Couple: Shahrzad al-Khayzuran and Khalid Ibn al-Rashid from The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
Ages: 16 and 18
Who Are Shahrzad and Khalid?
Khalid is the Caliph of Khorasan, a boy-king who came to power when he was fourteen years old, a monster who has been marrying a different girl from his country every night, only to kill her in the morning. A man of many secrets, he has good reasons and good intentions driving his actions, but his people don’t know them. He seems cold and aloof and indiscernible, but underneath all that, he is incredibly passionate. He is stubborn and loyal and fiercely protective of his loved ones, his people, and his land.
Shahrzad is a headstrong and determined young woman who will defend those she loves to the death, even if that means agreeing to marry the monster boy-king who killed her best friend so that she can find a weakness and assassinate him. Quick to anger and impulsive, Shahrzad knows her own mind, but she is also flexible and open-minded, and when she learns firsthand that Khalid is not truly the monster she thought him, she allows her opinions and intentions to change.
Why Do We Love Them?
This retelling of the 1001 Nights story interprets these characters so well, and answers that very important question: How could the fabled storyteller Shahrzad fall in love with such a murderous king? Normally, she’s presented as a calm and peaceful force with the purest of hearts. Not so here, and honestly, I like this interpretation much better. Shahrzad is a match for Khalid in every way, and I love the twist that in this version, at the start, she’s the one with truly murderous intentions. But once she realizes the truth of Khalid’s situation, she sees the person underneath, throwing him for a loop because he has tried so hard to be firm in his resolve. But here is this girl who volunteered for this, who has fire in her soul, who doesn’t hide how much she hates him and so is more honest with him than most. She captivates him, and he lets her live, and they fall hard and fast, but believably so.
I love watching a couple who challenge each other, who are equally passionate and equally stubborn and work to find that balance. Who try to protect the other so fiercely, but recognize and step back when that protection isn’t possible or would be detrimental. Shahrzad was born to be a calipha, a truth she could never have grown into without Khalid. Khalid desperately needed a source of light in his life to pull him back from the brink of self-annihilation. The passion and intensity between these two is breath-taking, and you root for them on every page.
Khalid on Shahrzad:
“You are — remarkable. Every day, I think I am going to be surprised by how remarkable you are, but I am not. Because this is what it means to be you. It means knowing no bounds. Being limitless in all that you do.”
But the thought that she might lie to him — that those eyes, with their unpredictable onslaught of colors, flashing blue one instant and green the next, only to paint his world gold with the bright sound of her laughter — that those eyes might endeavor to conceal the truth, pained him more than he cared to admit.
“Shazi, I prefer the color blue to any other. The scent of lilacs in your hair is a source of constant torment. I despise figs. Lastly, I will never forget, all the days of my life, the memories of last night. For nothing, not the sun, not the rain, not even the brightest star in the darkest sky, could begin to compare to the wonder of you.”
Shahrzad on Khalid:
She felt herself leaning into him, bowing into his caress. He smelled of sandalwood and sunlight. Strange that she’d never noticed before — that in her desire to distance herself from him, she had not detected something so simple and yet so marked as a scent.
The taste of him was like sun-warmed honey. Like cool water sliding down her parched throat. Like the promise of all her tomorrows in a single sigh. When she wound her fingers in his hair to draw her body against his, he stilled for breath, and she knew, as he knew, that they were lost. Lost forever. In this kiss. This kiss that would change everything.
As always, Khalid moved with an air of imperious grace. His dark rida’ was fastened over an elaborate silver and gold cuirass. The hilt of his shamshir was looped through a black tikka sash slung across his narrow hips. He looked menacing and unapproachable — a thousand years, a thousand lives, a thousand tales away. But Shahrzad knew better.