CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 21. . . .February 5, 2016
A Thousand Nights.
E. K. Johnston.
Los Angelos, CA: Hyperion (Distributed in Canada by Hachette Book Group Canada), 2015.
295 pp., hardcover & eBook, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4847-2227-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4847-2899-4 (eBook).
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Teresa Iaizzo.
Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.
None of them wondered how my wives died, save in their darkest dreams and most secret thoughts. As they did with their crafting, they simply accepted the deaths. The men stopped counting, as did I. No one paid any mind to the line of dark-haired, dark-skinned girls who came to the qasr, and met their end there. They were nameless and faceless under their veils. Sometimes I looked at them; sometimes I touched them. Sometimes I simply burned them, and then rode out for another.
Until I got one that did not die. The first night she was mine, I did not bring the full force of my power to bear upon her. I was curious. This one had spirit. She had drawn my attention deliberately, and I did not know why until she was ahorse and we rode away. She had put herself before me to spare her sister, and that was something that had not happened before.
Touted as “…a dazzling and danger-filled retelling of Arabian Nights, E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights focuses on two nameless sisters and the powerful redemption of love. At the heart of this story is a powerful ruler named Lo-Melkhiin who comes to a tiny village in the middle of the desert to find a wife. In fact, he has married 300 girls at the start of the story. The only problem is that he has killed them all.
Upon reaching this tiny village, readers also meet the narrator, a nameless girl who sacrifices herself for her beautiful sister whom she knows Lo-Melkhiin will choose to be his wife. To protect her sister and the other girls within the village, the narrator deliberately calls attention to herself in the hopes of being selected as the new queen. Once she catches Lo-Melkhiin’s eye, she is whisked away to the palace where she becomes surrounded by the finest things that life has to offer.
No one believes that the queen will survive the night, but she is determined to survive using her exceptional storytelling abilities. She not only survives the first night, but continues to do so, raising many questions in the process. Even more puzzling are the powers that the queen starts to develop over time, powers that are heightened by her sister who lives across the desert and Lo-Melkhiin himself. In fact, the queen’s powers seem to directly feed off of Lo-Melkhiin, which brings readers to the most interesting part of the book. It is revealed that Lo-Melkhiin was once a just and kind ruler who became possessed by a demon in the desert years earlier. It is this demon that is feeding off the souls of the women Lo-Melkhiin is marrying. Once the queen becomes aware of this fact, there is an epic showdown between the forces of good and evil.
Ultimately, I really liked the central idea behind this book: a young girl uses her wits to outsmart a despotic ruler who has been terrorizing his people for years. Moreover, she feeds off the love and support of her family, especially her sister, to overcome the forces of evil. Additionally, I also enjoyed the way E.K. Johnston developed her characters over the course of the story. Although the protagonist was a nameless girl, her past, especially her love for her sister, was expertly explored which made the novel more believable. Likewise, despite being the villain of the novel, Lo-Melkhiin becomes transformed once Johnston reveals the true motives behind his behaviour.
In the end, I really appreciated the magical realism inherent within the novel. Johnston did a great job at weaving the forces of good and evil into the storyline without making it too cliché. As such, I would recommend A Thousand Nights to readers who would appreciate a little magic in their lives.
Teresa Iaizzo is a Senior Library Assistant with the Toronto Public Library.
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