A million miles away in a time long ago, we journey to a world our own and not our own. A place where stories become real.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Synopsis From The Book
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.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I got Spindle from a used bookstore, what feels like forever ago (May). I had intended to read it. Then discovered it was a sequel of sorts. It could stand on its own, but it was a sequel. The first could stand on its own too. I didn’t have to read both.
In practice, that is never how it is for me. The moment I knew the world was introduced in another, I simply didn’t want to read the other. Thus when it came for Newts… I said yes. This book is book one. This book fits in Astronomy. I’m excited for it, for this anticipation has only been growing since I first got Spindle. Here we go!
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Immediately after reading this I was confused, not because the plot was confusing, or because of anything in that regard but because I have never read 1,001 Nights. I never have (I need to) and because of that I did not understand. Thus I had to do some research and upon understanding, I am able to give my full review.
Our Main Character (Hereby MC) knows that the king, Lo-Melkhiin, is coming for their village. He has had 300 wives and all have died, and she knows her village is next to give a daughter to his plight. In order to save her sister, MC creates a plan to make him pick her (MC). Lo-Melkhiin takes MC to his home and she adapts to the world there, learning that he has a strange power to take life and to give power. This power he takes from the woman he kills. Lo-Melkhiin was captured and controlled by a demon, who uses his body to do this — meaning that the king who has murdered 300 girl was a demon not the real king. our MC captivates the demon in the king to the point where he wants to control her.
All the while she is learning of the strange power within her that has grown in her time with him. It is the power of faith by those she left, and those who have learned her story. She is able to create things from nothing.
After three months, her father comes to tell her that her sister is to be married. The King allows for MC to go, and as she does she sees that the world has taken the rich and expensive color of purple (the color of her wedding dress) as their mantra for safety, and to worship her. For she is the first girl to last more than 30 days, she is the only one to get to three months. She is the one who may save them yet. Upon arriving at her sister’s wedding, MC realizes that the people of her country want to go to war with her king. The King comes, only with the demon kin at his side and creates death. MC creates six new animals to the world, and battles him, winning the day. With the last bit of her power she creates something to new, five more words, that will change the king to the man he once would have been.
Lo-Melkhiin is a good man.
When she wakes, she has lost her power and he has become good once more — the demon cast out. She returns with him to his home, and her story is passed down as the woman who saved the world.
What I Liked:
Our Main Character; She was clever and wise. She was also naive and in that is where her wisdom came. She did not fear the king because him killing her was a fact of life. What is there to fear in life? It is both naive but wise, and in some ways I’m not sure which one it was.
Lack of Names; This was probably my favorite part of the book. There is only one named character. The other characters are named after attributes or connections: sister, mother, sister’s mother, father, brother. There are no names and while reading it, it can be jarring at first, I feel that this lays well into the concept that this is a tale. There are no names because it is anyone. This is not a story tied to one people at one time in one place.
Magic; The magic in this is very interesting. Its a sort of connection, a flame that can be passed between people, and brought into the world. When comparing this to what I know of the basis story, I feel that it is synonymous with words. This magic is light, airy, malleable, and limitless just like words are. You don’t get many rules for it or how it works, like words, and I feel that it fits that very well.
Themes; I find two very important parts in this book. The first is the feminist perspective, and the unwillingness to bend. It speaks on how the woman are not their own and are objects of control, not cared for in many ways, but it is a woman that saves the world. I find this lovely.
The second is the connection of stories. The magic, the lack, of names and the final line say this. It is our words and the stories we tell that change the world. Who you are, and what you care for tend to be the same. The powerful will be named, and with gifts you can not control. They will bestow their gifts upon others, and keep them by their side, but it is the no ones that can make a difference and change the world. The use of language and words is heightened in the last line of the book. It thoroughly reconnects to the original story, where the girl tells the king stories but never completes them. Stories and the way we tell them change over time. True origins and the true facts are lost, but the message will always remain. Words are stronger than fear. For without words, and without stories, we are doomed to forget.
Writing style; The writing style of this book is so full of imagery that its hard not to take a moment to fascinate about the world it is describing. I really like her writing style.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Probably should have read the origin of this retelling first, but it wasn’t necessary.
Time Taken To Read
“The flood will come, fast and without warning, because the ground is not accustomed to it. And therefore it is not worth fearing.” – MC, pg 34 (she is explaining why she does not fear Lo-Melkhiin. Essentially saying what will come will come, and it always surely will but to live in that fear is not worth it, for the fear will not stop it from coming.)
‘ Al-ammiyyah, the common tongue, had saved the king.’ – Final line of the book, and the line that had me truly analyzing the theme of stories and language in this book.