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?
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.
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.