A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

f4.54.5 stars

A refreshing twist on a tried tale? Check! Demons possessing royalty? Check! A beautifully woven story on family, friendship, and love? Check!

E.K. Johnston’s adaption of 1001 Nights is filled with magic and intrigue to weave a captivating tale. Set in a desert kingdom with villages who worship their ancestors as small gods and demons lurking in the sands, A Thousand Nights tells the tale of a village girl who takes her sister’s place as a potential bride of Lo-Melkhiin, the king.

But don’t let this deceive you. Unlike stories like The Selection, these women were not corralled and then placed in a competition for royalty’s hand. Instead, the three hundred girls before her died.

They say he was not always vicious; Johnston’s novel tells of how he used to be a good ruler, but something went wrong.

Somehow, the village girl manages to make it past one night. Then two. Then more and more, astounding the residents of the palace. With each day she lives, her sister grieves and villages across the desert begin to worship her as a small god.

What happens when the living are worshipped? An unknown phenomena that might just bestow the village girl with enough to free trapped kings of hidden demons and save countless other girls after her.

Sound interesting? Here’s the official 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. 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.

I loved reading this novel, and not just because every time I put it down (which was not often) I got to see that gorgeous velvety cover.

Johnston’s A Thousand Nights is a unique novel, unconventional in how it’s written.

The most prominent of which is how we never learn the female main character’s name. In all honesty, I never really noticed the lack of a name for her, too enraptured by the plot. It was only when I got to the FAQ at the back did I realize what had just transpired.

This might have just been because I’m easily absorbed in books or because Johnston manages to make us forget about names when there are so many other important things happening.

Told from the first person point of view, we get to read the novel from the anonymous narrator’s eyes, experiencing the wonder she gets from the magic seeping into her life.

The prose in this novel is artful and E.K. Johnston has a way with words that makes it feel like a fluid piece of poetry. It’s not overly descriptive, but sits perfectly in the middle.

Here’s an example from page one, hitting you straight from the get-go:

The creatures that live here crawl beneath a crippling sun, eking what living they can from the sand before they are returned to it, as food for the sand crows or worse.

Wow! Did you see that sentence structure? I nearly swooned when I read it. The tone of voice for this novel is almost like she’s telling a story, something that’s passed down from generation to generation, perfect for the pacing of this novel.

There are a few cons to this. Because of almost how detached the protagonist is from the reader, even in first person, the reader loses some of the emotional connection with the characters. That’s not to say you don’t fall in love with them, but you don’t feel like you’re experiencing what she’s experiencing, more like you’re sitting right next to her.

A Thousand Nights has a slower pacing than other novels. I personally enjoyed it because of how refreshing it was compared to other fantasy novels, but I definitely know people who wouldn’t like to read it due to it’s almost dream-like quality.

It can be confusing at the beginning as to what’s happening. Sometimes a person can experience a sort of ‘literary vertigo’ when they read a prologue or first chapter that’s not exactly connected to what happens after. I experienced this when reading the first chapter of Six of Crows (I read the first third of the novel looking frantically at the dust cover trying to figure out who’s who) & when I read the first two pages of this novel.

There are two different types of chapters which you can distinguish from either the swirls up top or the numbering. The Roman numerals were used for third person omniscient portions of text, alluding to what is to come or providing snippets of information helpful to the next chapter. The regular numbers were first person chapters.

This can be kind of confusing, especially with a lot of information in the Roman numeral chapters that haven’t been fully introduced. These chapters seem to get ahead of themselves and are easier to understand after you finish the first half of the novel.

I always love a challenge, so piecing the bits and pieces of information was fun for me. This book isn’t a super easy read. It takes intuition to read between the lines and figure out what magical deeds were happening.

Nevertheless, the plot kept me hooked and wanting to know what would come next. There weren’t any slow parts, something new always happening from disguising herself as a sister or using magic or meeting stonemasons.

Action and magic were not lacking, whether it was from magical weaving or demonic fight scenes.

The characters were well developed, Lo-Melkhiin‘s especially as we got to learn about his softer side. The characters aren’t as dynamic as in other fantasy novels, family still remaining an important theme throughout, but I definitely still saw them grow.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this novel. It was unique and a trailblazer among many other stories in the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, especially not those who are looking for an easy read. It takes time and thinking to unravel the plot and fully understand what happened.

I can’t wait to read the sequel, Spindle, which has an equally gorgeous cover & is sitting on my bookshelf. It’s an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, and I can’t wait to see what tale Johnston weaves this time!

compressed gifHave you read A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston? What did you think of it? Feel free to drop any questions, comments, concerns, etc. below!

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