Jamila AhmedOct 10, 2023
Every Rising Sun
Henry Holt 2023
Jamila Ahmed's novel, Every Rising Sun (Henry Holt, 2023) is a clever take on One Thousand and One Nights. Traveling through lush courtyards, perilous deserts, and opulent palaces brimming with secrets and treachery, Shaherazade must entertain her dangerous new husband, the Malik, and navigate court intrigue as her homeland teeters on brink of destruction in this sprawling new take on the classic One Thousand and One Nights. In twelfth century, Persia, clever and dreamy Shaherazade stumbles on the Malik’s beloved wife entwined with a lover in a sun-dappled courtyard. When Shaherazade slips her first tale, the story of this infidelity, to the Malik, she sets the Seljuk Empire on fire. Enraged at his wife’s betrayal, the once-gentle Malik beheads her. But when that killing does not quench his anger, the Malik begins to marry and behead a new girl night after night. Furious at the murders, his province seethes on rebellion’s edge.
To suppress her guilt and quell threats of a revolt—and, perhaps, to marry the man she has loved since childhood—Shaherazade makes a plan. She persuades her father, the Malik’s vizier, to use his sway as a top official and offer her as the Malik’s next wife. On their wedding night, Shaherazade starts a tale, but as the sun ascends, she cuts the story off, ensuring that she will live to tell another tale, by repeating this practice night after night. But the Malik’s rage runs too deep for Shaherazade to exorcise alone. And so, she and her father persuade the Malik to leave Persia—and the memories of his unfaithful wife—to join Saladin’s fight against the Crusaders in Palestine. This wider world is even more perilous. With plots spun against Shaherazade and the Seljuks from all corners, Shaherazade must maneuver through intrigue in the age’s greatest courts to safeguard her people. All the while, Shaherazade must keep the Malik enticed with her otherworldly tales—because the slightest misstep could cost Shaherazade her head.
Jamila Ahmed is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Barnard College, where she studied medieval Islamic history.
Caleb Zakarin is the Assistant Editor of the New Books Network.