By Cynthia Ayala
“Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong. Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air. Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.” —Goodreads
Not an exact retelling, but it was still an exciting novel. Here the concept of the thousand nights is the fact that the king has been possessed by a demon while hunting in the sands, and now draws his power from the girls he takes as wives. It is an interesting twist to a story all readers know of, and it lends itself to be something entirely different. There are also lots of back and forth regarding the different perspectives.
The story shifts perspectives, giving a little detail about the demon that is king and his history. Readers have a glimpse of understanding this antagonist in the story, which is interesting. Moreover, the story goes back and forth, between the new queen and the demon king. It develops their relationship very well, creating this tension that is the central drive of the story. Lo- Melkhiin’s perspectives and narrative are very straightforward and to the point, while her perspective is very lyrical. She has a story to tell, a story of her relationship with her family and sister that is very dear to her, putting her current predicament into a thoughtful perspective to the reader. The reader gets to know her as much as the reader gets to know the king and the way her internal narrative works lulls the reader into the story. Everything weaves together and knits together perfectly, like a tapestry telling a story within a story. It has color to it, such vibrancy, and it is beautiful how Johnston uses colors and their vibrancy to give meaning to the story. Some authors tend to use color as a description only, but here, the colors have meaning, they have magic to them, making the scenes jump out to the reader.
What’s more is that there is magic layered deep within the story. There’s a mythology in the story about the girls who die becoming small gods, and this happens to the main protagonist. Moreover, this gift, these tributes unto her begin to warp her deep inside, bestowing upon her these magical gifts that help her save everyone she loves. The magic comes from the imagination within the characters, the imagination and the thought that moves the story forward. It moves seamlessly between internal and external narrative, weaving together dreams and visions to capture the magic that is storytelling. It lingers a bit on the long side, taking away some of the magic from the storytelling and narrative, but it does create the tension and the mysticism, making it a proper retelling.
Part of the magic of the storytelling is the fact that the main protagonist does not have a name. It is so incredibly subtle how Johnston tells the story and keep that fact away from the reader without drawing attention to it until the very end. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant how it is structured to lure the reader in, allowing them to get to know the main character without revealing her name, giving that revelation at the end a more significant impact on the reader.
It is an excellent retelling, which while a little on the long side, does have the magic in the storytelling, and flows in a grand manner making it well-worth the read. (★★★☆☆ | B+)