Monday, October 5, 2015

All Things Halloween Review - A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights

By: EK Johnston

Expected Publication: October 6th 2015 by Disney Hyperion

336 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retellings

Source: Publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!!)

( Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository )

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Goodreads description--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 really wasn’t sure what to expect from A Thousand Nights. It seems that Aladdin retellings and Arabian stories have hit a surge lately. And I really think that might go back to Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little. That was the first Mesopotamian/desert themed book that I can remember. While it got mixed reviews, I do think it was popular enough to spark this trend. I personally enjoyed it and A Thousand Nights was just similar enough in setting to give me the same vibe as Forbidden but quite different in story.

Do you guys know how many times I read a book, get finished with it, go to write my review, and think “what was that main girl’s name?” Well that happened to me in A Thousand Nights and the more I looked and looked to find her name I started to think myself crazy. But then I came across someone else’s review (simply browsing for her name) that says the main character doesn’t have a name. At least not one that the reader knows. Her name is never mentioned in the book. And by George once I read that, I slapped myself on the knee and said “She sure doesn’t.” Not once is her name mentioned. She is called sister, daughter, Lady-Bless, wife, and a couple of other names, but never once is she given a formal name. I didn’t even realize it. And you know, I kind of think that this is brilliant. Because here’s the thing, when we read don’t most of us put ourselves into the main character? Now I didn’t go about reading this book thinking that her name was Sandy just because mine is, but I love this idea of keeping her anonymous. I mean think about books where no real physical description is given to the character and yet when asked to describe the character often times people end up describing someone very similar to themselves? Brilliant, I tell you. (But rather difficult for me to write a coherent review without being able to tell you guys her name.)

Like the description says, Lo-Melkhiin is king and as such, he needs to have a wife. But somehow his previous three hundred wives have all died. Everyone knows that Lo-Melkhiin kills them or has them killed, but no one really knows the details. While most stories have all noble men trying to marry their best daughters off to the king, Lo-Melkhiin’s subjects didn’t want to “waste” their best daughters just to die. Yet he must have a bride. So a law was decreed that Lo-Melkhiin would hand-choose his wife from each village and not repeat a village until one girl from every village has been his wife. When he comes to the village of our main character, she just knows that he will choose her sister as his wife. But her sister is meant for so much more than that. And so she sacrifices herself to become Lo-Melkhiin’s newest wife. I found this a little confusing. The book states that Lo-Melkhiin no longer goes into each village and picks the “best” girl. He seems to pick at random. So I have no idea how she was so sure her sister would get chosen. But I won’t analyze that too much.

Our main character does get picked to be the new wife and her sister vows to mourn her and turn her into a god of sorts—creating an altar for her, offering up gifts and prayers on her behalf and to her. And it’s just because of that our main character survives the night. Supernatural elements come into play with both Lo-Melkhiin and his new wife, yet even though these elements were present throughout and central to the story, I didn’t feel like they overwhelmed or made the story un-relatable to those who might not enjoy these aspects.

I read A Thousand Nights pretty quickly (in 24 hours I think). I was so curious to see if our main character could cause Lo-Melkhiin to fall in love with her and thus change all of his monstrous ways. If she’d be killed like all of the previous wives before her? What’s the cause of all of the deaths of each wife? Is Lo-Melkhiin really a monster or is there something else behind all of these deaths? I needed to know these answers and the questions drove me to read further faster.

I will say that I was nearing very close to the end of the book without as many of the questions answered as I would have liked. And I was starting to wonder if I was going to be happy with the ending. Ultimately, I was okay with how things ended, but I think the ending could have been stronger. I don’t really want to go into the whys or hows because then we really get into spoiler territory.

Although our main character is part of what we would consider an unorthodox family, I loved the connection and love between all of the members—especially the sisters. While they didn’t seem to have the petty, sisterly fights that the Song sisters had, I was still reminded of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and PS I Still Love You for the strong ties between these sisters.

I also want to address that I really loved the language of this book. It wasn’t poetic in the way that Michelle Hodkin, Maggie Stiefvater, or Tahereh Mafi tend to write, but the wording and cadence felt so authentic to the character, the setting, etc. I did end up highlighting a good bit. Here are my favorite quotes:

-Whatever was coming, our father wanted my sister and me to see it, to know it, and to be safe from it when it came again. This was how I learned that he loved us.

-It was the sound of death and wet and green. It was the sound of cost and worth. But if I could find something like the hem of our father’s robe, if I could find something to hold on to, then it would be the sound of hope.

-“There is a fire in my sister,” I said to him, “and I did not want you to have it.”

-“My sister is no fool and she is not tender-hearted,” I said. “My sister fights for her home, and takes what risks she must. That is why I put myself before her today—why I would not let you have her. My sister burns, and she does not burn for you.”

-A wise man, it was said, followed his goats. A fool was led by his sheep. A master, though, picked his own way…

-“It is not fair to ask a price I cannot pay.”

-“I do not waste my fear”…

-You should not believe everything you hear. Good men fall to monsters every day. Clever men are tricked by their own pride or by pretty words.

When it was all over, A Thousand Nights was better than I was expecting it to be. It’s left me feeling like I might want to read more books in a similar setting. I’m glad that I read Forbidden when I did because it helped me get into the right mood and frame of mind for A Thousand Nights even though the books have nothing really in common as far as the stories go. A Thousand Nights had some aspects that were really spot on such as the writing style (for me) and how our main character was never given a formal name. Other parts didn’t blow me away, like the ending that felt a little too quick. In the end, I’m giving A Thousand Nights 4 Stars. Have you read A Thousand Nights? What did you think? Let me know!

This review is part of my All Things Halloween event--a month of paranormal, supernatural, mystery/thriller, etc reviews and books.

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