Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnson

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

There seems to have been a bit of a glut recently of retellings of/books inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights: Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, The Wrath and The Dawn series by Renee Ahdieh, Hanan Al-Shaykh's One Thousand and One Nights and this one - A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnson.

Lo-Melkhiin, monarch of his realm, has had 300 wives - and killed them all. Each village in the land takes its turn to offer up one of its daughters to their ruler's insatiable demand. Our nameless narrator switches places with her sister to become the latest offering. She also goes on to be the first to survive for more than one night. How long can she continue to live on borrowed time? What is behind Lo-Melkhiin's appetite for blood? And can fear be banished from the kingdom?

It took me a while to get through this book. It was slow-paced for most of it, when I was in the mood for a rip roaring read. I enjoyed the ending, but became impatient with everything leading up to it. I found it difficult to get into - the style of narration gave it a slow, mythical, worthy feel which kept me at a distance from the characters and the action, and I didn't find myself drawn back to it.

There were things I enjoyed in the story. The locations were vividly described, the relationship between religion, science and magic was intriguing, and I found the lack of names in the book interesting (if I recall correctly, Lo-Melkhiin is the only character with a name - everyone else is either identified by job title or relation). I've read other reviewers who couldn't handle the lack of character names, but I never struggled to know who was being talked about at any time. However, the long-windedness of some the language used in place of names could have contributed to the slowness of the narration.

It did pick up momentum towards the end, and I enjoyed the "end battle" and the scenes leading to and from it - I just wish the excitement had started earlier. I think my enjoyment of this book was hampered by a mismatched expectation - if I'd been expecting a slow, serious, dense tale, I may well have adored it1. As it was, I really wasn't in the mood for this book at the time of reading.

Asides

  1. This review by Emily May on GoodReads is excellent, and far more politically astute than mine!

What do you think?