A Thousand Nights – E.K. Johnston
Release Date: 8th October 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale Retelling, Young Adult
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...I received a copy of this book off of Netgalley what feels like ages ago, it is a book I had been eagerly anticipating so had to request it. None of this affected my opinion in anyway and this is a totally honest review.
This is not a book which is easy to review, or to even describe. It has so many things going on and is so original in its approach that it makes it difficult to find the right words to properly describe it. This book is a slower paced novel with a strong magical quality to it. The writing was stunning and really drew me in to this book. The skill of the writing wraps you in this story until you are fully submersed in the world and it somehow keeps you there, even though the pace is slow and the story is different. It is just an amazing book.
You are all probably aware that another 1001 Nights retelling has been released this year, The Wrath & The Dawn, and you are also probably concerned this book will be a similar read, you will be thrilled to hear this is not the case. The two cannot even be compared as their approaches to the tale differ so completely. A Thousand Nights very much follows the magical path and keeps true to the original fairytale, expanding upon it and altering it to tell a tale which feels real and genuine. The world created within the words is magical, mystical, and feels very real. Whilst the two books are based upon the same fairytale, you would never be able to compare them as the stories they tell are completely different. For that, I am glad.
It is a slower paced book, but it is not boring. I often complain about the slow pace in books, but this isn’t one of those times. If this book moved too fast you would lose some of the wonder in the writing. This is not a huge action-packed adventure where you jump from one significant event to another, it is a slow book filled with magical stories, quiet courtly intrigue and excellent characterisation with a complex belief system. This book is all about the beautiful writing and realistic world, if it wasn’t written at a greater pace or with more action involved it would not create the same awe in the tale being told. It won’t be a book everyone can appreciate, but I certainly did.
I also loved that the entire story is told from the perspective of one young girl. You get occasional glimpses from a different perspective, but the main story is told from one voice and that really makes the book for me. Often this can make or break a book, the voice it is told from, but the entire tale is told from the viewpoint of Scheherazade, at least you assume that because you never in fact get told the name of your main character (I didn’t realise this until I finished and began writing this review, I am bad with character names at times, but no so bad I can’t remember her name). Scheherazade’s voice makes the entire story a bit more personal and real, and this connection you get with her from the start helps add to the book. I think if I had not enjoyed her thoughts and perspective in this book I would not have enjoyed it. She is not necessarily the strongest of characters, nor is she without flaws, but she is easy to connect to. I think this is from her connection to her family and the very intelligent thoughts she has on the world she inhabits, despite her more humble upbringing.
A Thousand Nights is one of those books that sounded realistic and genuine and was simply astounding. It is difficult to fully describe it you without revealing too much and spoiling it, but I can confirm it is utterly unique. I felt like I was reading a fairytale, but it was more than that, it felt like a genuine story from history. Whilst reading, you felt like this was a folktale told around a campfire whilst you travelled across the desert, one of those stories passed down to each generation. The world created felt so real and I don’t think I have ever said this about a book before, but the belief system described in this book was utterly fantastic. Johnston creates a religious system centred around what they call ‘smallgods’ which were peoples ancestors who were worshipped for different feats they did in life. They gave power to these ancestors celebrating them for their achievements. I loved that the religious system was explained so well, I mean it is a part of the story so if you read you will understand why, but it is nice to have the religious beliefs explained so well with it very much being a woman’s role in the family to honour the ancestors of her husbands family.
I think the greatest part of this book, for me, was the fact that women and their roles were looked over so quickly by men, but this entire book is about the strength of women and what they can achieve even though men would look past them. It was amazing, again I won’t reveal too much, but I definitely got a strong sense that women were important in this book. It has a strong feminist vein to it, but it is not overwhelming, I know some people can be turned off by the word feminism (I would ask why, but this is not what my review is about) but you definitely not get put off in this book. You will want to stand up and celebrate the strength of women after reading this, it is amazing.
Overall, I love this book. No, it is not the most thrilling when broken down to the basic story, but it doesn’t need to be. You do not need action and adventure to make a good book, and Johnston demonstrates this in A Thousand Nights. Instead, you need strong characters, a very believable world to be created, and a tale which invokes a strong connection to this world and characters. Johnston invokes a sense of wonderment and power with the words written and I adored it. I will say now, not everyone will enjoy this book, but I hope you will be willing to give it a chance, because you may find something really beautiful in it.
Have you read A Thousand Nights, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Has anyone else read a book that they want to recommend, but know not everyone will enjoy? It’s hard, because it is fantastic, but books can often be an individual experience, especially those that are not gripping tales.