Lo-Melkhiin has married many times. He has already killed three hundred girls when he arrives at a village in the desert looking for a new wife. One girl knows he will want only the lovliest girl as his new bride. She knows he will want her sister.
To make sure her sister is safe, she ensures that she will be taken in her place. She knows that she will die soon but it will be worthwhile because her sister will live. In their village she will become a smallgod; a legend to whom her relatives and ancestors will send their prayers.
But she doesn’t die her first night in the palace. Nor the next. Instead, she uses her precious, unexpected time to make sense of the dangers and beauties she finds in the palace.
Everyone agrees that Lo-Melkhiin is a good ruler. Many claim he was a good man once. No one knows what went wrong. No one knows how to change it. His newest bride might have the power to save Lo-Melkhiin and the kingdom. But only if she can stay alive in A Thousand Nights (2015) by E. K. Johnston.
Johnston stays true to the oral tradition of fairy tales in this retelling of “One thousand and One Nights” complete with the subtle changes and omissions that come from many, many tellings. Because of that it is fitting that most of the characters in A Thousand Nights have no names.
This story is also subverts many fairy tale conventions and gender roles by placing a girl not only as the protagonist but also as the hero and driving force of the story–a theme that is further underscored by this girl at the center of the novel having no name of her own.
A Thousand Nights is a quiet, understated book. Although it lacks the flash and fanfare of high action, it more than makes up for that with thoughtfully developed characters and provocative introspection throughout. The novel includes a strong emphasis on craft–the power that comes from making something both with intangible things like words in stories and also with more physical creations including embroidery, weaving, and sculpture.
With subversive themes and a strong feminist thread, Johnston creates a retelling that impressively transcends its source material to become something new. Lyrical writing and evocative descriptions complete the spell that is A Thousand Nights. Highly recommended.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White
*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*