Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

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Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E. K. Johnston
Pub Date: 22 October 2015
Publisher: PanMacmillan
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5*
Goodreads | BookDepository

Summary: 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. 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.

A Thousand Nights is a rare book – and a fantastic one at that. The premise alone hooked me in – a retelling of Arabian Nights, a story about stories, a dangerous love story – but I wasn’t expecting this novel to be so powerful and beautiful. Upon reading the first couple of pages, I was struck by the lyrical prose and intricate details of the setting. E. K. Johnston’s turn of phrase in A Thousand Nights is simply stunning, and the writing alone captures your attention. What struck me was that the characters, apart from Lo-Melkhiin, our anti-hero, are nameless. We get detailed descriptions of their personalities, their appearance, their history – but not one character, even our protagonist, has a name apart from the villain. At first, this frustrated me. How was I supposed to write a review about a book where I didn’t even know the main character’s name? Nor the name of her sister, her father, her mother – not one character, except Lo-Melkhiin. Looking back, this was a risky move from the author – but it paid off. This novel, after all, is about the oral tradition of story-telling, which was so prevalent in Arabian Nights – a story made up of lots of other pieces of stories. The characters needed to be nameless to serve this purpose – and even though I feel like I know these characters – our strong and fearless main character, her loyal sister, her clever father – I don’t really know them at all.

This novel is told in a first person narrative from our main character, the desert girl who is Lo-Melkhiin’s latest wife, and her voice was a pure delight to read. She was intelligent, pious and devoted to loving her sister. Interspersed between our main character’s chapters were brief interludes from another first person narrator – the demon that lives within Lo-Melkhiin. Now this voice was uncomfortable to read. Sadistic, calculating and chilling, the demon’s voice provided an unsettling undertone to the novel, giving it an edge that I believe was what helped the novel develop. Not a lot of background detail goes into the nature of this demon, or where it comes from, but it’s powerful nonetheless and I loved this addition to the plot.

Aside from this brilliant plot device, the world building in this novel was fantastic. Our main character’s descriptions of her desert home and her move into the city upon marrying Lo-Melkhiin were absorbing, and you really feel like you can sense the sand underneath our main characters feet, that you can feel the heat of the dry sun on your skin. Another powerful description was the magic. Our main character develops these curious powers, this strange magical ability, which is due to her sister’s pious devotion towards making her a ‘smallgod’ – a local, smaller god with a connection to a family. I completely fell in love with the relationship between magic, power and religion in A Thousand Nights and how this resonates in the sacrifice that our main character made to save her sister.

That brings me on to another thing I loved – the love between these two sisters and the lengths they are willing to go to to save each other. I think that was what made our main character so interesting and readable; she was steadfast in her love for her sister and would do anything to secure her happiness. This love replaced romantic love in the novel – which struck me a bit at first. I presumed that this novel would be a powerful love story between Lo-Melkhiin and our main character, but it really wasn’t. There’s hints of a romantic conclusion towards the end of the novel, but we don’t get to see how this plays out.

The conclusion of this book was unfortunately a bit too brief for me, I think. There was such an incredible build-up, with our main character saving the day and saving the world – but I would have loved to have gotten a glimpse into what happened next. I feel like our main character, her family and Lo-Melkhiin deserved a few pages of a triumphant happy ending after all the hardships they go through in this book!

On the whole, however, this book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Lyrical, powerful, entrancing and poetic, I adored the storytelling and vivid descriptions of this novel. It was exotic, mysterious and an engrossing read. One novel that you need to read this year!

*Thanks to PanMacmillan for providing me with an early review copy!*

Book Review: Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson

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Title: Red Rose, White Rose
Author: Joanna Hickson
Pub Date: 4th December 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Obtained: Review Copy via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5*

Red Rose, White Rose is a historical fiction story based on Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard Plantagenet of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Plantagenet history is a topic that I’m hugely passionate about, and any books, movies or TV shows about this period I’m sure to love.

Some of my favourite books about the Plantagenets are written by Philippa Gregory – namely The Cousins War series. Where Gregory excels is in bringing the Plantagenet era to life – her writing is stunning, her characters believable and the history weaved into the fiction so naturally.

My problem with Red Rose, White Rose was in the fiction element. First, let me say that the historical details were brilliant – I felt like I learnt a lot from reading this, which is always a good feeling!

The narrative is split between two first person perspectives – Cecily and her half-brother, Cuthbert. I was, unfortunately, in two minds over whether this worked or not. A lot of the action (and historical events) happened in Cecily’s chapters and there were times where I felt like Cuthbert’s chapters weren’t really necessary.

However, his chapters introduced us to some of the lesser-known figures during that time. I knew about Cecily Neville and Richard Neville (The Earl of Warwick, who features in Gregory’s The Cousins War series a lot) but the rest of the Neville family were unknown to me. The copious amounts of detail surrounding the Neville family and the family split were often quite hard to process at times, and I often had to do a quick Google search into the Neville family tree – but once I ‘got it’, I felt like I enjoyed the novel a lot more.

What I couldn’t quite get to grips with, unfortunately, was the characterisation and the writing. There were times where I often felt as if I wasn’t immersed in the plot and this effected my motivation to finish it. However, I did love the fact that it introduced me to events and historical figures that I wasn’t already aware of. An enjoyable historical read, but perhaps not one for those who aren’t familiar already with the Plantagenet’s history.

Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with this copy for the purpose of review.

Book Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

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Title: Heir of Fire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Pub Date: 11th September 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 5*

This was one of the best books I read in 2014. In fact, it was so good, it took me three long months to read it. If I enjoyed it, why did it take so long to read, you could ask. The answer? This book was so far above my expectations that I struggled to fit it inside a box. In Heir of Fire, Sarah J Maas goes beyond the fantasy YA world she creates in Throne of Glass, and catapults her readers into a multiple POV, high fantasy realm. Maas no longer plays with fantasy in this book – she owns the genre and cements herself no longer as a YA/Fantasy crossover author, but as a talented writer of brilliantly crafted, epic fantasy.

For this reason, I found it hard to adjust and had to take several breaks from reading the book. With four main story arcs, Heir of Fire‘s plot required concentration and patience – things that I didn’t seem to need for the first two books! We find our main character, Celaena, in Wendlyn, on a mission to assassinate the royal family – but from there she ends up abandoning her role as the King’s Champion, and ends up encircled in an entirely new world, one that she would later fight to protect. Celaena truly grows as a character, in so many ways. In the last two books, she faces sorrow and love – both of which have left her broken and lost. Celaena’s journey in Heir of Fire is a painful one – as readers, we accompany her on her path of self-discovery and torment.

What I adored about this novel is the extreme broadening of the plot, the characters and the entire world building. We find the world of the Throne of Glass series is larger than one country wide. Whilst Celaena is in Wendlyn, Chaol is back with Dorian in Adarlan, both of whom have extremely fascinating story arcs in this book. They are no longer secondary characters in Celaena’s world – rather they command their own plots and are just as important to the story as Celaena is.

Aside from the characters we know and love, Maas introduces us to a host of new characters, who become central players in the story – Manon, a witch, has a main storyline, as well as Rowan and Aedion; three characters who we’ll definitely see in the fourth book. These characters were so well written, it was as if they had been with us from the start. Upon first reading, I was hesitant of Maas’s introduction of new characters – surely there couldn’t be more plot lines to be introduced – but I was wrong! Rowan is now one of my favourite characters and Manon, the Blackbeak witch was a fascinating character who leapt from the page, the image of her iron nails and teeth gluing itself to my mind.

Maas, in writing this novel, has completely reassured me of her skill and talents as a storyteller. I’m that impressed by the progression and beauty of this series that I’m sure that I would even read the phone book if Sarah wrote it!

This is a series that you need to read – one that transcends the boundaries of often one-dimensional YA Fantasy. The easiest five stars I’ve ever had to give!

2015 | Reading Resolutions

My 2015 Reading Resolutions:
1) To finish writing my novel
2) To upload videos more frequently
3) To upload a blog post once a week
4) To read 50 books in 2015
5) To read one classic each month
6) To finish all of the book series that I started last year

What are your bookish resolutions?