A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. ★★★1/2
There’s an obvious One Thousand and One Nights influence to E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights. But while A Thousand Nights may take its inspiration from the frame story, it is more of an original story than a retelling.
Lo-Melkhiin has gone through many different wives. Many die after a single night, some live for a brief span of days before finally dying as well. When he arrives at the village of the story’s unnamed heroine, she knows her sister will be the girl chosen. To save her sister, she chooses to sacrifice herself. When she reaches the palace, she begins to have visions and to realize that she might have a way to save herself and all the girls who would come after her.
“Always, it seemed, men would overlook unpleasant things for the sake of those that went well. The statues’ eyes for the melodious sounds of the fountain. The deaths of their daughters for the bounty of their trade.
There was great beauty in this qasr, but there was also great ugliness and fear. I would not be like those men who turned their eyes from one to see the other. I would remember what those things cost.”
While mostly an original story, A Thousand Nights has the feel of a fairy tale retelling. It’s slower paced and reflective. It’s magical, but it’s a quiet sort of magic. The lack of names adds an intriguing element to it, which I think helps with the fairy tale feel. I think it may also be part of the book’s commentary on how women are often overlooked or left nameless, both in every day life and in the narrative of history.
The most admirable element of A Thousand Names is its heroine, who’s clever, brave and kind. Her relationship with her sister is one of the most central to the novel. This is one of the rare YA books without much romance, for which I was thankful.
I’d recommend A Thousand Names for anyone in search of a fairy tale starring a worthy heroine.