that he will no longer protect him.
In the Badawi desert camp Omar al-Sadiq listens as Shiva's father Rez bin-Latief argues for attacking Khalid and the city of Rey. With most of the Caliph's Royal Guards killed and the standing army either having fled or been destroyed, Reza believes now is the time to act. But Omar is reluctant to have his people become involved in this war as he his not certain which side to ally himself with. His wife Aisha has warned him that neither Tariq nor Reza could be trusted and the discovery of Fida'i, who are hired assassins in the camp only make Omar more reluctant. He notes Tariq seems disquieted by his uncle's determination to bring about war and decides he must speak with the young man.He is also deeply disturbed by the attack on the calipha, Shahrzad.
One night Shahrzad becomes intoxicated and passes out leaving Tariq to take her to her tent. There he finds a letter written by Khalid to Shahrzad expressing his deep love for her. Tariq now knows that the Caliph does in fact care for Shahrzad in a way similar to how Tariq feels for her. The next morning Shahrzad realizes she must find Musa Zaragoza in hopes he can help her father and know of a way to break the curse on Khalid. Shahrzad sneaks into the desert surrounding the camp with her magic carpet and orders it to take her to Musa Zaragoza. Can Shahrzad find a cure for what mysteriously ails her father. Will she be able to find someone to lift the curse from Khalid and possibly stop the impending war that threatens them all.
In The Rose and The Dagger, Ahdieh keeps her readers thoroughly engaged through the numerous plot twists and an enticing array of unique characters. The novel is fast paced as each unexpected twist pulls the reader along towards the shocking climax (which is then undone by a secondary character) and a post-climatic epilogue that continues the story several years into the future. The story is told using third person omniscient so the thoughts and feelings of many of the characters including Shahrzad, Khalid, Tariq Jahandar, Irsa, and Omar are known to the reader.
The strength of The Rose and The Dagger is in the characters, many of whom are struggling with intense internal conflicts. For example Omar al-Sadiq is a wise emir whose people live in the area between Khorasan and Parthia. He has brought Reza bin-Latief and his nephew, Tariq to his camp in Badawi so he can observe them and determine if he should fall in with them in the coming war. Omar has given them horses and provisions but the presence of hired assassins around Reza makes him wary. Reza's determination to attack the Caliph will draw Omar's people into the war and Omar is concerned for his people. He does not know who to trust. He observes that Tariq has a "strange uncertainty" and that he does not partake in the "angry revelry" of Reza's men at a war meeting. This creates further doubts for Omar about Tariq's choice. "Omar was not certain Tariq had chosen right in following his uncle. Not certain Tariq knew how best to choose between right and wrong." The attack on the calipha, whom he respects, in his own camp also leads to further doubts. Eventually Omar comes to believe that the choice to attack Rey is the wrong one and he convinces Tariq that the choice to ride against the Caliph is the wrong choice.
Jahandar al-Khayzuran is also deeply troubled. He is a man who wants to be noticed and he hopes to accomplish this by attaining great knowledge about magic. Jahandar hoped to find his true calling "As a man of power. A man to be respected. A man to be feared." His plan was to use the book's magical power to save his daughter, Shahrzad. However, its power was far more than Jahandar had expected and it has destroyed Rey. He becomes obsessed with the book to the point that he will let no one touch it. And when it is stolen from him Jahandar will do anything to get it back even aligning himself with Reza bin-Latief and the Sultan of Parthia. He had hoped by going along with Reza's plan to kidnap Shahrzad and take her to Amardha that he would be able to find his book. But Jahandar has misunderstood the complex relationships between the Sultan, Reza and the Caliph. He learns that Khalid destroyed the book and in his anger at being dismissed and ignored, Jahandar fatally attacks Khalid. When he realizes that his actions do not change anything, that he has destroyed his daughter, Jahandar uses the magic he has learned from the book to save Khalid at the cost of his own life, thus redeeming himself.
Tariq Imran al-Ziyad is another deeply conflicted character. He loves Shahrzad and is determined to seek revenge for what has happened to her. Tariq believes Shahrzad's husband is a butcher and a madman. When Tariq accuses Shahrzad of being blinded by love, Shahrzad defends Khalid telling Tariq that the truth of Khalid's situation is not so simple. Tariq's discovery of a letter to Shahrzad from Khalid leads him to understand that their love is no passing fancy. He also begins to suspect that Khalid is not the person everyone believes him to be. His words are not the words of a madman. In fact he finds him to be remarkably controlled and a man of few words. Later on he finds he cannot kill Khalid after he sees how much Khalid and Shahrzad love one another for it will utterly destroy Shahrzad.The behaviour of the Caliph leads Tariq to question all that he thought he knew about him. He discovers Khalid is not deceitful, "Which put to question many other suspicions Tariq had long harbored against him." Eventually Tariq decides to side with Khalid against his uncle Reza.
The Rose and The Dagger is a complex story that incorporates the themes of forgiveness and redemption throughout. It is about the redemption of one man in particular, the Caliph of Khorasan, who has been forced by a powerful curse, to choose between murdering one hundred brides or to see his people die by the thousands. This choice is unknown to all but a few and therefore virtually everyone else believes the Caliph to be a murderous monster. He is seen as a monster by the people of Khorasan. In the Badawi camp the soldiers say as much. "That monster doesn't deserve a grave," another young man chimed in. "His head belongs on a pike..." Shahrzad's sister, Irsa refers to Khalid "The monster of Rey ..." Tariq, Shahrzad's first love tells her her husband is a "butcher" and a "murdering madman". However, gradually the truth is uncovered. Irsa and Tariq in particular cannot reconcile the man they experience as the murdering madman people believe he is. When the reason for his cousin Shiva's murder is revealed to Tariq, he sees "a hint of something more" in Khalid. He sees "more of the man beneath the monster."
And he discovers he no longer hates Khalid.
While not quite as enthralling as the first novel, The Rose and The Dagger is still a finely crafted story, a romantic sequel to The Wrath and The Dawn. Filled with remarkable characters, fast paced action, it is a novel not to be missed.
Ahdieh has once again included a map of the setting in the front of the novel. A full list of the characters is given below:
Cast of Characters
Shahrzad al-Khayzuran - Calipha of Khorasan and wife of Khalid
Jahandar al-Khayzuran- Shahrzad's father
Irsa al-Khayzuran - sister to Shahrzad
Khalid Ibn al-Rashid - Caliph of Khorasa, husband of Shahrzad
Rahim al-Din Walad - friend of Tariq and Shahrzad
Tariq Imran al-Ziyad - Shahrzad's childhood friend
Shiva bin Latief - Shahrzad's best friend who was Khalid's bride before Shahrzad
Reza bin Latief - father of Shiva, Tariq's uncle
Omar al-Sadiq - Emir of Badawi whose lands border both Khorasan and Parthia
Salim Ali el-Sharif - Sultan of Parthia and Khalid's uncle
Yasmine el-Sharif - Salim's daughter and once intended bride of Khalid
Despina el-Sharif - Salim's secret daughter and spy
Vikram Singh (The Rajput) - Khalid's bodyguard
Captain Jalal al-Khoury - Captain of the Guards
General Aref al-Khoury - Jalal's father
Musa Zaragosa - magician at the Fire Temple
Teymur - relative of the Emir of Karaj
Artan Temujin- son of Tolu who lives with Musa Zaragoza
Parissa and Masrur - Musa Zaragoza's guards
Shesha - winged serpent
Isuke - Artan's aunt who possesses strong magic
Fida'is - hired soldiers with no allegiance.
The Rose and The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 2016