A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

September 23, 2015 2015, 4.5 star books, fantasy, Layla 69 ★★★★½

A Thousand Nights: Review + GiveawayA Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Published by Disney Hyperion on October 6, 2015
Genres: fairy tale, fantasy
Pages: 336 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars
"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 » 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 ».) 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.

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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.)

ThousandPrize

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.

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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!)

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69 Responses to “A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway”

  1. S Is

    Ohh!! I’m excited for this novel! I love story retellings and am eager to see how this one is told! Love me Some Aladdin lol

  2. Hanna

    I’m Arabic, and my parents have used to read me Tale of 1001 Nights as a bedtime story. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this book, and am super excited to read it!

  3. Sarah S

    Code Name Verity is probably my favorite adaptation of this story, if you could call it that. It’s definitely related to and inspired by this story, but not a direct adaptation.

  4. Liz

    I am such a huge fan of the 1001 Nights that I cannot wait to read my first re-telling of it.

  5. Lanie

    I think my favorite story based on the original would be Disney’s Alladin. It’s an obvious one, but I grew up loving that movie!

  6. Cali W.

    Thanks for the giveaway! I love the synopsis of this story. I feel like I have heard an old fable just like this story, or an old Arabian tale of a girl that had to tell a prince a story every night or she would lose her life; I think the story was called The Storytellers Daughter. I would love to read this one too.
    caliwillette(at)gmail(dot)com

  7. KayCee K.

    It kinda sounds like it’s like Aladdin but backwards, the lead guy is rich while the girl isn’t. I love the the color, and how this book kinda feels a bit darker than more Disney thing. I’m looking forward to learning about these characters and hoping for a strong plot. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, it made me want to read it even more! Happy Reading!
    KayCee K. recently posted…Top 10 I mean 11 Books On My Fall TBR

  8. Carolsue

    Some of the comments in the reviews make it sound like something I’d really enjoy reading. For instance:
    A Thousand Nights is a Middle Eastern inspired fantasy
    How one thirsts for power, and the other just wanted to protect her sister from death
    Family is one of the driving forces behind the development

  9. Carina Olsen

    Stunning review Layla :D I’m so glad you enjoyed this book. <3 So far I have only seen negative reviews for it, lol. So I don't think it is a book for me. But ohh. You have made me more curious about it :D It do look really pretty. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it sweet girl. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…In My Mailbox #204

  10. Grace

    The Wrath and The Dawn would have to be my favourite retelling of A Thousand And One Nights. Granted, it’s the only one that I’ve read as of yet, but it sets the bar high!

  11. Nikki

    I really do love the original of this story. And there have been a lot of awesome adaptions but I can’t even tell you how many good things I’ve heard about this!

  12. Alexa S.

    I liked how clever this take on the Arabian Nights tale was! I definitely like that she managed to take the essence of the original and turn it into something that was pretty much entirely her own. Plus, the relationships were a lot more interesting to read about in this one! Glad to hear you enjoyed it.
    Alexa S. recently posted…A Letter for William Shakespeare (+ Giveaway)

    • Layla

      I know! It was a really wonderful adaptation, I thought. My favorite kind of adaptation is the one that does something interesting with its source material (where it’s faithful to the original text in spirit even if what’s produced is totaaaally different.) Anyway. This did that and I loved it. Anddddd as you know, I vastly preferred the relationships in this book! :D I’m glad you enjoyed it too.
      Layla recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday (13): Top Ten Author Duos You’d LOVE To See Write A Book Together

  13. Jacqui

    I’m excited for it because I love classic stories,and Arabian Nights is almost as classic as you can get. I love how so many stories are getting rewritten into new versions like Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell and Kill Me Softely by Sarah Cross. Since it also has sisters in it I’m doubly excited as I’m really close with mine. My favorite Arabian Nights version to date is The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey; however, that might change with this coming out soon.

    • Layla

      Hmm, I haven’t read The Storyteller’s Daughter. I’ll look it up! I’d never heard of it before. But I do really like retellings in general and am pretty interested in retellings of the Arabian Nights specifically. I did read Cinder tho – I’m still trying to decide if I should move on and read other books in the series, because while I liked Cinder okay it wasn’t life-changing for me or anything.
      Layla recently posted…An Inheritance of Ashes

  14. Andrea G

    I love retellings, thats why I’m excited to read this book. The Thief of Baghdad 1924, is that the one with Douglas Fairbanks? Pretty good silent movie.

    • Layla

      Haha, yes. There’s that one and there’s also a 1940 remake. I think the one my dad prefers is the 1940 one! (He actually accidentally taped over a recording of my sister’s first steps in order to record The Thief of Baghdad. Whoops.) Anyway. If you like retellings, I hope you’ll like this book!
      Layla recently posted…An Inheritance of Ashes

    • Layla

      Yesssssss, same. I like stories about sisters! Or close female friends. Pretty much anything that focuses on close relationships between women. That’s my personal preference and this book definitely delivers there – its focus is on the sisters’ relationship (although it’s also possible that I think it’s prominent in the book because it’s something that I care about).
      Layla recently posted…An Inheritance of Ashes

  15. Erin Ellis

    I am excited to read this book because I always love retellings. The entire premise sounds like something I would love. Thank you for the wonderful giveaway.
    Erin
    ErinLoves2Run at gmail dot com

  16. Undertowsoul

    Honestly, I love Aladdin but, after reading this review, I’m excited to read this book for the new take on story telling. Being a librarian, I read anything and everything and something unique is always welcome!

    • Layla

      It’s so good! I mean, Aladdin is its own thing and is not very much like this at all (despite being a perfectly good retelling to like – it was definitely one of my top Disney movies as a kid). :) I really like the way this retelling thinks about storytelling though? So if that’s one of the things you’re looking for, I don’t think this will disappoint.
      Layla recently posted…An Inheritance of Ashes

  17. Melissa

    I love retellings and this looks very promising. I actually hadn’t come across it, so I’m so happy you read it and liked it. And reviewed it, of course :) I’m really looking forward to reading it.

    • Layla

      Eeee! Yeah, this is one of … at least three retellings of The Thousand and One Nights that’s out this year (I mean, including A Whole New World as a retelling). This has absolutely been my favorite so far, and is absolutely going to make my favorites list at the end of the year, I think. I don’t know. I felt like I just really liked what the book was trying to accomplish? And stylistically it worked best for me.

      I hope you like it when you read it!
      Layla recently posted…An Inheritance of Ashes

  18. J. Oh

    Yay! I was really excited for THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, so I was disappointed that you didn’t like it–but I’m glad you liked this one a lot, and I suspect I will, too. I just haven’t seen that many retellings of A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS until this year, so I’m intrigued by the concept as well as the potential awesome world building–and because I do think it’s a tricky one to do a good retelling of. I agree with you that serial murderers are not good love interest material, and even though I like a dash of romance in my books, I’m glad they didn’t go there here, either.

    • Layla

      Yeah, I know I was one of the black sheep for THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, which was a huge bummer. I wish I could have loved that as much as everyone else did! On the bright side though, I did love this one tremendously, and I’ll be interested in hearing what people who loved WRATH think of it. (Not that it isn’t entirely possible to love and appreciate them both, I just wonder how folks’ll feel.)

      I mean, for this year, so there’s these two, and then there’s also the retelling in A WHOLE NEW WORLD (which I haven’t read)! I loved the world-building here + absence of serial murderers as a love interest. :) I also like a good romance but can be pretty picky with what works for me, alas.
      Layla recently posted…An Inheritance of Ashes

  19. Lia

    I’ve read the Wrath and the Dawn … and loved it! But not because of the romance, but because of Shazi! I was kind of disappointed when she went all goo goo eyes for Khalid, but ok. Well that’s why I’m excited for this one – no lovey doveyness for mass murderers (even if they have very good reasons.) A “YES YES” for a story centered on sisterly love (Thank you Frozen). I really hope Sharzarde is as great a character as Shazi. The part where she bossed all the servants around with the excuse “I’m technically queen!” made me love her soooooooo much.

    • Layla

      I think that was one of the reasons I liked this book so much? Like you, I also really liked Shazi in The Wrath and the Dawn but I was less thrilled with the romance aspect. (For me, it’s a hard sell, and I would have been happier to see her single and trying to figure out how to survive / avenge her best friend’s death.) So, yeah, you should at least give this a read to see if it works for you any better – the novel holds open the possibility of romance, but only after the king is no longer possessed by an evil spirit, you know? It’s definitely not lovey-dovey at all.

      And yeahhhh, I KNOW. That’s one of the things I loved about Frozen too.
      Layla recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: A Girl of the Limberlost

  20. Aly

    I love the story of Scheherazade but personally was not a fan of The Wrath and the Dawn so I’m very excited to hear about this other option! My favorite adaptation of the original story is the ballet Scheherazade (surprisingly someone else also mentioned it!), particularly the amaaaazing music by Rimsky-Korsakov. Give it a listen – it’s enchanting.

    • Layla

      I didn’t like The Wrath and the Dawn at all so you can come be a black sheep over in my corner of the pen. Baa, baa. I did however really enjoy this book – it was much more in line with what I imagined a retelling (however loose) of The Thousand and One Nights might be like.

      And yesss, I have heard that ballet before! I gave it a listen and found it to be super familiar and then I remembered doing a school project on it way back in the day. So that’s where I’ve heard it before. :-D But you’re right, it’s absolutely lovely.
      Layla recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: A Girl of the Limberlost

  21. Emma A

    I have loved the retelling trend and am so excited to see this trend continue. I am really excited to read a middle eastern spin on this trend, especially since it has tones of Aladdin, one of my favorite Disney movies.

    • Layla

      I’m a big fan of retellings as well. (I like anything that plays with or adapts source material, which is why I love fanfiction, too.) And, like you, I’m pretty excited that there have been a handful of books this year that have been set in the Middle East (or at least a fantasy version of the Middle East).
      Layla recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: A Girl of the Limberlost

  22. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, another Arabian Nights re-telling, so I wasn’t sure if this would work for me but now I’m really re-thinking it. I’m so glad you enjoyed this so much and that the relationships were so poignant. Gorgeous review–I’ll definitely be adding this to my TBR! :)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Just Another…Book Crush (#19): The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (Guest Post & Giveaway!)

    • Layla

      You should definitely add this to your TBR – I think it’s worth reading? I didn’t like The Wrath and the Dawn, though, so I’m not sure what this reading experience will be like for fans of that book. (I suspect since they’re two very, very different books that it’s possibly to love them both, but we’ll see!) The relationships are really beautifully drawn – her relationship with her sister is basically my favorite thing ever.
      Layla recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: A Girl of the Limberlost

  23. Kaitlyn A.

    If this book is as good as The Wrath and the Dawn, it will be amazing! The Wrath and the Dawn was easily one of my favorite books this year! I can’t wait to read this adaption!

    • Layla

      I wasn’t a huge fan of The Wrath and the Dawn and I loooooooved this, so I don’t know how readers who loved TWatD will respond to A Thousand Nights. I’m super curious about how people are going to feel about it. Good things, I hope! It’s very different from TWaTD – I’m glad you loved that book so much, though! (I think you are not alone in that, as it seems many people did!) :)
      Layla recently posted…It’s A Wonderful Death: Review

  24. beth

    My favorite work based on a thousand and one nights is the ballet Sherazade which covers three tales.

    • Layla

      I’ll be really interested in hearing what folks who loved The Wrath and the Dawn think of this one – they’re working from the same source material but are nevertheless totally different books. I’m curious to hear how people will respond to this one.

      And yay for Aladdin. My little sister wants to go see the Broadway show some time in the next few months. :-D
      Layla recently posted…It’s A Wonderful Death: Review

  25. Tammy V.

    I am excited about it because sometimes I get in a genre rut. I like something that takes my mind and makes me thing about the story. Makes me picture a different background than the books I typically read.

    • Layla

      I have been in the BIGGEST reading rut lately. I don’t even know why – there are lots of things that I want to read, in theory, I’m just having a difficult time actually settling down to the reading part. I did think this novel was super engaging and wholly absorbing, so if you’re looking for something that makes you think / takes your mind off of stuff, I’d totally recommend it. I loved it. :-D
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

    • Layla

      Yeah, I mean, I felt super whelmed by The Wrath and the Dawn so I have no idea what this reading experience will be like for folks who loved that one, you know? Since they’re two very different kinds of stories, even though they’re loosely based on the same source material. I think it’s certainly possible to love both! (I hope it is, at least.)

      The absence of a romance really worked for me here. I didn’t want our protagonist to develop tender feelings for a man who’s doing his best to murder her (and keeps dropping hints that he may or may not go murder her sister someday). So, it works that there isn’t one, although I do think the novel’s end leaves the *possibility* of a future romance between the characters open. You know, once the king is no longer demonically possessed. I’ll be curious to hear what other people have to say about this one, tho.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

  26. Megan

    Very excited about this one now! The cover is simply gorgeous and you convinced me to give it a try because it’s not a romance…the females get a voice and some power and I love that. :)

    • Layla

      Isn’t the cover beautiful? I hadn’t really looked at it closely until a few days ago (I can be super inattentive when it comes to visual stuff) and it’s so pretttttty.

      Yeah, I really loved that it isn’t a romance. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good romance – I do, they’re at least half of what I read! – but I also want stories about teen girls who are doing lots of other things, too. And in this particular book, a romance would have felt sketchy and weird to me (tho YMMV!) because dude is trying to kill her and is possessed by an evil spirit. For me, at least, it’s not exactly fertile ground for romance.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

  27. Jessica Cooley Meyer

    I am so excited for this one! As a kid I read the original and ended up loving it so much I call my stepdad Ba i stead of his name -it’s what everyone calls him now. I can’t wait to read this.

    • Layla

      Yay! I’m excited for it to come out. I want everyone to read it. And aww, that’s such a sweet story. I don’t think I read The Thousand and One Nights as a kid – I think I remember some sort of abridged version that played down the murdering and focused on, like, a handful of stories. It wasn’t until grad school that I read it in its entirety, I think.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

    • Layla

      Haha, sorry, Pili!!

      (Sorry not-sorry. Book is good! Book is really good and I want everyone to know it.)

      And yes, I really like books where the primary emotional relationship isn’t necessarily a romance. Combine this with the fact that I love stories about women – women being friends! women being family members! women being lovers! – and this book really worked for me. The sisters’ relationship is really beautiful.

      I’d say that the book leaves open the possibility that Lo-Melkhiin (once he is no longer POSSESSED BY A DESERT SPIRIT that makes him a MURDERING MURDERER) might be a suitable romantic partner. I liked that a lot. I don’t know, I just have a really hard time imagining a dude who’s killing all his wives as a suitable romantic lead. (Even if he doesn’t actually want to kill all those women, they don’t care – they’re still dead!) But, that’s me, and I know that I can be super picky about the things I ship. SO THIS IS ALL TO SAY: no romance! woo!
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

  28. Erica @ Novel Ink

    I am so happy you loved this one. I am so looking forward to picking this book up. I have the editions of A Thousand and One Nights that my great-great grandfather had! I also love Aladdin. My boyfriend is Persian also so this ties in with that and I love learning more things.

    Ahh, so excited and thanks for having this giveaway :D
    Erica @ Novel Ink recently posted…When | Was Exactly What I Needed

    • Layla

      I totally did. I hope you love it just as much if/when you’re able to pick it up!

      Also, that’s *crazy* that you have an edition of A Thousand and One Nights that your great-great-grandfather had. Around what year is it from? That is a totally awesome thing to have. I have an old Latin grammar that my grandmother used in school and it is one of my most loved possessions.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

  29. Andrea

    I knew relatively little about this adaptation until the review, but now you’ve got me interested. I love stories about sisters and am so excited to hear there is no romance the a mass-murderous King! You’ve sold me on it.

    • Layla

      Yeah, I tend to be picky about romances anyway, and they can be an exceptionally tricky thing when the power dynamic is so uneven. So, I think the novel holds out the possibility of a future romance with Lo-Melkhiin, but only after he’s been restored to himself (our protagonist senses that there’s something amiss with him fairly early on).

      THE SISTER STORY WAS MY FAVORITE PART. Like, that relationship was just super compelling to me. And it’s not weirdly idealized either – when the protagonist realizes she might have been inadvertently fucking with her sister’s life, she’s upset about it and worried about what this’ll do to their relationship. I don’t know. Seemed like a real relationship, is what I’m saying.

      Go read, go read!
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Nights: Review + Giveaway

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