A Thousand Nights (E. K. Johnston)

October 2, 2015 Book Reviews 0 ★★★★½

A Thousand Nights (E. K. Johnston)A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
Published by Disney-Hyperion on Oct. 6, 2015
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, YA (Young Adult)
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
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Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Richly imagined, A Thousand Nights turns the frame story of the Arabian Nights into a tale at once more magical and more personal. The unnamed first-person narrator is clearly Scheherazade, but Johnston has made her into something unique, far more than a skilled storyteller or concubine. The king, too, is more than he seems, a fact quickly revealed in shorter introductory sections to each chapter, told from his point of view.

The story is not so much told as it unfolds: the unnamed narrator and the reader experience events as they occur, and slowly piecing together an understanding of what power she has and how she can shape it. We, of course, have the benefit of those additional glimpses into Lo-Melkhiin’s thoughts, but there is very little in the way of telling when it comes to magic and how it works; we must build that knowledge for ourselves, as the storyteller does. For me, this served to accentuate the dreamlike quality of the tale, where logic does not always hold sway and the fantastic intertwines with the vividly real.

Johnston’s deceptively simple prose evokes the burning heat and fierce glare of the desert, the deep spangled dark of a desert night, contrasting the rich colors, fabrics, and scents of the qasr (palace) with the freer life and simpler beauties of the wadi. She writes her desert culture with respect, love, and understanding, a knowledge gained through six summers spent in Jordan’s desert.

One of the most interesting devices is that few of the characters are named – none of them women. That’s in keeping with the veiled power and knowledge of women in this book. Often disregarded by men (and certainly by Lo-Melkhiin, the king), the women in the tale live and work in a world largely separate and hidden from men, with its own rituals, rhythms, and subtle power. Their strengths are in their relationships to one another. I particularly loved the close bond between the narrator and her sister, which runs like a golden thread through the entire narrative.

A Thousand Nights is not a love story, at least in the conventional sense, but it is very much about love: the love of sister for sister, of parent for child, and of an exile for the world she once knew. I found that rather refreshing after the plethora of YA fantasy books with a romantic love interest (or two) on the market. More importantly, it’s a story that resonated with me and has stayed with me, one I can see myself reading again or giving as a gift.


CHALLENGES: Fairytale Challenge 2015; Witches & Witchcraft 2015; Popsugar #5: a book with a number in the title



Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Fairytale Challenge 2015
  • PopSugar 2015 Reading challenge
  • Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge 2015
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