“Cut the strings, Shazi. Fly.”
This review contains *spoilers*.
The Rose & the Dagger follows the aftermath of the burning in the city of Rey that occured only a week ago. Rey—and its ruler—are vulnerable. Shahrzad and Khalid are separated from one another, yet longing to reunite.
Going into this the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted a lot more of Khalid and a lot less of Tariq.
And it took some time to get to it, which I didn’t quite enjoy because Tariq continued to frustrate me in this book. He just made me feel extremely uncomfortable whenever he showed up:
“Shahrzad pushed away from him. “It isn’t your place. I’ve already spoken to Teymur. He won’t pursue the matter further.”
Tariq’s eyes flashed. “My place?”
“I’ve handled the matter, Tariq. Do nothing, as it would serve no purpose, save to shed more blood. And I’ve had enough of that.” She shouldered her way past him.
He cut her off, his jaw jutting forward, his fists at his sides. “Would you shackle the boy-king in such a manner?”
“Don’t compare yourself to Khalid. It’s childish and beneath you.”
Yes exactly, thank you, Shazi.
“You will not seek revenge on my behalf, Tariq Imran al-Ziyad. I forbid—”
He grabbed her by the shoulders. “I will do as I damned well please, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran!” His voice was raw in its torment. “I denied myself what I wanted once out of principle, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret that decision with every fiber of my being!”
Every word and touch of his was nearly unbearable to read.
I mean even he agreed towards the end that he was a fool.
“Tariq knew then—as he’d known when he’d read the letter Shahrzad kept tucked in her cloak—that this was not an ordinary love born of a passing fancy.
In truth, Tariq had known even then that he could not win. That this was not a battle to be won.
Only a fool would have continued to think otherwise.
Yet Tariq had chosen to be a fool.”
But thank the stars for Khalid because once it got to the good stuff, I was smiling and happy.
“Are you truly not going to bring her back?” the Rajput asked.
“What’s this?” Khalid finally grinned, though it was with a heavy heart. “After all your early protestations?”
“Despite all, I find I . . . miss the little troublemaker. And how she made you smile.”
As did Khalid. More than he cared to admit to anyone.”
Right there with you, Khalid
But the story only started to pick up for me when Shazi met with Artan Temujin because it meant that she was getting one step closer to finding out about her magic and the curse bestowed on Khalid.
“Trust is an interesting matter when it comes to Artan. He will not give it to those who do not offer it first.”
And my enthusiasm fully returned when Shazi told him the story of ‘The Girl Who Grasped the Moon’—her storytelling skills are extremely captivating.
“You wanted to know why I agreed to help you. It’s mostly because Musa-abagha asked me to. And because I am bound by my ancestor’s foolishness. Bound to be a trapped granter of wishes. Musa-abagha has kept me safe these many years. Safe from those who would enslave me. Make of me a dragon who does nothing but bring gold necklaces to thankless little girls.”
Oh, and then one of my most anticipated moment in this book was finally happening:
“As her thumb brushed over the etchings carved into the jade, Shahrzad tried her best to ignore the undeniable weight settling around her heart.
The weight of realization.
And the thrill of certainty.
I’m going home.”
I was so thrilled and ecstatic. I had to calm my heart because my favorites were reuniting after all this time
“How much time had she wasted being afraid on the balcony?
Squaring her shoulders, Shahrzad started for the screens—
And they slid open.
She halted in her tracks, refusing to look up.
Shahrzad knew it was Khalid. She sensed rather than saw him.
As always. As ever. As a rose to the sun.”
YES yes yes
“His eyes gleamed molten gold. And they said all without a word.
Shahrzad drew her sodden waves to one side, splashing water by his feet.
“I’m sorry!” She wrinkled her nose. “That was—”
He pulled her in to his chest, a hand tangling through her hair. The beat of his heart rang loud and true against her cheek. The only measure of time that mattered.
She exhaled fast only to inhale deep. To breathe in his scent. The scent of sandalwood and sunshine. Her fingers moved across his skin, making memories of their own. The hands of a master swordsman. The lips of her greatest love. The heart of a king.
Damn, I could not have asked for a better reaction.
“Khalid stared up at her, his features inscrutable—
His eyes inciting her heart to riot.
“I’ve missed the silence of you listening to me.” Shahrzad attempted a weak smile. “No one listens to me as you do.”
His expression turned quizzical.
“You don’t wait to speak,” she clarified. “You truly listen.”
“Only to you,” Khalid replied gently.”
His words were slowly killing me. Khalid and Shazi’s relationship is an unforgettable (and hot) romance.
But there weren’t enough moments between Shazi and Khalid to keep me satisfied. I feel like the major focus was on Tariq and the oncoming war. And I was really disappointed when Khalid got so close to killing off Tariq (twice) and then didn’t.
“Is she dead?” Tariq’s grief caused his voice to crack through the blue darkness. “Just answer that question, you bastard, and you may do as you please with me.”
“Why would I do anything for you?” the caliph replied, low and vicious.
“Because if she’s dead, I don’t care what happens to me!”
“Then we agree on at least two things.” With that, the caliph shifted his attention toward Rahim, his swords glinting on a moonbeam.”
“Do you worry about me, Khalid Ibn al-Rashid?”
The caliph hesitated, and that said more than words ever could. “There was a time I did. But the fact that you waited until Shahrzad slept to touch her shows me you know she would not approve. You will not disrespect her in such a manner again. Nor will you disrespect me.”
Yes! Finally someone called him out on it. The hate I have for Tariq is similar to how Khalid described his love for Shazi, “from the stars, to the stars.” I’m seriously curious as to why Tariq wasn’t killed off.
And just as I was thinking of writing down in my notes, “Where’s Despina?”— she finally showed up:
“Eyes the color of a cerulean sky sparkled down at her.
Shahrzad’s chin struck her collarbone in horror.
“Hello, Brat Calipha.”
The bitterness swelled within Shahrzad.
Despina had been many things to Shahrzad once. She’d been a friend when Shahrzad had most needed it. A confidante where Shahrzad had had none. But it was clear everything Shahrzad had known about Despina had been cloaked in lies. For it was beyond evident she was even more things now. The secret daughter of Salim Ali el-Sharif. A princess of Parthia. A spy and a deceiver.
Above all things, it was clear Despina had never been Shahrzad’s friend.”
I was truly shocked, and I didn’t get how she did a complete 180. Even in her short story The Moth and the Flame she sounded really genuine and not so bitter.
“How could you do this to Jalal?” Shahrzad asked, her nails digging into her palms as she tried in vain to suppress her seething outrage.
Her expression unnervingly apathetic, Despina spooned some pomegranate-and-pistachio rice onto her plate. “Alas, Jalal al-Khoury’s sentiments are no longer my concern.” Then she smirked at Shahrzad, and the feigned sympathy behind it made Shahrzad want to tear the band of shining stones from her crown of curls. “But rest assured. The captain of the guard will have no trouble finding a willing girl to soothe his injured pride, of that I am certain.” The last words savored strangely of bitterness.”
“How does it feel, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran?” Despina said in a melodious voice. “To be treated as a slave? To be the servant of people who see themselves as above you, when you know in your heart that you are the same?”
“Ask your father,” Shahrzad retorted.
“I’d rather ask your husband. When I next see him . . . kneeling at my feet.”
Without hesitation, Shahrzad splashed the remainder of her wine in Despina’s face.”
I love drama.
But then it turns out that she’s actually on Shazi’s side and I was so confused but also glad.
“Shahrzad resisted the urge to scream. “I’m not going anywhere with you, Despina el-Sharif. First you are one thing, then you are another. At this point, my neck hurts from spinning about so fast. Just tell me this: Why have you been lying to me this entire time?”
“Then why did you come back at all?”
“To preserve our family.” Despina squeezed her hand. “No matter the cost.”
Though a part of Shahrzad wanted to throw off Despina’s touch—to deny the touch of a girl tied in any way to Salim Ali el-Sharif—Shahrzad did not.
For it was the touch of a friend. Beneath it lay the strength of family.
“You deliberately provoked me at dinner, did you not?” Shahrzad asked quietly.
Despina tilted her head in rueful fashion. “Well, I did have to get you down into the palace prison somehow.”
And then I got to see her reunite with Jalal, which was magical.
“A familiar, melodic laugh froze him in his tracks.
Without thought, Jalal began to run. He didn’t care if he left the fool in the dust behind him. At that moment, he didn’t care if he left all else in the dust behind him.
It wasn’t possible. His mind was playing tricks on him. As it was apt to do of late.
Jalal turned the corner. And skidded to a stop, nearly tumbling into the sand.
Just like that. She was there.
He saw no one else save her.
All else could go to the devil save her.
But even though the last few chapters picked up the pace of the book, I felt a little underwhelmed with the majority of the story, especially when comparing it to The Wrath & the Dawn— in TWTD we got incredible friendships, family, and love. And I feel that The Rose & the Dagger lacked those important traits.
All in all, I feel as if the sequel wasn’t as strong as its predecessor, the only parts that made me fall for the story (and not count the pages left in a chapter) were when Shazi and Khalid were together, which unfortunately wasn’t enough.
The magic and the war were a background story in The Wrath & the Dawn and I was really intrigued and willing to explore it in the sequel, yet it didn’t compel me as much as the romance. Renée Ahdieh definitely has a special talent for swoon worthy romances, so I can’t wait to read more of her writing in the future, but in this case the romance didn’t save the story for me.