I was provided an arc by Disney Hyperion through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Even if I had known more about the plot, the story would still have surprised me, if only for the way it is told. Only occasionally, does Johnston use names (there are three named characters that I can think of, but they’re really more nicknames) – a surprising feature which I hadn’t initially noticed (and it did have me think about the purpose of names for a while), but it is never an issue: it is evident who each character is.
There’s a dual-narrative, but rather than the usual 50/50 split, it seemed to be more 20/80. There’s a reason for this split though: our main character is one of them, and narrates most chapters, but who the other narrator is remains a mystery for the majority of the novel (and this narrator has fewer chapters). Though you get given a vague idea, even at the end of the novel, you still don’t really know who this narrator is.
These techniques aside, Johnston writes amazing prose in A Thousand Nights. I feel like each word has been measured and carefully chosen before it was put into the book, which is a feeling I don’t get very often. Other than that, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this story is told in a very unique manner.
One thing Johnston certainly succeeds in is maintaining an air of mystery: some things are carefully revealed or explained in a very subtle manner, whilst others remain mysterious (like one of the narrators). Another thing I liked about A Thousand Nights is how, despite having only briefly glimpsed our main character’s family life before she is taken by Lo-Melkhiin, you get a very strong feeling of her familial relationships and what sort of communities she’s lived in. What goes hand in hand with this, I think, is the different terms used, like ‘wadi’ and ‘dishdashah’, which are never really explained and may be foreign, yet it is clear what each of those things is through the manner in which they are integrated into the story and text. There’s no over-explaining (like there might have been in that sentence of mine…).
Overall, I really enjoyed this story – it was rather a surprising novel to me. The only reason I’m not giving it 5/5 stars on Goodreads is because I’m simply not head over heels in love with it: I wouldn’t want to shout about this book from the rooftops. However, I would recommend if someone were to ask. So go ahead and give it a try for yourself!
A Thousand Nights was released in the USA by Disney Hyperion on October 3rd and will be published by Pan Macmillan in the UK on October 22nd.
Let me know what you thought of this book in the comments!
PS. You’ll notice that in ‘tags’ I’ve tagged this novel as ‘diverse fiction’. I’ve chosen to do this because, from what I understand, each character is a POC and the entire story plays out in a non-western setting.