Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Published Date: 6 October 2015
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia

I received this book through NetGalley from Disney Hyperion for review.

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.
(summary from Goodreads)

E.K. Johnston has crafted a beautiful, lush and powerful story that has a unique narration.

A Thousand Nights is all about the prose. It is so very pretty and every one of Johnston's descriptions painted a gorgeous picture. It's easy to wile away a few hours immersed in this vibrant world. There's not a lot of action throughout A Thousand Nights. There's barely one battle, if you can call it that. In this way, A Thousand Nights can be described as slow paced, but for me it never felt so slow as to be boring. It moved along at just the right pace to heighten the tension. Action wasn't entirely necessary because the emotional impact of this book was quite potent. For every morning that Johnston's heroine awoke alive, the tension would rise. Johnston had a way of illustrating fear that was visceral. Every time Lo-Melkhiin got close to torment, my skin would crawl along with our heroine's. I couldn't put A Thousand Nights down because I was so caught up in the wonder and terror, I was completely connected to our heroine's plight and this magic world, that from start to finish I was wholly engaged with this story.

What is more stand out about A Thousand Night is that Johnston named only one character - Lo-Melkhiin. Every other character is known only by their relation or their position. "My sister", "my youngest brother", "my sister's mother", "father of my heart", "Lo-Melkhiin's mother", "the oldest weaver", "the henna mistress" and so on. The only characters to have anything resembling a name were the statue carver, "Fihr Stonetouched", and Skeptic, "Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered", but even they're titles. What's interesting is that only now as I'm writing this review, weeks after reading the book, do I realise that even Johnston's heroine was never named. She's only ever given nicknames - one meaning Commoner by her husband, and "Lady Bless" by the people. I quite like "Lady Bless". Just saying. Honestly, none of this bothered me. It's unsettling at first, sure, but it flows along with the rest of Johnston's prose. For me, this added to the story's effect. Lo-Melkhiin holds the power, so he is named. These demons believe people to be meaningless, and the prose matches that in this way. I think it means more that these nameless characters find power through words and thoughts, through prayer and faith, through their talents, such as weaving and henna. The way it all comes together is amazing. It's magical, really quite other worldly, and Johnston's narrative choices suit this. 

Besides, being unnamed doesn't decrease the distinctive personalities of these characters. I loved our "Lady Bless". She was courageous and loyal, watchful and empathetic. I adored the relationships she made with other characters, the mutual respect and admiration they had. Her sister was determined, her brother's fun, the weavers and henna mistress lovely and supportive. Each character left their mark in some way. Lo-Melkhiin's point of view chapters were suitably arrogant and creepy. These demons were chilling. It says something about Johnston's writing that even as evil and hateful as Lo-Melkhiin is, I still enjoyed the relationship between him and our heroine. His oblivious arrogance had me smirking at times and I always wanted to cheer at our heroine's never bowing to him. She was kick ass, there's no denying it. I admit to wanting just a little more at the end. My imagination can fill in the blanks, certainly, but what glimpses we got of the real Lo-Melkhiin were heartening - I would have enjoyed getting to know him that tiny bit more.

A Thousand Nights is a wonderful retelling. It's narrative style is distinctive and quietly dramatic, memorable in it's own way. 



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