A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
★★★★★ | 2015 release
“My sister is no fool and she is not tender-hearted,” I said. “My sister fights for her home, and takes what risks she must. That is why I put myself before her today—why I would not let you have her. My sister burns, and she does not burn for you.”
It’s been over two years now since I first read this book, and I still credit it as one of my original favorite YA books, and yes, I still think anyone who shares a book taste with me should read it.
So A Thousand Nights is a more feminist, more thematic retelling of the A Thousand and One Arabian Nights stories. And, well, we all know how this retelling goes, don’t we? Add a bit more romance, a bit less storytelling, and a bit more fantasy, and boom! We have an easy-to-market YA book.
But not so fast.
A decent amount of reviews on this page seem to have described this book as The Wrath and the Dawn’s less attractive little sister, but I genuinely think these books are completely different to the point they shouldn’t even be compared. The Wrath and the Dawn is romantic fantasy [and in my opinion, pretty good romantic fantasy]. A Thousand Nights is more of a slow-burning, tension-filled, literary-fiction-esque tale of the power of women in a history that tries desperately to erase them.
There’s something to be said for books that do something new, rather than just remaking something old. This is a book that, somehow, does both.
There’s something so magical about the setting and story of this book. The entire book feels like the best fairy tale ever written, all with prose that I could just drop off my finger. And yes, it is a slow book, but it works – with such an utterly captivating atmosphere, I was completely addicted. I’d feel comfortable giving this to a ten-year-old, or to my mother.
Okay, and now the real gush point – the unnamed heroine of this novel is one of my all-time favorite main characters. I love how strong-willed she is, how dedicated, and I love that she’s clever without reading overpowered. Her dedication to her family never feels forced; so many books use “she loves her family !!” as a major motivation but fail at actually conveying a love for family, but no, the main character of this book feels so real and rounded. I don’t even know how to convey how much I love her and connect to her and would die for her instantaneously.
No one paid any mind to the line of dark-haired, dark-skinned girls who came to the qasr, and met their end there. They were nameless and faceless under their veils.
The heroine of this story remains unnamed, and as such, this story becomes one of the unnamed, the anonymous, the forgotten. In history, we tend to erase the legacy of women throughout history. A Thousand Nights chooses to play with it by never naming any of the women, but still giving them the legacy they deserve. And while many Thousand Nights retellings play with the romantic dynamic before all else, this book focuses on the women within the story – the heroine’s relationship with her sister is the absolute touchstone of the book, and the love she feels for her falls through the pages.
Listen, guys, this is one of my favorite books, and it has this beautiful cover, and it has so much heart, and the lead is such an icon, and you should all be reading it. Please come scream at me in the comments when you finish.