Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Release Date: 22nd October 2015
Edition: UK proof, review copy
Lo-Melkhin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust could 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 the next one.
And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhin’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 sets and rises, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhin 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-Malkhin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
For 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-Malkhin 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.
Ever since I first heard about A Thousand Nights, I’ve been coveting it. And then the lovelies over at Macmillan released how beautiful the finished hardcover would look and sent out equally beautiful proofs and I was beyond sold.
A Thousand Nights is a re-telling of One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights. I’ve actually never read the original (which is something I’ll be rectifying now), though I did know the basic premise of the story. From what I can tell, Johnston’s retelling is pretty faithful to the primary text. It’s an old Arabic tale of a horrible king who takes a new wife each night following the death of the previous one, until one woman uses her incredible storytelling skills to keep her new husband wanting the next and keeping her alive. Johnston weaves stories within stories throughout the novel in the most enchanting way. The stories of the desert and the customs and traditions as well as the daily life of her people and family were magical and completely fascinating.
Through Lo-Mellkhiin’s wife’s stories, she was able to protect herself by weaving a certain protective magic. I have to admit that even by the end of the book I still wasn’t quite sure how it worked and what it was. I don’t know if I just missed something, or if it was meant to be unexplained as I imagine it would be if it happened in real life! But it did niggle at me a little. I did love the way it allowed her influence and to connect with her sister left behind in the desert and how it grew and changed the longer she spent with Lo-Melkhiin. It was definitely something I'd never come across before and I’m now even more eager to read Renee Adhieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn, which is also a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, to see how she has approached the story.
Considering that the heroine of the story is Lo-Melkhiin’s wife it bothered me that she was never given a name, and neither was any other character apart from the king. I’m sure there was a thematic or author-y reason for this, but I think it could have been taken in an amazing feminist direction and wasn’t. Even in the original story, the heroine has a name, Scheherazade, and according to Wikipedia, it was reputed to have been written in the Middle Ages, the Islamic Golden Age, in a country that has a history of diminishing women to nothing… I think Johnston could really have made a feminist punch with A Thousand Nights.
A Thousand Nights is a magical, beautifully written debut about the power of stories and the love between sisters. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what EK Johnston delivers next.
Thanks to Macmillan for the review copy.