A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston is a spellbinding YA fantasy. I love retellings of old classical stories, so this new adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) caught my attention. It’s beautifully done.
The heroine is unnamed. In fact, most of the characters are unnamed except for the king, Lo-Melkhiin. Others are referred to by their relationships to the protagonist or to the king. Names of other important characters have to do with the tasks they perform. It lends an air of other-worldliness to the fantasy. That, and the other first person voice in the story is that of the demon possessing Lo-Melkhiin.
The men in his domain have grown used to the need to sacrifice their daughters. The rule is that he can only choose one wife from each of the villages and can not return for another until he has taken one from every village in the land. The women are not so resigned.
When he comes to the village of the heroine, everyone expects that he will take her sister, a girl of striking beauty. But the protagonist tricks him into taking her instead. This sacrifice is the beginning of her power, because the sister left behind builds an altar to her. As time wears on, the story of her bravery builds, and all the women in the land are sending her power with their prayers.
She needs this strength to resist the demon. Day after day, she lives to see another and her power grows. But so does his.
Although expecting the story to conform to some degree with its model, and that the protagonist will win, preserving her life, there is enough divergence to keep the story compelling. The demon is brutal, remorseless, and strong. If there is a good man left inside Lo-Melkhiin’s body, he is cowed enough by all that has happened that the heroine can expect no help from him.
Magic permeates the story. It’s woven in well enough that the use of it does not come across as a deus ex machina to resolve the crisis. The language is lovely and helps bring the reader into this strange, magical world. A retelling that is original enough to be more than a retelling—fantasy readers should enjoy this charming tale.