A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

a-thousand-nightsBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Hyperion, 2015
  • Edition, First
  • Description: 325 pages ; 21 cm
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: Based on Arabian nights. Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, so when she is taken to the king’s dangerous court she believes death will soon follow, but night after night Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, leading her to unlocking years of fear that have tormented and silenced the kingdom, and soon she is dreaming of bigger, more terrible magic, power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to rule of a monster. Retrieved from Follet Titlewave (http://www.titlewave.com/search) under title of book.        
  • ISBN: 978-1-48472-847-5
  • Subjects:
    • Folk Tales – Fiction
    • Middle Eastern Legends – Fiction
    • Religion – Fiction
    • Family Relationships – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: The king had taken 300 of the most beautiful girls in the land to be his wives and 300 girls had died.  Now he came to our village, seeking the most beautiful, my beloved sister but it would be me he took, so that she might live.

Plot Summary:  This book is a retelling of the story of Scheherazade where a nameless girl sacrifices herself to save her sister.  A cruel king, Lo-Melkhiin began a practice of choosing a wife from among the various villages and clans of his land.  When he came to the heroine’s village he had already selected 300 girls to wed and none had survived the wedding night.  How they died was a mystery to the kingdom, but each was seen as a ‘smallgod’ whose death insured the safety of her family and village; at least for a time.  The protagonist tricked Lo-Melkhiin into taking her instead of her sister who most considered more beautiful, and against all odds, she did not die.  Instead she survived night after night, distracting him with her stories and her very nature.  There was something about her that intrigued him and within in her was some kind of power that called to his own.  The king was, in reality, some sort of supernatural creature that had possessed the body of a good man using him for evil while reveling in the pain that evil caused both the kingdom and the soul trapped inside.  The heroine used her time to find this out and work to free them all.

Critical Evaluation:  This is not a perfect book.  The idea is clever and unlike many reviewers, I didn’t have a problem with the language the writer used to convey the nature of the society the story is set in.  In fact, I thought as a whole, that this was a really good book.  Certainly, there are flaws, but the flaws are more a consequence, I believe, of the writer trying not to give too much away and to maintain the sense of magic that is the underlying theme of the book.  The characters, especially the female ones, are solid and compelling.  You get a sense of the strength that the heroine has and her capacity for courage.  The other characters with the exception of the villain are less well developed and more one dimensional.  But, the book pulls the reader in and compels them to stay to find out how if the heroine succeeds in her quest.  And that is where the book actually fails.

A review in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/dec/22/a-thousand-nights-e-k-johnston-review) sums it up well, “ . . . I now find myself hating the way things ended. I would have loved a better showdown – girl versus creature – and it sort of ruined the whole thing.”  The ending of the book was rushed and felt incomplete.  In the writer’s effort to maintain the sense of mystery she made the ending too abrupt and left the reader wondering just what actually happened.  And that is not a good thing.

Author’s Brief Bio: E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.

Her books range from contemporary fantasy (The Story of Owen, Prairie Fire), to fairy-tale re-imaginings (A Thousand Nights, Spindle), and from small town Ontario (Exit, Pursued By A Bear), to a galaxy far, far away (Star Wars: Ahsoka). She has no plans to rein anything in.

Genre Designation: YA Fantasy

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Middle Eastern History / Culture
  • Ancient History
  • Arabic Mythology

Book Talk Ideas:  Would you give your life to save your sister or brother?  Or a friend?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:

Reviews:

Why this book was selected. I have always loved the story of Scheherazade, not to mention the symphony and this reinterpretation intrigued me.

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