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!*

Blog Update: Reading, Working and Not Filming

Hello fellow readers!

I know, I know – I’ve been gone and for quite a while too! Have I stopped reading? Not in the slightest. Have I stopped BookTubing? No – although by my lack of videos, you would have guessed so! I’ve not fallen out of love with reading, blogging or filming, however, I have abandoned routine. 

In the past (I’m talking three or four months ago), I would read a book in no more than two or three days. Or, you know, four hours if the book was that addictive that I couldn’t put it down – I’m looking at you The Fiery Heart. After reading, I would update my GoodReads, fangirl about the book on my Twitter, write a review and then film it. The videos would go up either that night or the following night; I would always be too excited to wait to upload them.

So what’s happened? Well, life happened. As cliched as it sounds, life has taken over, literally. In the past year, I’ve graduated, lived in London, worked in publishing, moved back home, got a new full time job and then moved once again. Routine is something that I always seem to yearn for – a filming schedule, a blogging schedule – but my routine at the minute just seems to be work, eat, work, sleep. The weekends pass by me like clouds on a windy day – and then it’s Monday, again.

This year, so far, I’ve finished two books. Two. Since January 1st. Last year I read over 65 books – not even including most of the books I read for university. I’ve hit an unprecedented reading slump, one that I’m slowly, desperately trying to pull myself out of. I feel disheartened that, as a ‘book blogger’ or ‘BookTuber’, I can barely even finish a book at the minute. My exciting and exhilarating hobby has nothing to show for it except a barely updated blog and YouTube channel.

So I’m taking a stand – against my dragging routine, against my reading slump and against my own lack of enthusiasm. Here is what I propose:

1) Update this blog at least once a week. I may update three times a week, or four, but as long as ONE blog post graces your screens in a week, then that is an achievement. This weekly blog post will go up on Sunday’s, probably whilst I am still in bed, where I will have been for the entire weekend. Happy days! This weekly post will be about a broad range of topics per week. As a book blogger, but also an aspiring publisher, I want to blog about the industry side of the book community also. So, expect a lot of reviews, a lot of discussion posts and a few rather more dignified, serious ‘industry’ posts. If you have any blog post requests for me, do drop me an email!

 

2) To read for at least thirty minutes every day. Yes, thirty. My former book-marathoning self would have cried out “amateur” at this. Full-time work? It’s tiring… and busy. Not much time to pick up a book when all you want is sleep! Half an hour per day is achievable for me right now – maybe this weekend, who knows? I may be able to finish two whole books! (Don’t get ambitious, Lucy…)

 

3) Begin filming again. My poor, poor YouTube channel. And my poor 1800+ subscribers! I’m sorry to you all (some of you, I hope, are reading this blog post) as I’ve been neglecting YouTube for far too long. I’m going to try to film this weekend – most likely a book haul, as I’ve accumulated so many books that I haven’t even read yet! I need to get back into enjoying filming and talking to you all again. The BookTube community is so great, exciting and supportive that I can’t not come back to you all. I still watch all of your videos and I sit there, disappointed at myself that I don’t have the same dedication you all have for filming. Well that’s about to change! If I can make one video a week, I’ll pat myself on the back. I don’t know how some of you brilliant BookTubers do it; making a video almost every day? You’re superhuman and I’m jealous!

Phew – that took some time to write that all down! I’m sorry to all of you lovely people who do follow me on YouTube, this blog, Twitter and GoodReads for my lack of content. It’s been such a busy start of the year, but that’s no excuse from now on! 

The basic message of this post, which I’m so glad to finally be writing – I’m back!