Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Release Date: October 20th 2015
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.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
From the very beginning an incredible story was woven. We aren’t given the names of any character’s other than Lo-Melkhiin but the first time I read this book I was half way through before I realised the main character hadn’t told us her name. Instead she spoke to us, and it was as if she was telling her story directly to the reader as well as to her husband each night, drawing us into her world as the pages went by. A Thousand Nights tell us a story from three perspectives; the demon that haunts Lo-Melkhiin’s mind and controls his body, his new wife, and her sister who was left behind in the desert.
When Lo-Melkhiin travels to her village to find a new wife our main character knows who he will choose, and so, fearing for her sister’s life, she draws his attentions onto herself and makes him choose her instead. Our storyteller is willing to sacrifice her life for her loved ones and expects nothing in return but she has learnt a lot from her family, her father and both her and her sister’s mothers, and she puts that knowledge to good use when she arrives at Lo-Melkhiin’s qasr.
Every morning when Lo-Melkhiin’s new wife wakes up, still alive, she has a little more hope. And with the countless prayers her sister, and all the females her father’s caravan meet on his travels, whisper to her shrine our storyteller becomes more powerful. She is able to, not only survive Lo-Melkhiin’s fire, but create something from nothing, able to bring forth fantastic creatures to strike at her husband.
The three stories we are told – Lo-Melkhiin’s wife at the very centre, her sister seen through visions from across the desert, and the demon inhabiting Lo-Melkhiin’s mind – all come together by the end of the this novel. The story had a slow burn; setting up everything, introducing us to the characters and letting them grow and shape themselves before the ending. We see the quiet strength of Lo-Melkhiin’s new wife, who remains strong and dignified though she knows at any moment death may come for her in the form of her new husband, and across the desert we see her sister, who takes a tale whispered in the dark of a king who marries only to kill his wives and puts move the spotlight onto her sister. She creates an army from people’s fears and a smallgod from her sister’s memory.
The bond between the two sisters was a major part of this story; they grew up together, best friends as well as sisters, and it’s easy to see the devotion they have for each other. Our storyteller believes her sister is the better one; more beautiful and more talented, more suited to remain with their father’s caravan and carry on their legacy. Lo-Melkhiin’s wife is an incredibly brave character; kind with a strong sense of loyalty and sharp wits which she believes will help her survive where none other has.
While our storyteller is willing to risk everything to keep her sister safe in turn her sister makes her a smallgod, giving her the strength and the power to survive Lo-Melkhiin. While Lo-Melkhiin’s wife tells him tales of her sister, her sister uses their own tale to inspire the common people to rise against Lo-Melkhiin and his tradition of killing their daughters or sisters. They spend most of the story apart but the strength the women have in this tale is not to be underestimated. The men burn bright but the women are smart, they stay silent and listen, waiting for the right moment to strike.
We never truly find out what the demon inhabiting Lo-Melkhiin’s mind actually is but we see glimpses of him. He is a creature drawn to strength, power and artistry. He takes the greatest creators; weavers, coppersmiths and artisans, and uses them until they burn out. Before he wed his latest wife no other person had been able to survive his power and the longer she survives the more he turns his attention away from the men and onto the women, having forgotten they had gifts too. He believes he can offer his wife something the way he did to everyone else he’s taken, something that will bend her to his will.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on the culture, mythology, or history of the world where this book is set, I haven’t read the original story this one was inspired by, but I loved the subtle details that were included describing the world that Lo-Melkhiin, his wife, and her sister make their lives. From the qasr; where Lo-Melkhiin’s wife dressed in the finest clothes, where the Skeptics and priests meet to view the shower of falling stars, and where the women gather to weave and spin fabric each and every day. To the desert; where their traditions have been passed down from father to son, where they have elaborate rituals to prepare their dead, where they create smallgods from the people in their family who have performed great deeds or made great sacrifices, and where they travel around to desert trading the vast land which could kill them at any given time. We saw the history of our storyteller, what she learnt from her father growing up, what she learnt along with her sister as they completed their chores, and what she was told about her ancestors which shaped her path. The magic in this book was never fully explained but in my mind it just made the story that much more magical. There was always an element of the unknown but it fit with the world and the characters created within the pages.
I hadn’t read the original tale this one was inspired by, but I think that helped. Instead of going into this story and comparing it with another I was able to judge it on its own merits. Honestly I loved this book; it was a perfect mixture of fantasy, love, sacrifice and family that came together to create a timeless story.
What did you think of A Thousand Nights? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.