by E K Johnston
Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Published: 22nd October 2015
‘”I do fear him,” I said, which was close to the truth. “I fear him as I fear the desert sun and poisonous snakes. They are all part of the life I live. But the sun gives light, and snakes will feed a caravan if they are caught and cooked.”"
Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E K Johnston
Published By: Disney Book Group, Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA, Fantasy Fairy-tale Retelling
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.
This is a slow building story which uses story upon story to create a sense of atmosphere and history. I can appreciate the thought and time that has been poured into this complex retelling of 1,001 Nights because it is just so beautifully written. It spins some quite powerful imagery with it’s profound and elaborate descriptions, and it poses many thought-provoking questions that challenge your perceptions of religion and the power of belief. But sadly this didn’t seem to work for me, and I just couldn’t get lost within its pages. It was just a little too slow and too cryptic and I found I kept getting distracted and bored. I think I had hoped for something more like Uprooted or Cruel Beauty, which I know are Beauty and the Beast retelling’s, but they share a similar premise, of a girl forcefully removed from her family to live with an ‘Evil’ Lord. I know I shouldn’t really compare, but I think the sheer volume of retelling’s this year is causing a lot of comparisons to be made and unfortunately some books are going to fair better than others.
“As they did with their crafting, they simply accepted the deaths. The men stopped counting, as did I. No one paid any mind to the line of dark-haired, dark-skinned girls who came to the qasr, and met their end there. They were nameless and faceless under their veils. Sometimes I looked at them; sometimes I touched them. Sometimes I simply burned them, and then rode out for another.” Loc 1141
There were things I did like, though! Such as the clever use of no names. It is set at a time when women were not important and seen as possessions to be used as bargaining chips. A time when status was the most important thing. So E K Johnston has removed all the names of the characters except for Lo-Melkhiin, (who is all powerful). Everyone else is referred to as titles, whether their job or position in the family and it’s this brilliant concept that gives it all an air of degradation. I liked how this feeling reflected Lo-Melkhiin view, that no one was worthy of him or could be his equal. I really enjoyed the thought that a no-body, especially a woman no-body could have such a powerful role in changing everything.
I also quite liked the Main Character, she was very level headed, with sound reasoning and such bravery but this was out-weighed for me by the stories lack of any kind of focus. It didn’t seem to move anywhere till literally the last chapter! I thought the split POV was clever, especially as it gave us a huge insight into the Demon that possessed Lo-Melkhiin. I also loved the ending to this book, it showed great imagination, and the descriptions of the sand, and bees, and birds was gorgeous.
Overall I think that E K Johnston has created an eloquent story that has a classic feeling to it and employed some interesting writing techniques, but in the end, the story just wasn’t my cup of tea.