By E.K. Johnston
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
I've read two YA retellings of A Thousand and One Nights this year, and A THOUSAND NIGHTS is my favorite. E.K. Johnston wowed me with The Story of Owen duology, and she continues to impress me here. The tone and rhythm of this story aren't similar at all, but the control of them is.
Lo-Melkhiin has been marrying and killing his wives. It has reached the tribes have instituted a policy that he has to rotate between them, to help keep one tribe from suffering too much. When the heroine's tribe must offer a bride, she makes herself as beautiful as she can with flashy clothes and makeup. For one day she outshines her sister and is picked instead. In return, her sister starts worshiping her immediately until waiting for news of her death, that she has joined their ancestors.
That love between the sisters might be enough to save all of their people.
I liked the focus in A THOUSAND NIGHTS on women who are fed up and what they're doing about it. Lo-Melkhiin has kept peace ever since he came back from the desert a changed man, but it is the women who pay the price. The heroine and her sister are tired of that, and so are many other women living in fear of their lives.
The worldbuilding is also superb. Johnston imparts the reader with a sense of how families are structured and how their religious traditions work. We're shown the reasons the people would not rebel against a leader who slaughters so many of his people. Then, there's the bits of strangeness around the edges. There's a wig made out of a lion's mane made by Lo-Melkhiin for his mother. There's a man compelled to make beautiful sculptures, even though it pains him. There's a sense of the wrongness in the court beyond the deaths.
Then there is the battle of wits and wills between Lo-Melkhiin and his bride. She may not fear as he wants her to, but that doesn't mean she isn't afraid. There's wonderful interplay between them, as Lo-Melkhiin tries to find out why she can withstand him and she tries to figure out how she can solves the problem of Lo-Melkhiin before she's just another dead wife.
A THOUSAND NIGHTS is a story of terror and love in a desert that never was. It's a book that kept me turning the pages, and I hope it will do the same for you.