Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Release Date: October 22nd 2015
Published By: Macmillan Children’s Books / Disney Hyperion (US)
Pages: 336
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Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Synopsis: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village, looking for a wife. When Lo-Melkhiin – a formidable king – arrives at her desert home, she knows that he will take her beautiful sister for a wife. Desperate to save her sister from certain death, she makes the ultimate sacrifice – leaving home and family behind to live with a fearful man. But it seems that a strange magic flows between her and Lo-Melkhiin, and night after night, she survives. Finding power in storytelling, the words she speaks are given strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. But she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king …if only she can stop her heart from falling for a monster.

Set against a harsh desert backdrop, A Thousand Nights by E K Johnston is an evocative tale of love, mystery and magic that would not feel out of place if Scheherazade herself were telling it. And perhaps she is

Review: I am going to admit, I am a little torn over A Thousand Nights. I both really enjoyed this book, as well as found some parts of it a little lacking.

A Thousand Nights is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights / Arabian Nights – in which a King has previously taken hundreds of wives, for them to only survive between one and thirty nights before their inevitable death. And the story of a girl who loves her sister so much that she is willing to take her place and to sacrifice her own life so that her sister can live. And it is here that a story of evil, magic, love and sacrifice starts.

The day that Lo-Melkhiin arrives to take a new bride, our unnamed protagonist finds a way to detract attention from her much admired sister so that she can become the King’s new wife to ensure that her sister is not chosen. Her plan works, and our main character is chosen instead of her sister, and leaves her father’s tents to become a bride, and face certain death, although unsure when it will arrive.

Each night as the King comes to his new wife to hear stories that she tells, she finds herself grateful that she lives to see the following sunrise. But as her stories continue, so does an unknown power, and not only does it grow within the King, but also within her. As she continues to live within the palace walls, she feels a power growing inside herself, and although she is unsure if this power is coming from her King or her smallgod, she starts to think of ways to use this power to keep in contact with her much loved and missed sister, and to put an end to the monster she has married.

The writing in A Thousand Nights is certainly beautiful. Lyrical, descriptive and much more to the style of folklore than what is commonly printed today. The setting is beautifully described, and the characters’ lives are richly described. The story is told mainly from the POV of our unnamed protagonist, and the fact that she remains unnamed is something I found quite interesting. In fact, most of the characters within this story are unnamed, which I found was both intriguing and clever. However there were a few moments where I found it frustrating to hear about her “fathers father father” or “mother of my heart” etc, but it was certainly unique.

For the most part I did enjoy our unnamed main character. She was smart, determined and brave. However her burning desire to protect her sister annoyed me at times. Not the fact that she wanted to do that, which of course is commendable, but her whole life revolved around her sister and she had little thought for anyone else. But I will admit that I did find her dedication to her sister admirable, and I found her audacity to tell her new husband about how bright her sister shone but he would never have her very impressive. I also enjoyed the way she challenged Lo-Melkhin – she constantly challenged him with her words, but always within her standing and enough to save her life, as her fearlessness both equally frustrated him and intrigued him.

Although the writing is beautiful, at times I did find it a little jumpy. There were many things I would have liked a further explanation on, either a thought process, background information or resolution. Sometimes it just felt that the story jumped to the next convenient spot without an explanation on how it got there. There were just some things I would have liked fleshed out a little more, including the magical and supernatural elements, as well as the conclusion.

This is definitely a slow building storyline. Although at times the story seems to drag a little, it does build to a mainly satisfying ending. The secondary characters were intriguing, and I would have liked to know a little more about some of them, especially Lo-Melkhiin. We get few chapters from  Lo-Melkhiin’s POV, and this had me both intrigued and disturbed. Lo-Melkhiin is a very complex character, and I felt that the book ended before we could find out everything I wanted to know about his story.

The world-building is remarkable, the voice is unique and on a whole, this is an enjoyable read. The slow story arc or the whimsical and delectable prose may bother some people but impress others. Ultimately this is not a love story; it is a story of determination, love, power, devotion, magic and the mysteries that the desert holds.

 

 

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