A Thousand Nights
Grade : A

A Thousand Nights is a fantastic, not-to-be-missed fantasy novel that I’ve read repeatedly over the last several years and that I strongly recommend to anyone who enjoys this kind of tale.

While the story is easily recognizable as a retelling of the Arabian Nights (without the racism and sexism inherent in that text), Shahrazad is never named. Because of that, I will use phrases like “heroine” or “our heroine” in place of a given name.

Our heroine has dreams for her future but she lives in dark times. The king, Lo-Melkhiin, has been possessed by a desert jinn who demands a new bride regularly. He/they/it drains the magic of his wife’s memories, thus killing her, then goes on the hunt for her replacement. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes days, sometimes weeks. But her death is inevitable. The men of his community have launched only a mild rebellion against his murderous nuptials, but his is a reign of peace and prosperity after a time of war and want, so if a daughter must be sacrificed every once in a while, well, where’s the harm in that? They agree that the king can take one of their offspring but he can’t deplete a family or village. He must alternate the districts and clans from which he chooses a new victim.

Lo-Melkhiin has killed three hundred girls in his pursuit of a new ‘love’ before he comes to the village where our heroine resides. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows her tribe’s turn has come and that he will want the loveliest girl in their small community, who happens to be her half-sister. The two are only a little apart in age and are the only daughters of their family. They have been as close as twins all their lives, forever in each other’s company. Watching that ominous cloud grow slowly closer, our heroine vows she will not let her beloved sibling be the next girl to die. She dresses herself in the bride clothes of purple and gold she, her sister, and their mothers had made from scratch. It is a dress the girls had giggled over as they dreamt of the husbands they would wed while wearing it, rich with the memories they made together while sewing the garment and decorating it with lavish embroidery. It is full of the love the four women share. When she stands among the other girls of marriageable age, all eyes turn to her. Clothed in that gown, our heroine is easily the most beautiful and so of course the king chooses her for his own, and laughs as she is pulled away from her wailing sister. But it is the last time he laughs at these girls. The heroine has a deep magic of her own, that comes from her love of her family, her love of the desert, and her love of the simple tasks that give her life meaning. That night, when he comes to her, the king takes her hands and hears stories of her time in the desert valleys of her people. She watches in silent surprise as tendrils of energy pass from her to him with each tale. She knows this is how those girls must die. But energy also passes from him to her. A fact he seems unaware of.

She does not die the first night. Or the next. Or the next. The prayers of her sister and mothers sustain her. The stories she tells become magic, connecting her to her family and giving both her and her sister a newfound resolution to rescue the women of the land from Lo-Melkhiin’s bride raids. As she lives through more nights, other women begin to pray to her and for her, adding their strength to hers as she meets the jinn every evening. Her strength gives strength to the soul of the king the jinn has trapped in a corner of his mind. He gazes out from beyond his possession and sees a woman who could free him. But the jinn is not one for happy endings and soon our heroine and her trapped prince will find themselves in an epic battle for the kingdom.

This is not an own voices story, primarily because it doesn’t take place where there are any voices to speak. Unlike Arabian Nights, with its Muslim princes and allusions to the real Middle East, this is a place where demons roam the deserts and where people pray in simple shrines to the most revered of their ancestors. It is a place where stories can become reality and where magic is one a determined young girl can use to save herself, her family, and her people. In other words, it’s a fantasy novel set in a made-up place.

I absolutely adored the heroine. She is wise, compassionate, strong and loving. I especially appreciated how her intelligent, caring nature both allows her to assess the situation she is in and enables her to navigate it skillfully enough that she doen’t just save herself but everyone involved.

In the actual legends, the prince is an impossible person to like. In this narrative, he becomes a fellow victim, someone trapped within their own body, unable to stop an evil jinn from using his form to abuse his people. We learn of the real Lo-Melkhiin only in snippets. In a moment in the desert, we see him in the care given to the horses. Through stories told by those who knew him before the jinn captured him, we learn that he is wise, stalwart, brave, and a survivor, and by the end of the book, we are anxious to see both him and the heroine win against the evil jinn.

The fantasy elements of the story are, well, fantastic. I liked the use of archaic language (my father’s father’s father), which evokes a feeling of other-worldliness and a sense of timelessness. The story also has the narrative style of a fable or folklore, with more the feel of something told rather than the more refined cadence of something written. This novel is a testament to campfire tales, the slightly embellished stories that may not impart perfect historical facts but give us a sense of community and family. There isn’t a lot of action/adventure, although the tale certainly ends with a bang. This is a quiet, spiritual/magical battle and the courage of the characters is highlighted by the extremely high stakes at play. The author never lets us forget the girls who died and how that fate awaits our heroine if she takes a wrong step.

A Thousand Nights is for those who deeply love fantasy and magic and for those who like resilient, clever heroines more than feisty ones. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd

Grade: A

Book Type: Fantasy|Young Adult

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : October 16, 2023

Publication Date: 10/2015

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Recent Comments …

  1. Thank you . I read the free sample and the nonsense you expound on above was sufficiently grating to me…

Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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