A Thousand Nights - E.K. Johnston
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village looking for a wife.
She that he chose of us would be a hero. She would give the others life. Lo-Melkhiin would not return to the same village until he had married a girl from every camp, from every town, and from each district inside city walls-for that was the law, struck in desperation though it was. She that he chose would give hope of a future, of love, to those of us who stayed behind.
She that he chose of us would not be forgotten.
She would still be dead.

Lo-Melkhiin has killed three hundred girls he took as wives before coming to our unnamed protagonist’s small desert village, sacrificing herself in place of her beloved sister, she is taken as his bride. She knows that she will not survive, yet she tries to anyway not letting him win.

I absolutely loved this book, E.K. Johnston paints a wonderful, lush, and magical world. The story, a retelling of the storyteller Scheherazade from One Thousand And One Nights, is much, much better than the original:

Already, the story is changing.

When men tell it in the souks and in the desert, they shape it to fit their understanding.

They change the monster into a man, and they change her into something that can be used to teach a lesson: if you are clever and if you are good, the monster will not have you.

You should not believe everything you hear.

It is a wonderfully, magical story and deeply underlining feministic. The heroine is unnamed, all women in this story are, and it works wonderfully, for it’s a tale of their power and strength, and how they fight back against the monster that, using patriarchal tools killed three hundred girls with the men in their society simply accepting this in favor their own prosperity. E.K. Johnston took that 1001 Nights story and created a new story, which tells us of the power of those unnamed women.

Always, it seemed, men would overlook unpleasant things for the sake of those that went well. The statues’ eyes for the melodious sounds of the fountain. The deaths of their daughters for the bounty of their trade.

There was great beauty in this qasr, but there was also great ugliness and fear. I would not be like those men who turned their eyes from one to see the other. I would remember what those thing cost.

The heroine, is tough and strong, she doesn’t sit around helplessly, waiting for Lo-Merlkhiin to kill her. Instead she searches for answers, becomes active, and learns about her growing power.

There was some strange power to him, even as there was some strange power to me, and I would not learn of it hiding in my room

She chooses not to ignore what happens around her – as the men in the country do, condemning three hundred girls to die, rather than stop a monster.

Lo-Merlkhiin is a monster, and he is also described as a monster, the heroine knows this, and she doesn’t romanticize him, she sees him for what he is. There is none of the usual YA nonsense where a heroine falls in love with the ‘dark’ hero who is not a good person (even though he has some goodness left in him). This was such a refreshing change, I truly enjoyed reading this book without an overwhelming romance.

It still did not matter to me that Lo-Merlkhiin had once loved his mother and his people. He shed blood and kept peace, but only the peace was of note. I was not content with that, though did not wish for some other girl’s death to pay the price instead. Seven days in the qasr had made me determined to get seven more, and then more besides.

The prose and descriptions in this book are simply wonderful, I loved the vivid pictures this book evoked. It was wonderfully written, with beautiful descriptions of the Persian culture, the harsh beauty of the desert, the exotic food and clothes, and the profound fairy-tale. The story takes place in a desert kingdom, and I was instantly transported into this magical world.

In the daytime it gleamed, gathering the sun’s rays into itself, heating slowly as the day progressed. As night approached and the desert cooled, the heat came out of the walls and tried to find the sun again, but since the sun was setting, the heat moved in weaving lines, seen from a distance like through a veil of the finest silk, blurred and indistinct.

 I received this book as an advanced review copy from Netgalley.