A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Published October 6, 2015 by Hyperion, 328 pp.
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.
How goes it?
After reading The Wrath and the Dawn earlier last year (and a bunch of other fairy tale retellings), I came across this one and added immediately to my TBR list because look at the cover? How gorgeous is that? Obviously I am not above judging books by their covers, and most of the time it pays off. This one does too, maybe in one way more than the other.
First thoughts after finishing this: so lovely! I loved the prose in this book, and it’s what I loved best about it. Flowing, smooth, and descriptive, especially of the desert and how our narrator sees everything and how she uses her powers. The world-building is very subtle, and revealed in bits and pieces throughout the book, but sometimes it left me wanting more. But what the author does lay out is very lovely. While the desert is richly described, life within the qasr and city was somewhat lacking. But I do understand why – our heroine has barely settled in, and everyone expects her to die. Why show her around?
I think I liked this so much because the narrator, our heroine, despite remaining nameless throughout, has a very distinct personality. It shows when she interacts with Lo-Malekhiin, when she goes to find something to do, when she talks with other people in the palace, and just when she describes her sister in the stories she weaves. Her relationship with her sister is one of the standout aspects of this book, to be honest. She grows stronger because her sister steadfastly maintains a small shrine, and despite the distance, their love for one another doesn’t diminish one bit.
The bulk of this also features the heroine exploring her powers, and finding out what she can do with them. Honestly, once I did finish it and think back on what happened, there isn’t much. She takes the place of her sister, is swept away into the palace, survives every night by telling a story, and that’s about it. The crescendo takes place in the desert, where our heroine gets the chance to show off what she can do with her powers! And then all is well. It’s all kind of… sedate, once you think about it, but I think this is why I loved the writing. There’s a kind of song-like quality to it, that it just takes you along for the ride, and you turn the page to read more.
There is minimal romance, because for 99% of the book Lo-Malekhiin is possessed by a desert demon, but I find that a possessed Lo-Malekhiin had more personality than demon-free Lo-Malekhiin, lol.
I loved it. Something about it pulls you in, and that’s why this is 4 paper planes. Read this for the lovely prose!