REVIEW: Every Rising Sun by Jamila Ahmed

One Thousand and One Nights is the cornerstone of countless literary works, influencing writers from Leo Tolstoy to Salman Rushdie to Neil Gaiman. In Every Rising Sun, Jamila Ahmed’s novelisation of the classic tales, we follow Shaherazade in her quest to save her people. Similar to the original tale, Malik (King) Shahryar, is betrayed by his wife, and in turn decides to marry a new bride every night, only to execute her the following morning. Our protagonist, Shaherazade, the grand vizier’s daughter, has a penchant for storytelling. With the clutch of her narrative talents, she hatches a plan to stop the Malik in his murderous tirade, and offers herself up for marriage. She plans to tell him an unfinished tale on her wedding night, so to keep him wanting for more. Once married, Shaherazade’s path moves away from the original story, and she instead finds herself at the helm of a war, clutching on to all that is dear to her in fear that they are snatched away. Jamila Ahmed takes the classic framework from One Thousand and One Nights, and makes it entirely her own. Invoking themes of feminism, redemption, and the art of war, Ahmed gives space to her readers to indulge in Shaherazade’s own story, as well as the many that she weaves.

Every Rising SunThe elements of grimdark in this novel are subtle, but rife in the tension that exists throughout the story. Shaherazade is constantly dangling between the possibility of being spared another night or being executed the following morning. Whilst her plan to delay her execution, and in turn the execution of other eligible brides in the kingdom, is successful, she is still constantly teetering on the edge of her mortality. Whilst Ahmed’s adaptation does not centre the novel around the fables and stories that Shaherazade tells, they are still prominent elements to the book. Full of dark fantastical folklore, ranging from tales of djinns to romances to tragedies, elements of grimdark are found sprinkled throughout, both within the stories Shaherazade tells and the very one that she lives. The novel highlights the socio-political history of the Seljuks and Shaherazade’s position as Khatun (Queen) at the forefront. We witness the threat of the Oghuz Turks against the city of Bam, as well as the invading French Crusaders. The journey ahead is difficult, and paved with the possibility of defeat, but it is Shaherazade who uses her stories and voice as a tool for hope.

Ahmed’s prose is sublime. She writes like one would make tea; slowly steeped, and growing darker with every turn. It is a nod to the author, in that Shaherazade is able to subvert the roles of women in her era, in the same way Ahmed subverts the framework of One Thousand and One Nights in order to centre the feats of women. Ahmed’s protagonist adopts the same penchant for storytelling as the author herself, and Shaherazade goes as far as to use her stories as both a weapon and a shield in court affairs and political alliances. Her quick thinking and her way with words are ultimately what sway the men that hold the power in this war. She says:

Think of the other women, khatuns and queens and sultanas and wives, who have endless patience to rightly guide their men, to save them from themselves, and who do it unseen.

The reading experience is immersive; enfolding the reader into the warm embrace of medieval Iran, with its array of food, celebrations of Persian culture and the stunning architecture of the palaces and strongholds. One feels as if they’re walking the streets of Bam themselves. An aspect I truly enjoyed was the connections Shaherazade had with the people around her. What she lacked in her husbands love towards her, she found in her fruitful relations with others. Her sister, Dunyazade, was a prominent player in the Shaherazade’s game. She exists at Shaherazade’s side as a support system one would need as a Khatun, and was one my favourite characters because of it and much more. This does not take away, however, the emotional impact that Shaherazade’s marriage had on her. Whilst she chose to marry the Malik in hopes to stop the senseless murder of the women of the kingdom, she also did so to fulfil an almost romantic admiration she once had for Shahryar. I enjoyed seeing how Shaherazade’s emotions grew and faltered, both towards Shahryar and her position as Khatun.

Every Rising Sun is an ode to sisterhood, the love for one’s hometown, and the power a woman holds in her words. Jamila Ahmed did a captivating job at placing the narrator of such famed stories at the forefront of her own story, giving her the spotlight that every storyteller deserves. I look forward to reading anything and everything Ahmed plans to release!

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Saberin C

Saberin C

Saberin lives in London and works in publishing. More often than not, you can find her with her nose in a fantasy book or doing whatever it takes to get her cats attention! You can find her on @sabisreading on instagram, where she posts all about her current reads, reviews, fictional fixations and general ramblings on life (with the occasional picture of Kiara, the meanest cat to ever exist).

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