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 GIVEAWAY: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

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**THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW ENDED AND THE WINNER NOTIFIED! Thanks to all who entered!**

Win a copy of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender!

DETAILS:
1) Enter via clicking the Rafflecopter link below
2) Extra entries are awarded for following my different social media outlets
3) GIVEAWAY ENDS 4:30pm 19th MAY.
4) THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON 20th MAY. I will contact the winner through the details given on the Rafflecopter giveaway and will also announce on Twitter.

GOOD LUCK! 🙂

Exciting New Releases: March

Hello fellow readers! I’ve not updated this blog in about a week and a half, so I thought I’d write a really exciting post about books coming out in the next month that I’m super excited for.

March:

Half Bad by Sally Green | 4th March | Penguin

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In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

Super excited about this one!

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Panic by Lauren Oliver | 6th March | Hodder and Stoughton

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Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do. Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.
Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for. For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

Panic sounds like an awesome read. I can’t wait to read more from Lauren Oliver – if the Delirium series is anything to go by, I’m sure Panic will be just as enthralling.

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The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn | 13th March | Little, Brown

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I didn’t stand a chance: looking back over thirteen years, that’s what I see. In the very first instant, I was won over, and of course I was: I was fifteen and had been nowhere and done nothing, whereas Katherine was twenty-one and yellow-silk-clad and just married to the golden boy. Only a few years later, I’d be blaming myself for not having somehow seen … but seen what, really? What – really, honestly – was there to see, when she walked into Hall? She was just a girl, a lovely, light-stepping girl, smiling that smile of hers, and, back then, as giddy with goodwill as the rest of us.
When Katherine Filliol arrives at Wolf Hall as the new young bride of Jane Seymour’s older brother, Edward, Jane is irresistibly drawn to the confident older girl and they develop a close and trusting friendship, forged during a long, hot country summer. However, only two years later, the family is destroyed by Edward’s allegations of Katherine’s infidelity with his father. When Jane is also sent away, to serve Katharine of Aragon, she watches another wife being put aside, with terrible consequences.

This sounds amazing! I’m a huge historical fiction fan – it’s my favourite genre aside from YA – and the Tudors are perhaps my favourite period in history. Definitely will be picking this up!

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The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner | 25th March | Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

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Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca s little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca s the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it s possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she d never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.

This sounds like such a heartbreaking contemporary read – it’s definitely going on my TBR list.

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Starling by Fiona Paul | 20th March | Philomel

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In the final book in the trilogy, Cass and Luca are back in Venice trying to find the Book of the Eternal Rose to clear Luca’s name and keep them both out of prison. But the hunters become the hunted when the Order of the Eternal Rose figures out their plan. Filled with twists and turns, danger and torrid romances, this novel brings the Secrets of the Eternal Rose novels to a thrilling, heart-pounding, sexy conclusion.

So so so so excited for Starling! I adore The Secrets of the Eternal Rose series – it’s one of my favourite historical series of all time. I can’t wait to find out what Fiona Paul has in store for Cass, Luca and Falco in this final book!

Are you excited for any of these titles? What will you be reading in March?

Sometimes, Loving Books Isn’t Enough

Happy Monday, fellow readers!

Since graduating, my life has consisted of applications, covering letters and many, many books. Graduate life is a weird sort of limbo; you’ve spent three years building up to something altogether unclear, a world where that dissertation just doesn’t matter anymore. Once you graduate, you realise that your lecturing parents and wise careers advisors weren’t telling lies – getting a job is now a task that is almost as arduous as Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom.

Rewind four years: my head was abuzz with UCAS applications, personal statements and open days. Getting into a university was the first battle in the long war of career success. At the time, I couldn’t imagine it getting any harder. Fast forward three years – I’m knee deep in dissertation research, my social life a long forgotten pastime, exams looming on the horizon.

One year later? My dreams of getting into publishing are still set in concrete, unwavering and unchanging but I know now how difficult it is to break into this thrilling and diverse industry. After years of hoping that my passion for books would see me through, now I know that this simply isn’t enough.

Six months down the line from graduation with several job interviews under my belt, I know now how hard it is for graduates in this industry. Proving that you’re not simply a wide-eyed book lover is a task that will become paramount. Experience is key, passion is necessary, industry knowledge is assumed. It was during my experience with HarperCollins that I truly began to grasp what this industry was truly about; for those desperate to get into publishing, experience isn’t only a necessity but it’s something to help you decide if this is really a world that you want to become part of.

Luckily for me, it only sharpened my determination to break into this field. I’m currently working as a Marketing Intern – not in publishing – but even this experience is something that has already helped me to land some interviews at publishing companies that I have admired for years.

For once, I’m no longer unaware and unprepared. My reading tastes have gotten more varied, my knowledge of fiction lists exhaustive and the daily news update from The Bookseller has become the first email I open every morning.

Loving books may not be enough to land a job in this extremely competitive world, but as you’re filing through job advert after job advert, it will become a passion that will fuel you further. Like an ever-present friend, patting you on the back and encouraging you onward, reading, for me, reminds me on a daily basis why I want to pursue a career in publishing.

So for those of you struggling, graduate or not, don’t lose hope. Expand your horizons, know the industry, make contacts and never cease applying – that job is just around the corner.

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.