A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

a thousand nights

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a gorgeously written reworking of the Shahrazad story from One Thousand and One Nights. It is written in a very straightforward and almost dispassionate manner, so it really reads like an older fairy tale or legend. I found it very compelling from the first moment.

The part of the original story I have always hated was the character of the King and how nobody ever questioned his right to kill countless women. I know he was the king and all, but how many people can you slaughter before a rebellion starts? Also, I never wanted Shahrazad to stayed married to the jerk king at the end. He should have been assassinated and someone less evil put in his place. My younger self had a very strong sense of justice and a happy ever after for a mass murdered was not included. Luckily this rewrite solves that problem!

Our protagonist lives as part of a desert tribe with her family (I can’t remember her ever being explicitly named which makes the story seem even more fairy-tale like). Her sister is graceful and clever and fair, so when the King Lo-Melkhiin rides up to their family to take a bride, she is sure that her sister will be taken away and murdered, like so many young women before her. She quickly dresses in her best to outshine her sister and is taken away to be the next bride. The sister promises to honour our heroine as she would another famous (usually deceased though) relative by praying and making shrines to her as a smallgod.

Here is the cool thing though: the King is actually possessed by a demon who has been draining the other brides of their life-force, killing them in the process. The King is still in his mind somewhere, but the demon has control of the body and demands a continuous supply of young girls to feast off of. The new Queen is able to hold her own, as more and more women in the desert come to worship and pray to her. She is gaining power that the demon cannot steal from her, and as she continues to wake up alive each morning it looks like she may be able to save all of her fellow countrywomen from the demon. Her most important and difficult job will be getting the demon out of the king.

This book has a really intimate feel because it gives lots of details about our protagonist’s day to day existence. Unlike other YA books that only give you the action, we sit with this girl as she weaves and sews with her sister and prays and works with her mother. It is very calming to read something written in this style. It is all the more important for getting to know the protagonist since narratively we do not spend a ton of time in her head.

The culture and world were a neat mix of realistic (weaving, sewing, animal husbandry) and a fantasy world with religious beliefs that you could still actually see a real world culture adhering too. I love it when authors create beliefs and cultures that are detailed and well-thought out enough that you could completely see them happening here.

This book has a bit of a girl-power vibe. It is the women who are being preyed on and it is the women who find the solution to the problem. It contains a very empowering message.

Overall, this was a lovingly written and interesting book. The writing style was unusual and sufficient attention had been paid to the details of the world and the characters. This is perfect for fans of the original story.

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