“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.” (Goodreads)
A Thousand Nights is a new spin on the classic collection of stories, One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights – whichever you’re familiar with), and focuses on the most basic part of the original collection of stories, namely the king killing all his brides until Scheherazade is wily enough to distract him with her stories and win his love. The original stories are great— assuming you can overlook the fact that the woman is rewarded for her cleverness by remaining married to a murderer—and most editions include stories such as Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. In this beautifully written retelling, the stories are much more personal to the teller, and E.K. Johnston takes the power from the men and gives it to the women, literally creating something magical in the process.
Two things to note. First, it’s pitched as Young Adult but honestly didn’t feel like that when I was reading. It has a slower pace than other YA I’ve read and felt more like adult fiction – so if you’re not into YA then don’t let this classification put you off. Secondly, if you’re after a bit of romance then this book is probably not for you. I personally took little issue with the lack of romance. Our MC is, after all, essentially stolen away to be a bride to a killer – how much romance can you expect?
The differences from the classic begin with the two main characters, Lo-Melkhiin and the female main character (who remains nameless for the entirety of the novel). Lo-Melkhiin was once a good man who is now possessed by a demon, probably a jinn (although this is never told explicitly), who kills his wives for their life force and the power he gains from it, rather than a king being a man afraid of being spurned as in the classic story. He is a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He has very little complexity as a character and is essentially just evil, which makes him really easy to dislike.
Unlike Scheherazade who is the daughter of the court vizier in the classic, the MC in A Thousand Nights is a commoner from the desert who sacrifices her own life for her sister. In the beginning she is uncertain of herself and used to being overlooked in favour of her sister and it’s interesting to watch her character grow over the course of the novel. Her relationship with Lo-Melkhiin is one fraught with danger and in its early stages one with a severe imbalance of power in favour of Lo-Melkhiin. As the MC grows, the power shifts.
But for me this book wasn’t about a relationship between a man (or demon) and a woman. It was a book about the relationships between women and the power that we give each other. The magic and power that the main character eventually obtains, is given to her by the women around her – not taken from others as Lo-Mekhiin’s is. Although Lo-Melkhiin might be a creature whose magic is inherent, the women in this novel create magic from nothing and the basic message is that if women support each other, there’s nothing they can’t do.
Many thanks to Disney Book Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!