Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E. K. Johnston
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Ok, so A Thousand Nights was not nearly as amazing as its perfectly stunning cover. However, aside from its slow, meandering plot, the books had several merits and I would not hesitate to recommend it if your TBR is looking empty.
Every time, the story began the same way. Lo-Melkhiin picked one girl and took her back to his qasr to be his wife. Some in his keeping lasted one night, some as many as thirty, but in the end all were food for sand-crows.
A fairy tale retelling of 1001 Nights, this story follows an unnamed narrator, who volunteered
as tribute when Lo-Melkhiin visits her village to save her ‘sister’. Like Scheherazade before her, she finds herself surviving the ordeal beyond the first night, and begins to work at ending the cycle of violence.
The Writing: An Abundance In Purple Proses
I think the most memorable thing about this book is its writing, for better or for worse. The writing in A Thousand Nights is very descriptive, sometimes excessively so. I understand that the author was going for the whimsical feel of an old tale, but I felt the writing missed the mark on several occasions. There are times when I think the similes or writing conventions used bordered on pretentious. This is coming from someone who unabashedly love a bit of purple prose – so if you already have an aversion to these kinds of writing, I think it’s best you stay away. Here’s the most ridiculous passage in this book:
In the fire of our twelfth summer, before we were proficient enough with our needles to stitch the purple cloth, but after we had come in from the herds, my mother and my sister’s mother told us the story of our father’s father’s father, and how he had become our smallgod.
*dies a little* Aside from the antagonist, Lo-Melkhiin, barely anyone else in this book has a name. So we have crazy things like father’s father’s father and mother’s mother’s mother flying around. Again, I know the effect the book was trying to achieve, but I couldn’t helo feeling it was so contrived. I do have to admit that on occasions when the writing does pull off its ambitious and luscious proses, the effect is quite gorgeous, here are some of my favourite examples:
Where our skin touched, there was a fire of a different kind. I thought I could see it, threads of gold and blue, desert sand and desert sky, bleeding from my body into his.
No single tale that I could draw from would save my sister from a short and cruel marriage, but I had pieces aplenty. I held them in my hands like so many grains of sand, and they slipped from me, running through my fingers, even as I tried to gather more. But I knew sand… I knew that I had only to hold it for long enough, to find the right kind of fire, and the sand would harden into glass- into something I could use.
2. The Scheherazade: A Female Centric Tale
I had long ago resigned to a life in the shadow of my sister, my elder by ten moons and my year-twin. She was the beauty, I was the spare.
Instead of being focused on the romantic aspect of the story, like The Wrath and The Dawn, this book highlight the friendship between the narrator and her sister. Even when she is taken to Lo-Melkhiin’s qsar, the narrator’s thoughts remain on her sister and how to keep her safe. I love that the stories she tells Lo-Melkhiin are ones of her sister, of how beautiful and bright she burns, and of how he shall never have her. There’s in fact no real focus on romance at all, which is refreshing to see – but fresh off the high of The Wrath and The Dawn, it did make me mourn for what could have been.
I enjoyed the mythology hinted at in the novel, especially one involving the devotion of friends or family turning someone into a smallgod, capable of small miracles. Demons also make an appearance in the novel, though I felt that the supernatural element of the story was never fully fleshed out. We see the narrator hallucinate, literally weaving visions out of cloth, but we are never quite told how it happens. I wish the book wasn’t so wishy-washy about the magical aspect of the story, as it took up quite a bit of the text.
3. The Pacing: Slow and Directionless
Honestly, the most disappointing aspect of this novel is the turtle pacing of the plot. As soon as the narrator reaches the qasr, all kind of action stagnated. She spends her day shuffling from gardens, to weaving room, to servant’s quarter, all relatively uneventful. Aside from her seemingly random vision, nothing was driving the story forward. We were made aware there’s a menacing presence lurking within Lo-Melkhiin, however neither it nor the narrator made any real effort to challenge the other person. I was bored to tears in between the long winded descriptions and the stasis of the plot. Hence, despite the GORGEOUS cover and palatable writing, I can’t rate it higher than a 3 stars out of 5.
If you’re looking for an excellent 1001 Nights retelling, go read In The Night Garden by Catherynne Valente instead. If you’re looking for a romantic story in s similar setting, just go read The Wrath and The Dawn. I’d save this one for a rainy day.