Published by Disney Hyperion on October 6, 2015
Genres: fairy tale, fantasy
Pages: 336 pages
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"A story threaded with shimmering vibrance and beauty, A Thousand Nights will weave its spell over readers' hearts and leave them captivated long after the final tale has been told." —Alexandra Bracken, New York Times best-selling author of The Darkest Minds series
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.
A Thousand Nights is the Arabian Nights retelling I have been waiting for. I know there have been a few to come out this year, but A Thousand Nights has been my favorite of them all. If I could imagine an Arabian Nights retelling that would make my heart sing, it’d be this book. Go read this book when it comes out. It’s awesome.
Probably you are already familiar with the story on which this novel is based. If not, let me give you a brief synopsis. There’s a king. He takes a new bride every day and kills her each night. One woman, Scheherazade, becomes his queen and delays her execution by telling a series of interlocking stories with cliffhangers for 1001 nights. What I liked about A Thousand Nights is that it takes this frame narrative but transforms it – the novel stays faithful to the spirit rather than the letter of its source material. So storytelling is a focus of the novel, but not in the way you’d think. And in a way that is so utterly wonderful, I can’t even. Ugh. Moving on, moving on.
So in this novel, our king, Lo-Melkhiin, is taking brides – a different one from each village – and killing them regularly. Our protagonist has a dearly beloved sister who is the most beautiful woman in the town, and she knows that once Lo-Melkhiin sees her sister, she’s doomed. So she plots to overshadow her sister and take her place and spoiler alert: she does! Lo-Melkhiin takes her as his bride and it’s off to the palace they go. Each night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her, and while she does tell him stories (defiant stories! about her sister, about her future life), she quickly senses that there’s something else going on with him. DUN DUN DUN. View Spoiler » And the reasoning behind Lo-Melkhiin’s murderous ways? I totally bought it. Man becomes possessed by evil spirit? I’m down. And it makes sense in the context of the novel. It’s clear from the beginning that we’re never seeing the true Lo-Melkhiin – just a Lo-Melkhiin who’s being puppeted by an evil spirit. And it works for me because she doesn’t find him, like, sexy and enigmatic and in PAIN despite the fact that he’s a murdering murderer who murdered all his wives. She hates him; she wants to protect her sister at all costs, and also other future wives, if she can. « Hide Spoiler The novel is a battle between Lo-Melkhiin and our protagonist – she’s trying to save her sister’s life if she can – but also stages a conflict between different ways of knowing the world around you. (If anything, I wanted more on this – the novel implies that it’s through a djinn’s influence that intellectual developments – particularly scientific ones – take place, and that these are different from the path to wisdom that our protagonist espouses. Super interesting, right? I wanted more.)
So here’s what I liked most about this book. The writing is beyond gorgeous, but the story itself is great. There are sinister magics! (And … maybe less sinister magics.) And not only does it not sugarcoat the horror of the Arabian Nights frame story, but it focuses on female agency in a way that felt meaningful and deeply moving to me. It also focuses on the importance of female community; once she becomes queen, our protagonist spends a lot of time with the women who work in the palace, and this becomes an important source of support for her. (One of my favorite moments in the book is View Spoiler » when the spirit that’s possessing Lo-Melkhiin realizes that he’s been overlooking women, foolishly, and that there is this whole untapped source of power available to him. And our protagonist, who is capable of doing her own magics – spoiler! – figures out how to protect them from him. « Hide Spoiler.) Oh, and the most significant relationship in the book takes place between two sisters, so that was another aspect of the book that made me love it even more. Yesssss.
I’m worried that I’ll be in the minority here, but I also deeply appreciated that this book didn’t try to sell me a romance between the king, Lo-Melkhiin, and our protagonist. Like I’ve said in the past, this is a hard sell for me when you’re dealing with a serial murderer. It often doesn’t work for me, though your mileage may vary. I can imagine a novel in which this might work, but eh, you’re gonna need to do some fancy footwork to convince me that a relationship in which one person holds a crazy amount of power and the other person might be killed on a whim is a romance. So, the bright side here? It’s not a romance! Because this often doesn’t work for me, I was really glad that this book didn’t go there. I’m more than happy with our primary emotional relationship being between two sisters. (Especially because it is so beautifully drawn.) Oh, oh, oh! and best of all, it also didn’t describe a fantasy version of the Middle East that felt weird or appropriative to me. I loved it. I LOVED THIS BOOK.
Last but not least, I love the way that this novel rethinks the concept of storytelling that saves our protagonist’s life. What the novel brought home to me is the power that stories have to reshape the world around us. It’s stories that spread from village to village about our protagonist’s heroism that lend her the magic she possesses in the novel. It’s stories that literally, in this book, create the world anew for our protagonist. And finally, the last story she tells totally changes the world as she knows it.
I can’t say enough wonderful things about A Thousand Nights. You really, really need to pick this one up.
Thanks to Disney-Hyperion, we also have a giveaway to go along with this post! One winner will receive the “Pretty Things in a Dangerous Place” prizepack, which includes a copy of A Thousand Nights and a branded nail polish set & tea bag dispenser. The giveaway is open to US addresses only and ends Wednesday, October 14.
To enter, just leave a comment on this post telling us either why you’re excited about A Thousand Nights or what work based on One Thousand and One Nights is your favorite. (Disney’s Aladdin? The Wrath and the Dawn? The 1924 film The Thief of Baghdad? Ok, so that’s the one you’d choose if you were my dad.)
If you want to learn more about A Thousand Nights, you can grab more information on the novel and a sneak-peek at the first four chapters here.
All prizes and review copies provided by Disney-Hyperion.
So, who’s excited about A Thousand Nights? It’s one of the few books that has really broken through my current reading slump, and I couldn’t be more excited for you all to read it! (Read it! Read it so we can talk about it!)