Book Club: Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn

YA and other drugs

Book Club: Renée Ahdieh’s <i>The Wrath & the Dawn</i>

When I reluctantly tell people how much I love to read, I wait in dismay for the inevitable, nerve-wracking question: “Oh really? What’s your favourite book?” Several answers pass through my mind: Gabriel García Márquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. All respectable, critically acclaimed novels.

All lies.

The truth is that my favourite novels have always been, and perhaps always will be, young adult (YA) novels. Maybe it’s the dark, brooding bad boys. Maybe it’s the cheaper prices. Maybe YA novels are my last ditch effort to avoid the chaos and monotony of adulthood and hold onto the chaos and wonder of my childhood. Or perhaps — and this may shock you — YA books are genuinely good books.

YA fiction is largely targeted to younger, female audiences. It is also the most ridiculed and disreputable genre in academic circles. Coincidence?  I think not. There’s been a general pattern in ‘high society’ to sneer at anything young women enjoy: boy bands, the colour pink, Starbucks, and yes, YA fiction.

Perhaps the stigma around YA novels isn’t gender-related at all. Maybe it’s enough that YA is catered to younger generations. “Breaking news: Millennials are ruining everything, even books!” Critics label YA novels as artless because they’re easy to read and understand. Why must a novel be difficult to be considered valuable? Why must it be old? Or have a sad or vague ending?

Many are quick to dismiss YA novels, even critically acclaimed ones, as unsophisticated. What the majority can’t see is just how intricate and creative these novels can be. Take Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn. Ahdieh reimagines one of the oldest and most beloved stories of all time: One Thousand and One Nights. Set in Khorasan, a real historical region in the Persian and later Islamic empire, The Wrath & the Dawn follows the main elements of the old fable.

An evil king takes a new wife each night, only to slaughter her come sunrise. When her best friend becomes his latest victim, Shahrzad Al-Khayzuran, The Wrath & the Dawn’s protagonist, vows to kill the king no matter what it takes. Shahrzad is the first to voluntarily marry the king. Being a master storyteller and literary scholar, she plans to captivate him with fairy tales, night after night, until she can exact her revenge.

But wait! Ahdieh’s retelling has a twist! Not everything is as it seems in this palace of marble and death. The caliph, the great and malevolent King of Kings, is merely a boy of 18 years. Khalid, the name with which Shahrzad comes to know the caliph, does not meet her expectations at all. He loves stories, the colour blue, and the smell of lilacs in her hair. There are people in the palace who would defend him until their very last breath, not out of fear, but out of respect. He has amber eyes, a jawline that could cut steel, and a tragic past. There may or may not be a curse involved.

Ahdieh’s writing style is exquisite. She captivates and traps you in a world of sparkling cities, colourful bazaars, Persian delicacies, and patterned silk sashes. The world-building is absolutely fabulous, completely transporting you to a different time and place. The Wrath & the Dawn becomes a living, breathing being under Ahdieh’s careful hand, a tangible world you can almost touch. The romance is flawless, the characters enchanting, and the fantastical and magical elements are striking at every turn.

The Wrath & the Dawn was also groundbreaking to me because it starred Middle Eastern characters. It will always hold a special place in my heart because I saw myself reflected in a protagonist for the first time in Shahrzad. That is another great thing about YA — it strives to truly represent its diverse, young, and impressionable audience.

What I’m proposing is a revolution in how we view YA fiction. I want to be able to enjoy YA novels like The Wrath & the Dawn without my intelligence and appreciation for literature becoming a point of contention. YA demonstrates the worth and value in young voices, the leaders of tomorrow. It gives us a sense of agency in a world that continues to belittle our experiences and our voices. There’s no shame in loving a book like The Wrath & the Dawn, and we shouldn’t be made to feel like there is.

Is lit culture dead?

Memes killed books and I’m jaded

Is lit culture dead?

The premise of the novel being ‘dead’ first arose during the rise of nihilism: the denial or lack of belief in meaningful aspects of life.

Though many have claimed that this was an exaggeration, with the rise of social media has come an entire generation that has been removed from literary culture. Our most well-known creative outlet is now YouTube.

YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. Watching a world of Californian YouTubers and their lavish lifestyles easily leads down a rabbit hole of random videos about ‘Twitter beef’ or ‘tea’ that apparently needs spilling.

Along with this new cultural phenomenon comes the unfortunate decline of time being spent on ‘traditional’ hobbies. What I am referring to is the kind of thing that your parents would say if they saw you binging Netflix for hours: “When I was your age we had to spend our time doing something offline. Do something else! Go outside, ride a bike, or read a book!”

Literary fiction once dictated popular culture, but with the rise of the digital age, the hunger for new stories has been satisfied by movie adaptations and audio books.

The sponsoring of YouTubers by companies like Audible has greatly increased in popularity. Audio books are considered to be easier to ‘read’; people can experience ‘reading’ a book while doing other tasks at the same time. This has resulted in fewer purchases of hard copies. In turn, many book stores, particularly independents, have had to shut their doors.

Personally, I find that listening to a book does not give you the same feelings as picking up a new book and experiencing that euphoria of ‘new book’ smell does. It truly is a sad moment every time someone tells me that they have not even heard of some of the greatest books of all time, never mind having read them.

Literary culture has dwindled down to sappy Wattpad stories of a girl reading in a café or a park and meeting the boy whom she will later marry. The days of literary puns and classic English literature are long gone. Every so often, a book series will send popular culture into a frenzy, leaving behind a whirlwind of heartbroken teens and fierce fandoms, but for the most part, literary culture is slowly being lowered into its grave.

Even when speaking to friends of mine, many say that they “love the idea of reading” but can’t stay focused on a book long enough to finish it. Honestly, how can I, or any other book lover, blame them? This generation has been trained to be accustomed to the fast pace of social media and its continually growing collection of memes.

All that remains of literary culture is what hipsters have made from romanticizing the idea of reading in a café and having revolutionary ideas. The sad truth is that, in a world in which the novel is so out of sync with a society molded so heavily by meme culture, the idea of someone reading could actually be seen as incredibly intellectual.

Reading is no longer associated with leisure. Novels have now become intertwined with academia and schoolwork. The automatic instinct for many children, teens, and adults is to grab their electronic devices and play games, listen to music, or use social media rather than immerse themselves in a story beyond themselves and the world around them.

Reading is now looked upon as an acquired interest rather than a common hobby. It seems like reading has returned to being a refined art form, and the glory days of being ecstatic when your parents took you to Chapters or the local book store are no more.

The traditional novel is obsolete beside ever-advancing technology. Literary culture, to most people of this era, is dead or dying.

Book Club: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Autumn is coming: curl up with The Black Prism and a Tim Hortons coffee

Book Club: <i> The Black Prism </i> by Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks is not the first author who I mention to people when I say that I love fantasy. I tend to lean toward Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman, and Brandon Sanderson — all producers of the beloved literary warhorses that dragged me into the genre.

Weeks’ novels were typically the ones that I paused on and never actually brought home. However, The Black Prism hit me like an emotional dump truck, and I can confidently say that this book is one that I will treasure forever, in multiple first-edition copies, after I finally pay off my library fines.

The Black Prism is a high-fantasy novel that is set in a land with a colour-based magic system. Certain people are able to produce a mystical element called Luxin, which can be used for construction-, attack-, and compulsory-type magic. However, the properties of the Luxin are tied to a colour, and most characters can only create Luxin of one colour — a gift that comes at a deadly cost.

Gavin Guile, the protagonist of the novel, is the only person who can create all seven colours of Luxin. He is worshipped as a divine figure known as the Prism. But Gavin is scarred emotionally and physically from war and is haunted by the acts that he performed to bring peace to his world.

Weeks’ story feels intricately planned. Many fantasy books fall into the trap of mimicking others in the genre. There are several novels that contain a Gavin-like character — The Name of the Wind, a familial feud — American Gods, or even magic based on the colour spectrum — Warbreaker. However, this book is exceptional because, despite the old tropes that feel like familiar friends, the novel spools out plot twists and double crosses in a way that I can only describe as masterful. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that no one is who they appear to be in this book, and everyone is the better for it.

At times, though, the writing is almost too painful to read. Weeks includes many heavy plot points in the novel. Characters face war, devastation, and heartbreak, yet the novel is set largely after most of these events occur. There is an omnipotent central character, but many of the points of view come from characters who are forced to play sidekick to the legends.

The most emotional scenes come from the ordinary people who are called upon to live in the mess that was created by the giant war, those who have dealt bitterly with those consequences for years after. Weeks never shies away from this idea, which is extremely appealing in a genre that often glorifies and focuses on the stories of the never-fallen.

Finally, this book is perfect for autumn; it should be accompanied by vivid scenery. As so much of this book is based on the ideas of colour and light, Weeks’ writing dwells on the beauty of the natural world and makes a pretty convincing argument for watching the leaves fall from the trees.

This book is funny, well-written, and matches Red Rising in the number of quotable, dramatic, and slightly arrogant phrases. I would recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy or wants to love it.