Title: A Thousand Nights (2015)
Author: E. K. Johnston
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 328 pages
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.
A Thousand Nights is almost definitely going to be compared with The Wrath and The Dawn, another book based on the same tale, but my reading experience with each book was really quite different. While The Wrath and The Dawn was very much a Young Adult novel in execution—fast-paced, thrilling, with a (relatively) emotional love story—A Thousand Nights is much slower, with its own characters and complexities.
I didn’t much connect with the protagonist, but I admired her. All throughout the book she remained steadfast, unyielding, and brave, although admittedly she also felt unemotional to me. Also, only Lo-Melkhiin’s character is named; everyone else is addressed by their position in the family (i.e. my sister, my sister’s mother, Lo-Melkhiin’s mother, etc.). This is an interesting choice for Johnston to make, I think, and while it may seem like it could be a mouthful, I felt that this literary decision in fact helped shape the atmosphere of the story, making it feel more otherworldly.
Johnston has done tremendously well with the world-building with A Thousand Nights, creating a setting that’s not only rich in culture and tradition but also history and magic. The book is told mainly through the protagonist’s eyes, but there were times when we get to hear from Lo-Melkhiin’s. His passages were arrogant, unapologetic, and sometimes downright brutal, but they tell a side of the story that added richness to this novel and definitely rounded up the whole novel.
The biggest drawback of this book is that the plot is extremely slow-paced, which made reading it for me slightly difficult as it can get quite boring and sluggish at times. The first 75% of the book unfolded at a practically leaden pace, following the protagonist as she discovered the new world she was thrusted in and learned the magic she suddenly found in herself, and only the remaining 25% has the majority of the action. I’m not a super patient reader, so there were times when I would skip a few pages (oops) just to see if something exciting was going to happen. I wanted to know how the protagonist would solve the problems of her world, but I also just wanted her to get a move on, already.
There is very, very little romance in A Thousand Nights, but it’s a tale that doesn’t really need romance to add spice. I also don’t feel like it’s actually a retelling of the original One Thousand and One Nights folk tale, as there were definitely some large plot elements missing for it to be a directly identifiable retelling. If you pick this up thinking it’ll be another version of The Wrath and The Dawn, you would most likely be disappointed.
Overall, I found A Thousand Nights to be an ambitious story, more a simmer than a burn. The fantasy element is wonderfully intense and is definitely the highlight of this book for me. Packaged differently, I think it would easily be categorised as adult (fantasy) fiction instead of YA.
Have you read this book yet? What did you think of it? 🙂