Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston (site)
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 328
Release Date: 6th October 2015
Edition: ebook, Purchased
Goodreads | Book Depository


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 a feminist retelling of A Thousand and One Nights done right. With Johnston's beautiful writing and the use of girl power as a theme, it is a powerful fairy tale for readers who want diversities in books. However, the pace is a bit too slow for my taste.

This is a story about a girl who volunteers in her sister's place to marry a king called Lo-Melkhiin, who kills his wives for the prosperity of his kingdom. It is about a girl who saves the lives of thousands and fights against demons with the touch of magic and faith. It is also a moving tale of the love between two sisters. Throughout the whole story, all the characters remain unnamed save for Lo-Melkhiin. I know this detail has bothered quite a lot of readers, but I do not mind at all. In fact, I think the author did this on purpose to prove that the unnamed, usually forgotten, holds more power than the one who is always mentioned.

"What sort of man could have so much blood on his hands that he could choose a wife within moments of seeing her, and know that she would soon be added to the litany of the dead, but would call a halt on the ride home to spare the horses?"

E.K. Johnston's writing is what made me choose to read A Thousand Nights before The Wrath and the Dawn, another retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. I like the atmosphere built from the first page and the traditional style of writing. It blends perfectly with the setting of the story. In addition to the writing, I have learned many words in this book as I am not familiar with the Arabian culture.

However, halfway through the story, it starts getting dull. I was not enjoying the pages as much as I had been in the beginning of the story. I felt like the chapters are repeating themselves. The plot is moving so slowly that I have to stop after two or three chapters each time I start picking up the book again. Gladly, the pace picked up again when there's around 40 pages left.

Despite the slow pacing in the middle of the book, I have to give a big hand to the feminist aspect of this retelling. This is downright the perfect book of feminism without shading men. It does not say, "men are evil" or "men are weak". It's just telling readers that women can have the same power as men, and each gender needs the help of the other in order to achieve balance and perhaps, survival. I have read many articles in which supporters of feminism blame men for gender inequality, but seem to forget they are indeed shading the other gender. I'm really glad this book did not put it this way.

"'I am yours to command, husband,' I said to him, and met his eyes. When my mother spoke to our father, she often said that. He liked it, the way she put herself in his hands. Until just now, I had not realized that since my mother was the one who allowed it, she had more power than even he might have realized. Lo-Melkhiin thought I was less than him; but his was not the only tally."

If you want to read about characters of colour and girl power, this is the book for you. Just know that the plot will move slower than most books and you'll be enjoying it alright. The next book in the series, Spindle, is set a long time after the end of A Thousand Nights and is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I can't wait to see how Johnston retell another well-known fairytale.


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