Saturday, May 23, 2015

REVIEW: The Wrath and The Dawn - Renee Ahdieh

My cheeks are pink and raw. My hand stings from all the slapping my cheeks endured. I catch sight of my roommates as they exchange worried glances at my increased tendencies to inflict harm upon self while reading this book.

I have not learnt my lesson and never will. A book’s ranking in my TBR list is still highly influenced by the book’s performance evaluated using standards defined by the mass. Which is why I picked up this book when I found space to breathe in between my exams, since everyone can’t stop flailing about it. And once I started reading it, promptly started faulting with it.
I avoid hate-reading as much as I can. But if everyone is swooning around the book, and I’m not, I stick around till the very end to see if the book redeems itself and if magically I’ll love the book too.

That didn’t happen here.

WARNING: Proceed with caution. I won’t spoil the potential reader; but once I start, it is difficult to contain my vehemence and fury at being scammed. Also, this is a 1000+ words review, sorry.

I am a sucker for the writing style. Disappoint me and the poor book will have incurred my wrath. I started out by liking the way the story was writing itself. About a chapter in, I quickly revised my assessment. The writing is annoyingly repetitive. The reader is kept entertained with regular weather reports and the menu cards for every meal. I go weak in the knees for books that employ a cinematic approach to the story which was why I laboured under the delusion I will like this one as well, since it has a similar objective but tragically fails at fulfilling it. The book didn’t have a cinematic writing mood – it was over-the-top dramatic and too pretentious for my taste. I felt like I was watching a fucking Bollywood movie; one in which everything happens in slow-motion, moral dilemmas are stretched on for hours, doors (both physical and emotional) are slammed when the central character wants a theatrical exit and lovers quarrel. In addition, no one is allowed to question the soundness of the plot, you just go along with the ebb and tide of it.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that.

Humour me and engage in a little method-acting. Imagine your inseparable friend of many years is the last victim after so many girls have been killed with no explanation by a guy you know nothing about. After wading through denial and recurring nightmares, the justifiable anger compels you to take revenge.

You decide to destroy him.

What do you do? Probably start with collecting as much information as possible about your mark. If your mark is the Caliph of a country, you will have to extend your research to the people he is around with. Draft plans A, B and C. Decide to get close to him and then hit him at his weakest.

You want to hear Shahrzad’s A Thousand and One Nights - inspired plan? Volunteer herself as the next bride to be killed, wait for the Caliph to come to her at night, charm him with her wit and storytelling prowess and then if he lets her live, then research him and when the opportunity presents itself, kill him.

Notice any flaws?

This book would not have happened if Khalid hadn’t come to meet her on the night of her wedding, because she didn’t have Plan B. And somehow the notion that cliff-hangers can postpone a scheduled execution is a bit ludicrous. But then, miracle of miracles, the Caliph decides she’s the one to break the cycle. (I distinctly remember muffling a scream with my pillow at that point.) Then she gets a tour of the palace, courtesy of a snarky handmaiden, and she gets shocked at the security and wonders at the strength of her “plan”.

No seriously, Shazi, what did you expect to see? The King of kings living alone in a gilded palace, waiting to present his head to you on a platter?

That’s not all she’s shocked by.

He’s the second-best swordsman in all of Khorasan? Well, damn, I didn’t cover that in my background check of him. Oh wait. I didn’t do one.”

Shahrzad is infuriating. She pretends to want archery tuitions and then promptly shoots an arrow like a pro. The next second she starts cursing herself for her “stupidity” and I’m left agape. When a particularly life-threatening episode happened, she rants against the Caliph and throws quite a tantrum. I mean, she’s literally outstaying her welcome and her life was a gift and she acted like it was a breach of trust that warranted Khalid the Where-Were-You-When-I-Was Dying interrogation. He’s still your best friend’s killer, isn’t he?

Guurl, you wanna know how to kill someone? Lemme show you how that's done.

Which brings me to my next point. We are supposed to love Shiva, the best friend mentioned above – no questions asked. No interspersed flashbacks. No nightmares. Just a lot of “Shiva, I will kill this man for you” and “Shiva, what do I do” and “Shiva, give me strength to withstand this inexplicable attraction to your killer” and other timed Shiva-tagged self-reminders that she should hate Khalid. She keeps obsessing about her “plan” for revenge half the time, and the other half is spent asking herself not to end up kissing the murderer. No actual murder attempts take place.

That’s just it. How do you fall in love with your best friend’s murderer? I’d expected answers to this question, not be left more flabbergasted than ever. This is where I admire Marie Lu with her Legend series. There, a similar quandary of a reverse nature was engineered. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy later finds out that Girl (indirectly) was responsible for his mother’s death. He still loves her, but both realize they can’t be together. Now, that was a book.

Well, obviously Shazi is battling with the Stockholm Syndrome – a condition worsened by the fact that the Beast is not a beast (physically or otherwise) and handsome as hell to boot. With a tragic past that is often hinted at. With so many secrets. Our Shazi, pleads him to open his door so that she may see what it is that makes him a monster. “I know nothing because you fight me every step of the way”, she says. Again, dead best friend issues are kept on hold. Not even that matters when you realize all killers aren’t the heartless monsters they are generally portrayed as – that have a story too.

And then the "kiss that changes everything" happens.

Khalid is no better off – being the poor, tortured soul that he is. The book has a third person narration and Khalid gets a solitary paragraph written from his perspective, just in time to venerate “the plague of a girl” that is destroying him. I also hate him for deciding to come see Shazi that night and never before for another bride. Had he done this earlier, who knows, he may have fallen in love with another girl and the murders could have stopped way back.

The one thing that nagged at me was the frequency with which Shahrzad’s skills at seduction came into use. I personally despise characters that use sex as a weapon to wound and open up the enemy – I find that weak and underhanded. Not to mention how that strategy would fail would for us poor unglamorous mortals. Although she immediately regrets it afterwards, the fact that she did it was the last straw for me.

The plot of this book is a love story. How Inexplicable Attraction To A Murderer With A Tragic Past can change everything. I don’t mind love being a deux ex machina element in the story – I do believe love has its own magic – but this was a bit too much.
Oh and wait, did I mention a tragic love triangle involved for the sake of?

I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t commend the research that went into the world building, especially the Persian/Urdu words that cropped up like a pleasant surprise. Khorasan is a Persian land and I’ve always had a special fascination for that place ever since I became a fan of Arabian tales. I also do like the other characters – Despina’s sassiness, Jalal’s protectiveness, and another character who I started to really like and had so much scope for development and then gets killed. Three cheers to me.

I am glad though that my resolution to keep calm and carry on reading till the end of the book paid off marginally. I feel like the main plot of the series is just beginning and I like that plot. Not this soppy, messy love story that I had to endure. Usually, in the kind of series that I binge-read, people run for their lives and they fall in love sometime in between. In this one though, they fall in love first and then run for their lives.

VERDICT: 2 stars.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Of Unhealthy Fictional Relationships

This post has taken its own sweet time in writing itself. The time around when I realized the urgency of writing this was also when I had an epiphany – there were plenty other things I shied away from remarking about. That’s when I decided I’ll label such and such posts differently under how no sitting on the fence is allowed anymore on this blog – whether the bloggees or the blogger.

I think it has been said time and again, under no uncertain terms, that I intentionally refrain from reading contemporary romance. Yes, as always and therefore unsurprisingly, I have broken that self-issued rule a number of times; and not all those times have I felt like pulling my hair out in frustration. The times I did though, served as a good reminder to why I stayed away from them in the first place.

To the clueless, it’s because of this – a lot of them become increasingly soppy as the page number increases. Many of them build a story out of the romance itself while other people run around in the background. And some others just plain freak me out while the rest of the world inexplicably keep shipping them. This post deals with the last category.

The necessity to write this post was borne from how a lot of girls around me kept shipping this ridiculous couple in the Korean drama The Heirs. (Of course, while watching it, my hormones were raging because of my inherent talent to need to ship anything, so it was a herculean effort to keep my head straight and view the couple with the facts straight.) Poor Girl meets Rich Boy in America who is already engaged to another heiress. Rich Boy becomes obsessed with Distressed Damsel In Foreign Land (“Obsessed” is quite the apt word here) and he keeps following her around like a lost but demanding puppy, despite how his family is dead set against her. Finally, she admits she loves him too and a lot of issues get resolved and they get a happily-ever-after ending.

When watching the series, though, none of this hits you at first. It was only somewhere around the middle when I guessed the direction towards which this ship was headed did I realize my idiocy in getting carried away. The Forbidden Love angle plays out beautifully over the backdrop of heart-wrenching music and insert admirable directing and camera skills and BAM – you have an award-winner that has swept a mass of feminine hearts and dunked them in a sea of feels.

This is just an example among a whole host of them, whether portrayed in books or on TV. The ships that creeped me out generally starts thus – Drop-Dead-Gorgeous-Boy develops inexplicable sudden attraction (read obsession) with Small-Town-Girl and Girl suddenly starts seeing him everywhere. Then a book-specific plot treads upon the much-trodden roads named Knight-In-Shining-Armour-Just-Fucking-Dropped-Out-Of-Nowhere-And-I-Loved-The-Fact-That-He-Was-Stalking-Me and If-He-So-Much-As-Looks-At-You-He’s-Dead and Be-With-Me-Even-If-The-Earth-Cracks-Into-Two and so on.

We’re not all that stupid, we do keep a clear distance from relationships with WE ARE UNHEALTHY DO NOT IMITATE US labels like -
Ugh Cersei and Jaime and some twincest
The husband's cheating on the wife. Wife happens to be a closet psychopath.
She's his high school teacher who's married with kids. Yup.
And that's not all that make these fictional relationships unhealthy. They share other characteristic traits found in the less obvious unshippity ships.

Some say the pop culture has romanticised unhealthy relationships and I am pretty sure they’re right. Those of us who ship Draco Malfoy and Hermione, Edward-Bella or Jacob-Bella ships, Grey-Steele ships, and other ships that I shall leave unnamed thanks to my sucky memory, have been hypnotised by the writer’s or director’s spellcasting prowess. But unhealthy relationships in literature go way back and they have achieved cult status. Remember Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights, the couple that tormented each other, who had you moaning around heartbroken? Or how in The Fountainhead we shipped Howard Roark and Dominique even after he “raped” her? Or how about Beauty and the Beast and how they planted the seed of Stockholm Syndrome in literature?

This post also begs the question – how do we classify a ship healthy or not? For me, this simple test works.
If you’re a straight girl reading this post, simply replace the heroine with yourself, subtract the hotness factor from the hero and replay the storyline, minus the feels, in your head. If you can still ship this new ship –

Else, you need to jump ship. Pronto.

P.S. – By the example given from The Heirs I do not mean to imply that it is not worth watching. PLEASE DO WATCH IT AND LIVE WITH ME IN LA-LA LAND WHERE CUTE BOYFRIENDS WHO LOVE YOU TOO MUCH ARE A-PLENTY. Plus, do watch out for parallel storylines and the tragic Second Male Lead Syndrome that will leave you afflicted with it like it did for yours truly.

P.P.SThe owner of this blog cannot believe how almost every single thing she writes these days invariably turn to Korean dramas and yet lives in denial of the fact that she is currently obsessed with them.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Teach Me How To Breathe

Shattered dreams lay strewn across,

My feet leaving bloody kisses in farewell.

The window is a splintered mosaic,

Within and without, everything’s broken.

One hesitant finger kills a glassy tile.

Breaking glass breaks my ears.

Moonlight embraces me within

Her folds of cold, lifeless nights.

I can’t see –

Brine drowns my eyes.

Who – who is that?

You sound like Fear,

Sniffing out his prey.

Teach me how to breathe.

I have tears in my lungs.

Air eludes my desperate gasps.

While they smother me with a pillow.

Shush, they tell me –

They place my fist in my mouth.

I suffocate.

But no one will hear you, they say.

I choke.

Don’t die, they tell me.

The morrow won’t part us yet.

Teach me how to breathe.

Add your graffiti here before you leave; this wall needs all the colour it can get. And check back, I always reply as promptly as the wifi allows me to. ;)