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

a thousand nights

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!*

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Guilty Pleasures? Not so guilty.

It doesn’t take a genius to decipher that I like reading. You merely need to glance at the book propped in my hands and at my glazed, barely-there look and it’s pretty obvious. People, however, are naturally curious – they see a book in your hands, they see that you most definitely are somewhere else entirely, a world of words – and they want to know one thing.

What are you reading?

Cue, judgement. There is, undoubtedly, a snobbish element to reading. After studying English Literature for three years at university, I am all too familiar with ‘high-brow’ literature; literature that has a value, worthy enough to be studied by eager yet sleep-deprived students. There is canonical literature – classic novels, epic poetry, elegant dramas – and then, at the other side of that spectrum, there is, essentially, ‘trash’.

As a huge fan of the Young Adult genre but also an avid classical reader, I’m faced with a level of criticism. I have studied Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Dickens, Woolf – the list can go on – yet how can I read books that are aimed at teens? Books that rely on overwhelming hormones, angst, and forbidden, predictable love?

I tell them: I enjoy it. I love this genre. They assume it’s my guilty pleasure.

They couldn’t be more wrong. The term guilty pleasure suggests that there is guilt associated with enjoyment. For me, as a YA reader, there is no shame. There is something undisputedly amazing about this genre, unlike any other genre I read. It manages to encapsulate the full spectrum of human emotion, but instead of presenting it in this serious, adult way, it injects humour and lightness. Yes, I admit to reading books about teen romance, clichéd and heart-wrenching, but ultimately real. I’ve been taken to other worlds with fantastical lands and chilling, dystopian governments. I’ve read books where I’ve hated the main character and loved them – yet the one thing I’ve never been able to do is to stop reading. YA is a genre that will hook you, line and sinker, from the very first word, pulling you in page by page.

I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen with other genres – of course it does. However, there is something liberating about YA, this unrestricted genre that can be read and enjoyed by anyone, of any age.

I’ve watched this genre grow from something to be dismissed, to a genre that has astounding power on the publishing and film industries respectively. You remember that young adult series called The Hunger Games? That incredible book that has produced – so far – two incredible films that have destroyed every other competitor at the box office? I thought so. How about a book – and now a series of films – called The Hobbit? Yes, The Hobbit is a YA book – a children’s book, essentially. One can’t deny Tolkein’s excellence, but there are still some who insist on reducing YA to ‘trash’ even despite this famous addition to the genre.

2014 is the year of YA. With so many film adaptions hitting the big screen this year, you can’t deny it. Vampire Academy, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, The Maze Runner, Mockingjay Part 1. Young Adult is without a doubt taking over popular culture, and I will be begging any person who goes to see these films to read the books.

Let’s get rid of the snobbery here, let’s remove the guilt from guilty pleasure reading. Reading is reading – it’s that simple.

Blog Update

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So hello fellow readers!

I haven’t updated this blog in so long, so I thought it needed a desperate revamp!

I plan on posting a lot more blog posts, separate from my YouTube channel, focused on my book-related thoughts, publishing industry commentary, book reviews and the occasional haul!

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Thanks for reading 🙂