Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s/Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: 20 October 2015
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository
This lush reimagining of A Thousand and One Nights weaves out of Scheherazade’s well-known origins a different tale to the one we usually hear. Not wishing to lose anyone else to the monstrous Lo-Melkhiin, its heroine decides to take her sister’s place as his next bride so that she may save her life. Her kingdom is trapped in a nightmare which can only be ended with hope, courage and dreams of a kingdom peaceful once more, where each is free to choose their own future.
A Thousand Nights tells the story of a girl who weaves whimsical tales not just for herself but for all those she has left behind. The love in this book is that of sisters, families and their people. Shrouded with illusion, spilling over with myth, and crowned by magic, its blend of genres – fantasy, adventure, magical realism, pseudo-historical fiction – creates a shimmering and surreal quality: every word is carefully chosen, every page a step further into a spell. It has a stunning cover, too: a luxurious swathe of deep purple, spun with gold, pink and blue.
Even more surreal is the idea that most of the book’s cast are not given names. Much of our heroine’s family is referred to only be their relation to one another, and readers may be put off by this lack of individuality. Even the heroine of the story – resourceful, self-sacrificing, and finding herself wielding an eerie, strange kind of magic in the face of oncoming wrath and war – never names herself. We are left with only an imprint, an afterimage, of the person she is striving to be. It’s hard to put a protagonist on your list of favourites when she’s not given a name. However, I liked the focus on stories, particularly those of women. A Thousand Nights makes a case for the idea that just because we don’t know a heroine’s name doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell her story.
Lavish imagery and constant metaphors are characteristic of a distinctive writing style which is at its best beautiful, but at its worst cloying. It verges on purple prose and it’s not the most engaging style; it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. A dramatic finale is well-earned, but the plot is meandering, occasionally dull, and, perhaps due to the characterisation, is easy to lose interest in. For me, there was always just something off about it, the absence of that indefinable ingredient which takes books from ordinary to extraordinary. For a more action-packed alternative, try Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton or The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi.
Lush and lyrical, A Thousand Nights is a story of the nameless, of the unknown heroine, and acts of bravery and adventure which have been lost to time. Delicate and well-spun as a tapestry, it’s vagueness and slow pace are, however, major drawbacks.