Pub. Date: 22/10/2015
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village, looking for a wife.
When Lo-Melkhiin - a formidable king - arrives at her desert home, she knows that he will take her beautiful sister for a wife. Desperate to save her sister from certain death, she makes the ultimate sacrifice - leaving home and family behind to live with a fearful man.
But it seems that a strange magic flows between her and Lo-Melkhiin, and night after night, she survives. Finding power in storytelling, the words she speaks are given strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. But she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king . . . if only she can stop her heart from falling for a monster.
Set against a harsh desert backdrop, by E K Johnston is an evocative tale of love, mystery and magic that would not feel out of place if Scheherazade herself were telling it. And perhaps she is...One of A Thousand Nights strongest assets was its main character. As the blurb suggests, this novel is very much about story telling and hence it was natural that Johnston's main character is swept up by words throughout. Words seem to just come to her sometimes and it is undeniable throughout the novel that words have a power. This is also noticeable in Johnston's writing itself which feels utterly magical at times. There are great descriptions of the desert and its character (yes, nature can have a character), but also of the way of life of our characters. Whether it's living in tents as nomads or living in a luxurious qasr. Johnston also addresses a number of topics within the book such as the problematic of gender or the differences between classes, but they are all worked into the novel into a way that feels cohesive rather than arbitrary. It is great to see a YA novel approach these themes with such understanding and willingness, rather than assuming its audience is too young or uninterested to care.
I raved in my review of The Queen of the Tearling about the fact that romance wasn't central to a story about a young heroine. I'm very proud to present to you a similar read with A Thousand Nights. E.L. Johnston focuses on her main character's growth and development, rather than on forcing trope-rific plot turns onto the reader. This again means that we have a novel led by a complex female character. She experiences a range of emotions and situations, moving from fear to enjoyment to anger in a way that seems natural and realistic. Her sense of independence and desire to handle things makes her a very active character without forcing her into the 'strong woman' complex who punches her way out of anything that is too deep. She is a great inspirational role model, in that sense. I also loved the fact E.K. Johnston didn't move her Arabian Nights adaptation out of the Middle East in order to make it more "palatable". Her novel is solidly Arabic and it shows she did her research. In a time like ours it's something of a gamble to have Islamic main characters and I think Johnston did something wonderful with it.
A Thousand Nights is not without its edge, but that is also what lifts the novel above a straight-cut adaptation or YA novel. Johnston adds her own twists to the story and these mean that every page holds something exciting. Some of the twists are brought about by side-characters which are excellently worked out. Too often side-characters fade into the background, especially when it is the romance that takes over, and I consider this sloppy writing. In A Thousand Nights one can't help but warm to the characters surrounding the protagonists and it means that the stakes of the plot become a lot higher. Overall this makes for a read that has you caring and has you invested from the get-go. It's not a novel you're likely to forget any time soon. In fact... I think it's time for a reread!
I give this novel...
A Thousand Nights is the kind of adaptation that I love. Johnston has made the story her own while remaining loyal and true to the magical feeling of the original. Despite being set in a culture and region foreign to me, Johnston never makes a difference between her characters and her readers, bringing the two together on what makes us human. I'd recommend this to fans of adaptation and YA fiction, because it's the perfect mix between the two.