In which I express love for A Thousand Nights, by E.K. Johnston

I am late to the party on this one...A Thousand Nights, by E.K. Johnston came out in October, and I feel that many of you all whose blogs I read have already read it and liked it, although I didn't actually read qua read any reviews, because of not wanting any spoilers (which was probably good, because it's very hard to write about this one without spoilers).

So this is a re-imagining of the story of the Arabian Nights, and it pleased me awfully much indeed.

Once there was a shinning young king, Lo-Melchiin, who rode out into the desert.  The thing that rode home again, in that same body, was a monster.  A monster who drew power from the deaths of young women, marrying and murdering wife after wife.  But the newest queen is not like the others.  She stepped forward to be chosen, to save her beloved sister.  And she is not killed.

There in the stone walls of the city she tells stories, not a narrative to entertain her monster husband, but a weaving-together of words and memories as she fills her empty time of waiting with the woman's work of spinning.  And in the desert, her sister is telling a story too, as fiercely and determindly as she can, spinning the tale of a living legend that makes of her sister a smallgod of their people.  And as the prayers to the smallgod queen swell and spread from woman to woman, the force of the telling becomes a force the queen can use to make her own words powerful enough to  defeat the demon possessing Lo-Melchiin.

So basically it's a story of telling and prayer becoming magic, and the words and power and creative work of women, mostly unseen and overlooked by men (including the demon king) are what brings about victory over evil.  It's not a romance; never did the young queen desire the king, which would have been icky because she was clearly aware that he was a viper in human form.  She did believe, though, what the king's mother said, that he had been a good man before, and so we are left with a hopeful future for the two of them.

I just went to Amazon to snag the link, and was curious to see why some people had given this book, which I loved, only two stars.   One problem some people had was that the main character and her family members were not named.  This did not bother me, because I did not realize it until close to the end of the book, when I was starting to think about how I would write about it.  The characters get their main strength and purpose from their relationships to each other; that is the central story of their lives.  So I did not mind the queen's sister just being her sister, and not named, and since I was incrediby absorbed in being right there with the main character it never occurred to me that I didn't know what she was called.  And I think it's kind of fitting that she should have no name that the reader of her story knows, because she is a locus of the being of so many women....

And I just want to say that

--I was glad that there was a place in her story where we could be sure that her father and brothers loved her too, because though sisters are the best, they aren't of course the be all and end all....

--I am not sure why this is categorized as  YA; it didn't feel YA-ish, perhaps because the romance bit didn't happen, although romance shouldn't be a pre-requisite for YA fantasy....I think that people who enjoyed Uprooted by Naomi Novik might like this one too, and that one was marketed for adults, despite having a romance and a similarily  young heroine.....

--It's a diverse read, in that the people of this desert realm are brown skinned, and Johnston sets her story, as is so often the case in Arabian Nights retellings, in an Arabian-esque place and culture.

Final answer--I really really liked this one.  Possibly because I really like books in which the Telling of things matters lots, and possibly because I really like books in which textiles and magic get mixed.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVED this book. Like you it is because books where telling and words have power are my favorite sort. I also really appreciated how much power was shown in the women's craft that was so underestimated. And all the relationships including the fact that romance was absent. I think this marketed all wrong which is why it has gotten so much push back. DH really wanted to sell it as a romance and I can't figure out what they were trying to do there.


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