Thursday, 11 May 2017

A Review of A Thousand Nights

Look at the lovely metallic lettering on this cover!
A Thousand Nights is a book by E.K. Johnson. It is a very loose retelling of 1,001 Nights, the story of Scheherazade. Lo-Melkhiin goes around different villages, choosing a new bride at each one. Our protagonist, who remains nameless, attempts to catch his eye in order to save her sister from the same fate. The girls he kills are worshipped as smallgods, and she promises to honour her sister's memory by making the shrine that night. As things change, it becomes obvious that not all is as it seems with either Lo-Melkhiin or our protagonist.

This book reads more like a historical fantasy aimed at adults that just so happens to have a teenage protagonist then a YA novel. Johnson gives much attention to detail, in the food and clothing of the location. Most characters in the book are unnamed, an unusual and curious device. The POV is sometimes from protagonist, and sometimes from of Lo-Melkhiin. (Or at least, the demon inside him)

Women don't have a lot of power in the setting of this novel. However, the driving force behind the plot is absolutely the women. The sister starts tending to the shrine (considered woman's work) on the eve our protagonist leaves, turning her into a living smallgod. The first obvious manifestations of her powers comes when she is embroidering. But did she cause the event through what she created, or did she merely foresee it? It's left ambiguous.

With any Scheherazade retelling (I know there are other spellings of her name, but this is the one I'm used to) there comes the issue of what to do the plot of the young girl falling in love with the murderer. It is handled unusually - Lo-Melkhiin is actually being controlled by a demon and it's not until after this is sorted that she agrees to stay with him, as wife and Queen.

For the basis of the book, and the cover saying 'only her stories can save her' I expected more storytelling. The main character does tell a story, but it is based on dreams she is having of her sister's life. She doesn't retell epic tales, or weave stories from whole cloth. This aspect of it is also dropped part-way through the story. I guess that it is more accurate to say it takes inspiration from Scheherazade, rather than being a retelling.

I really dislike reviewing books by comparison, but I feel like with this one, I have to mention The Wrath & The Dawn. Really, they are no more alike than any two Cinderella retellings are. I've read them both, and I honestly think they are both as good as each other. I'm not going to tell you to read one over the other. Read them both!

I recommend this for anyone who likes fairy-tale retellings and people with an interest in Middle Eastern stories.

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