A Thousand Nights
Hitting Shelves: October 6, 2015
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.
The utter wealth of this book.
I am at a loss right now for the right words to string together – which is just as well, as I don’t trust myself right now not to spoil everything.
And that is a beautiful thing in itself. This is A Thousand Nights, after all: the timeless classic, the story of the girl who won back her life with carefully woven stories and well-placed cliffhangers. It might seem as though, after years of retelling and renditions, there’s nothing left to spoil.
But you haven’t read this particular story yet.
Here’s what I am allowing myself to tell you:
1. A Thousand Nights is gorgeous. I am not Middle Eastern, but I have shared a meal with Middle Eastern friends, and I could clearly picture the plates, the food, the meats and breads and the pinched morsels between oily fingers. I could smell the spices wafting off the pages, see the goat herds and the humble tents and the bright threads used in a bride’s wedding gown. The language is very carefully chosen and it paints a broad, vibrant world.
2. A Thousand Nights is not about the stories. It is about the woman who uses her wits, so brilliantly, to see the light of day. It is about the woman who forges alliances with those who are worried to let her into their hearts, because they are so aware of the fact that in the morning, she may be another forgotten name as their ruler sets out in quest of a new bride. It is about the woman who is wise, and determined – to set her world to rights, to be strong, and to see the next day with her own eyes.
3. A Thousand Nights is about the women. It is about the women who love devotedly, who sacrifice and lay siege and worship for the sake of each other. It is about sisters and sister-wives and mothers and daughters. It is about protecting young girls and learning at the knees of older women. If there is anything I will likely wax poetic about, beyond the language, it is the women of this world. It is the type of representation and love we should expect from every young adult novel, and exactly what we deserve.
4. A Thousand Nights is not only woven brilliantly - it is woven with respect. A world that is coded brown, and blatantly so, is full of characters who hold their agency firmly. They live, they marry, and they converse without a black cloud of potential stereotypes being unleashed over their heads. It’s unspoiled, because it’s done with care.
5. A Thousand Nights lingers even after you've turned the last page. For much of the reading experience, it may even seem like a quiet title. So much rests in the world-building and the relationships and little acts of magic that are steps forward to larger scenes and crucial defiance. And that is what firmly roots it into your mind. Every little moment is a marvel that leads to a grander denouement.
If you listen long enough to the whispers, you will hear the truth.
Until then, I will tell you this: the world is made safe by a woman.
E.K. Johnson has firmly settled herself into my list of favorite authors. I cannot wait to see what new stories she will spin, and I cannot wait for you to read this and be able to discuss it with me.
Full review (and gushing, and an inevitable discourse on why it's so important to write diversity right) to come.
I would be remiss to end this without thanking my lovely friend Julie, who, when she heard I hadn't been able to snag one on the first day of BEA, finished her own copy and gave it to me. Thank you so much, Julie!