A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (2015)
YA Fiction | Historical Paranormal
“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.”
pooled ink Review:
In A Thousand Nights shines a magical adaptation of an ancient tale depicting a murderous king, a clever woman, and the mysterious world of sand and stars. Where three hundred girls before her have died love, faith, and magic fill and sustain her for one thousand nights as she learns the difference between life and living.
E.K. Johnston writes her adaptation beautifully blending contemporary aspects into a very old story while simultaneously maintaining the charm, elegance, and etiquette of an old language and its culture’s customs. She doesn’t try to twist anything around or sprinkle in pop culture trends, no everything she chose to write and envelope in her story stood for the pure purpose of unveiling a new facet, shedding a new light, and sharing a new telling of the same old fantastic tale.
I love how Johnston chose to weave in ties with other ancient but well-known legends and tales anointing One Thousand and One Nights with equal status as other works such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales and The Legend of King Arthur and the like. My personal favorite adaptation of this particular story is the orchestral work Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (if you haven’t yet heard this exquisite work then you must). But regardless of how many times and versions of this story are told I do believe that E.K. Johnston has indeed managed to write one that may stick and hopefully lure the young culture of science and technology back into the beloved realm of stories and magic.
One thing I must admit to miss is the classic staple how Scheherazade told a story continuing it every night leaving such a tantalizing cliff-hanger that the king daren’t kill her. But fear not, I did enjoy E.K. Johnston’s version despite the ever-long story being hinted at than revolved around. In fact this story focuses on the these fateful 1000 nights overall as the captivating story itself (which she justifies in the final pages). So even though this is a new adaptation it still provides a gateway to hundreds of other classical works worth remembering and re-telling.
Another aspect of Johnston’s telling that I find quite clever and beautiful is her determination to use no names. Perhaps an odd choice but it proves fitting and symbolically powerful. The king is “the king”, the sister is “my sister”, her father is “my father”, and so on and so forth. Each character is defined through relationship to one another relying on inflection to add further meaning and weight. The words are written well and so one can instinctually pick up on the subtle inflections, the tones, the shifting relationships between characters. The simple generic words “my sister” suddenly fill with years of memories, emotions, and devotion giving the simple title a name far more meaningful than any traditional name ever could have.
Johnston’s education and love for this world come through more clear than the wafer thin tea cups in the qasr as each moment is filled with genuine richness of detail. I admit to know little of Eastern cultures but her writing unfolded it before me, I learned what bits she shared, and I am left intrigued to discover more on my own. Whether you have a PhD on the subject or didn’t know the world extended past North America (which would be very sad indeed) this book will stay true not improvising facts, squashing in western cultures, or feigning knowledge under the assumption that most of its readers will be none the wiser. No, Johnston took great care when writing this story maintaining a balance of respect for the culture and the story’s origins as well as for her creative freedom and the web of legends that span human history across the world.
Storytelling is a beloved ancient form shared amongst humans from the dawn of time and just because a story was first told long ago does not mean it must remain so.
Whether or not you’re a fan of 1001 Nights, Aladdin, Eastern culture, legends and fairy tales, or golden classics hidden on dusty shelves I’d recommend this book for its core is filled with love, action, death, magic, fear, and sacrifice (and who would want to miss out on all of that?). E.K. Johnston’s A Thousands Nights stands on its own two feet amongst the hundreds of renditions of this ancient but ever captivating story.
Purchase here: A Thousand Nights
Similar recommended reads: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Meet E.K. Johnston!
E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.