At San Diego Comic-Con, Hypable got the chance to chat with Renee Ahdieh, the author of The Wrath and the Dawn — a hauntingly romantic retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. Here’s what she had to say during our interview:
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On what inspired her to retell ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ with a twist
Renee Ahdieh loves anti-heroes. “There are no heroes or villains,” she told us, “There are only people who want different things.” Ahdieh wanted to dive into the concept that nobody is ever the villain of their own story, and in The Wrath and the Dawn, it truly becomes about perspective as the antagonists flip-flop back and forth depending on one’s point of view and the information that each character has been given.
Ahdieh explained that the original One Thousand and One Nights is actually the Persian version of Beauty and the Beast, with the beautiful, clever Shahrzad convincing the murderous king to fall in love with her. And though Ahdieh admitted that while she prefers nice guys in real life (her husband is very nice, she assured us) she has always had a fascination with the beautiful, broken men that can be found in stories.
Ahdieh wanted to take the reader on a journey from seeing Khalid as a monster, to eventually understanding, and perhaps even sympathizing with him. In the beginning, Shazi and Khalid stand in stark contrast as the protagonist and antagonist. Using Hogwarts houses to illustrate her point, Ahdieh explained that Shazi is a Gryffindor, while Khalid is a Slytherin— “But there is something honorable about Slytherins,” she added thoughtfully.
On exploiting the tropes of a conventional love triangle to find emotional truths
Shazi’s romantic relationships leave her and the reader with mixed emotions, as despite her (and our own) better judgment, her heart pulls her away from her family friend and towards the complicated king. When creating Tariq, Ahdieh was inspired by “that guy we all knew in high school who has everything.” Tariq is the kind of guy who is used to having the ideal life, and Ahdieh wanted to see what kind of man he would become if she took that away from him.
Ahdieh explained that Tariq and Shazi fell in love because they were young and attractive and in each other’s lives. But in the relationships Shazi has with Tariq versus Khalid, Ahdieh wanted to show the difference between first love, and a love that has been built upon a foundation.
Ahdieh explained that despite their devastating history, Shazi and Khalid compliment each other because they both share the same values. As people, they both deal in absolutes— this is exemplified in how Khalid treasures honesty, and refuses to lie or break his word. And while Tariq still believes he needs to save Shazi, Khalid sees her as an equal, if not his superior— he stops others from coming to her aid, because he trusts her to be able to take care of herself.
On the role of women in the upcoming sequel
Ahdieh says that she doesn’t want to give any spoilers away on how big of a role fan-favorite Yasmin will play in the sequel, but she promises that the sharp-tongued beauty capable of going toe-to-toe with Shazi will be in the second book.
Additionally, Shazi’s younger, quieter sister Irsa will have a much larger role in the upcoming book. While Irsa was only featured in a small, but impactful cameo appearance in The Wrath and the Dawn, in The Rose and the Dagger she will have several point of view chapters of her own.
Ahdieh explained that the differences between Shazi and her sister are deliberate. Ahdieh created Shazi to be that girl that her younger self always aspired to be: one who always speaks her mind and has the perfect, clever answer for every occasion. Since every day may be her last, Shazi has the luxury of behaving as she wants because she has nothing to lose.
Meanwhile, Irsa is more like who Ahdieh was actually like as a teen, and though she isn’t bold like her sister, Irsa has her own quiet strength. “We can’t all be Katniss, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t all be strong,” Ahdieh said. In Irsa, she hopes to show the many ways that women can be brave.
On Ahdieh’s own relationship with her sister, and the inspiration behind that illuminating scene with the letters
“My sister is one of my first readers, and she’s a scientist, so the notes she gives me are very different than the ones I get from my writer friends.” Ahdieh went on to talk about how she was stuck trying to figure out a way for Shazi to find out the truth about Khalid when her sister finally told her, “Just do what Jane Austen does— writing letters fixes everything.”
Ahdieh explained that this scene is pivotal because despite the fact that it becomes the first time that both Shazi and the reader come to understand what a good, empathetic person Khalid truly is, it is also when we are finally forced to acknowledge what a coward he can be as well. At the start of the story, he is a man who is hiding. He can’t face the horrors he’s created, so he writes the letters in the seclusion of his bedroom because he can’t own up to actually watching the girls die. However by the end, in the final scene, he finally comes out and looks out into his city, taking ownership of his role in its destruction.
On writing diverse books for young adults
As a multi-ethnic woman and a child of mixed race (her mother is South Korean and her father is Scottish), Renee Ahdieh purposefully chose to write a story set in a colorful, diverse world. With it’s Arabic roots, retelling One Thousand and One Nights offered Ahdieh the chance to take the reader to a different, more exotic place than what is usually found in mainstream young adult literature.
Ahdieh admitted that when her editors first told her that they wanted to put a girl on the cover of The Wrath and the Dawn, she was initially nervous because of the history young adult literature has in white-washing its covers. But now, Ahdieh says that she knows that she never needed to be worried because “with Penguin, there was never any question that there would be a brown girl on the cover.”
On Renee Ahdieh’s favorite fandoms (and how they inspire her morally gray characters)
Ahdieh is a huge Game of Thrones fan, and when we asked which houses were her favorite, she admitted that she’s fascinated by the Lannisters because they are so morally gray (like a certain caliph we’re familiar with…) “They do terrible things, but they also have the things that they love and value. Cersei loves her children so much, and she just wants to protect them, and so it’s heartbreaking to watch her lose them, but then again, so much of what’s happening is of her own making.” (Once again, like Ahdieh’s own heart-achingly haunted boy-king…)
Check out Hypable’s review of The Wrath and the Dawn!
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