A Thousand Nights (A Thousand Nights, #1) by E.K. Johnston
Published by Disney-Hyperion on October 6, 2015
Genres: young adult, fantasy, mythology, retellings
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I started this book expecting a dynamic 1,001 Nights retelling. I hoped it would be a clever novel about identity and sacrifice and family.
It was definitely about sacrifice and identity and family. But my final impression falls short of what I expected.
Let me elaborate by saying that this has the potential to be a very powerful, impactful read. And it touched on almost all the right notes.
We get glimpses of our main character’s sister and her other family members, and we see our main character as a headstrong, clever young woman who loves her family and is driven to protect it from the wrath of a demon king. Also, another interesting thing to note about the characters: None of them have a name except the demon king, Lo-Melkhiin. This is particularly noticeable among the women, and it’s a very interesting commentary on how even the seemingly least significant people (the “nameless,” if you will) can, in fact make the biggest differences.
I also loved our main character’s interactions with her sister. I saw strong parallels between their relationship, and my relationship with my own sister: they are each other’s best friend, and they love each other fiercely. In that regard, I could absolutely understand the main character’s willingness to sacrifice herself as a bride to spare her sister; I would do the exact same thing if it spared mine from certain death. This was a great aspect of the book, and I wish we could see more sibling relationships like this one in books. It was very well-done.
Now, to where this book let me down: plot. Judging by the premise, this book sounds like it’ll be a tense novel, where our main character goes to Lo-Melkhiin’s qasr, explores it, and discovers secrets about herself and her husband that might enable her to save him and other girls from a murderous king’s tyrannical rule. Only, once our main character gets to the qasr, not much happens. Lo-Melkhiin is not a major character in this book, and, while I understand the decision to put more emphasis on the strength of our main character and her family than her relationship with her husband, Lo-Melkhiin’s potential as a character was never fully realized for me. He fell a little flat, and as a result, for the majority of the novel, I didn’t feel the stakes were high enough for me to care about what was happening.
Another disappointing thing for me was the lack of action once our main character arrives at the qasr. Very little happened except for our main character practicing her powers, trying to find out more about Lo-Melkhiin’s condition, and spinning with the other weavers. I’m fine with plots of the slower variety, where conflict simmers instead of bubbles, but this pace makes the climax and all the action near the end of the book feel a bit overwhelming and a bit too late, which, in turn, made things feel anti-climactic. The conflict was resolved too quickly and neatly for my taste, and, for me the overall impact of the story took a hit.
This novel has a lot to offer: rich world-building, beautiful, lush prose, some wonderful messages about family and what power truly is, and a great sibling relationship—all delivered in a quiet and subtle manner. It’s an effective novel. It just felt uneven to me.