A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I finished this book a couple of days ago but I’ve been feeling a bit conflicted about it and have been struggling to find the right words to describe it. The ones that immediately jump to mind are unique, magical, beautiful, captivating, weird, confusing and, I’m really sorry to say this, kind of boring.
I really, really wanted to like this book. If you’re a regular follower of my reviews you will have noticed that I’m a big fan of books that re-tell the classics, particularly if they add a bit of a unique twist. I was so excited when I saw this book. The cover is stunning and it’s based on one of my favourite stories “A Thousand and One Nights”. I have to admit however I found it a bit of a disappointment. Maybe my hopes were too high but I get the feeling that this is one of those books that people will either love or hate.
This retelling starts in a similar way to the original as our main character marries a king, Lo-Melkiin, notorious for killing his wives. By the time he reaches her village in search of a wife he has killed over 300 women so she knows there is little hope of surviving but she is willing to give her life to protect her sister. When she gets to the palace no one will meet her eye or speak with her as they are all sure of her fate. While servants pamper, bathe and dress her she is left to her own thoughts and company until evening comes and the king arrives. Miraculously she survives first one night and then another and another.
Meanwhile back at her home her sister has already begun to mourn her. She sets up a shrine in her honour making her a “smallgod”. As word of her bravery and her continuing survival starts to spread from village to village across the kingdom, more and more people begin to worship her. Within the palace things also begin to change, the members of the court begin to talk with her and treat her as a queen. Our heroine also begins having visions and develops powers which allow her to manifest the objects she dreams of. As her power grows, belief starts to spread that she could be the one to defeat the monster within the king and save the kingdom.
Despite my rather low rating there were quite a few things I loved about this book. I loved it’s originality both in terms of plot and writing style. While it is based on a classic tale it takes it in a very new and different direction which I really liked. The writing itself is also very different and unique. There is a lot of flowing narrative, vivid descriptions of dreams and visions as well as a very different world and way of life. I can appreciate the beauty in the writing and I think for this reason alone a lot of people will love this story.
Personally however, I felt it was short on dialogue and emotion. There is very little action within the first three quarters of the book. A girl is wed to a king and goes to stay in a palace where she eats, bathes, dresses, spins or weaves, and dreams. Once a night she is visited by the king who asks her a couple of questions, touches her in some way (holds her hand, grips her arm) and then leaves and she sleeps. There are none of the stories from the original work like Aladdin or Alibabah, so if you are expecting them you will be very disappointed.
There are in fact very few stories at all. Those that do appear are memories from her home and stories of her ancestors and smallgods. They are not told but remembered and as a result there is no questioning or interruptions, no dialogue and mostly serve to provide more substance to her background. Generally I found them difficult to focus on and tended to skim through to try and get to some action. There are a couple of interesting stories, most notably one with a talking camel, but a lot were stories about things she did with her sister or mother such as making a dress or looking after a flock of sheep. Maybe I missed something or didn’t look deep enough to get to the meaning. Possibly others will get more from them.
The other thing I found frustrating is that there are very few characters within the story who have names. The name of the main character is never revealed. She is referred to as “daughter”, “sister” and “lady bless” but never by a name. Her family are referred to by their relationship to her for example, “sister”, “mother”, “my sister’s mother”, and even my “father’s father’s father”. I found this a little confusing at times and had to think through the relationships to work out who people were. I can understand why the author decided to do this however, I found it difficult to connect with the characters. I didn’t feel any of the emotion I should have felt and this, combined with a lack of dialogue, meant that overall the whole story left me cold.
I will recommend that this book be read rather than avoided. While I didn’t like it I have to admit it is very different and I think a lot of people will love it.
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It will be released at the start of October.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston”
The lack of names drove me crazy and I thought it was pretentious. I agreed that the plot was way too slow for most of the book. I appreciated the focus on friendship and family and female relationships, but the rest of it was just so boring!! Great review.
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Thanks. I found it to be one of those books that you appreciate but don’t really enjoy. The lack of names definitely made writing a review a challenge so glad you liked it.