A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (Review)

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Pages: 328
Source: Purchased
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★★☆

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.

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All book reviews I write are spoiler-free!


Rating: 4/5 stars

A Thousand Nights is a retelling of the original classic One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights. I had pretty low expectations going into this, mainly due to a lower Goodreads rating and people talking about how it pales to The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Despite that, I had a lot of fun reading this book overall – I thought it was a fantastic retelling.

I loved the deeper meanings that were weaved into the story, as well as the beautiful, atmospheric writing. Although I enjoyed the story, I thought that the ending was too rushed. I would’ve liked the ending to be prolonged, or for there to have been an epilogue. There were also parts throughout the book that were dense and confused me, which had me going back to re-read paragraphs. These aspects therefore had me taking one star off of my rating. However, I had a great time reading the book as a whole and I would definitely recommend it.

 

Retelling of a Classic, with a Feminist Spin

You don’t need to be familiar with the original One Thousand and One Nights to enjoy this book. That being said, I think you would appreciate this story more knowing the premise of the original. That’s because this retelling spins the original story into one that focuses more on the strength of women, and I loved that – the original story was written hundreds of years ago, so women were really taken for granted back then. This book twists the original story to illustrate the true importance of women.

No one in the book has a name except for the king, Lo-Melkhiin. There are many women introduced, but none of them give their names – not even the protagonist. Women are continuously referred to as “her,” “the mother,” “the sister,” “the woman,” etc. This strengthens the theme of women being unfortunately invisible in the culture; however, the actions of the women belies that seeming unimportance. In addition to the poetic writing, this anonymity of women in the book gives the story a mysterious atmosphere.

The author paints beautiful scenes, and the magic aspect in the story is fascinating. This book has made me absolutely yearn to visit a desert at night. In addition to the vivid imagery, there’s a strong fairy tale vibe because of the magic and how certain scenes played out. However, that “fairy tale” is executed in a mature manner. The story was darker than I had anticipated, and there’s also some fairly monotonous chapters that many young adult readers may not be accustomed to. As I was reading, I was continuously questioning why the book was classified as young adult.

 

Young Adult? Low Goodreads Rating?

This book reads more like a literary work than a typical young adult book, so that initially caught me off-guard. There are messages conveyed through the story told, so that understandably paves a path for a slower read. Some parts feels drawn out, and I sometimes found myself wondering when something would actually happen. However, I realized later that even the slow scenes in the book were significant. Therefore, the slow pace in the book actually turned out to be something that I enjoyed and appreciated.

There’s not a focus on romance in this book, and I loved that. I found it refreshing because I’ve been recently reading so many young adult novels with insta-love, love triangles, and unrealistic relationships. It was nice reading a story where the protagonist wasn’t basing her decisions off of love, but for the greater good. I therefore believe that this lack of an typical romance was why the book isn’t as highly rated on Goodreads. It also doesn’t help that there was another One Thousand and One Nights retelling released the same year. Here are the comparisons of the two retelling ratings, as of May 23rd, 2016:

As of now, I haven’t read The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, so I can’t accurately comment on the differences yet, but I think that a big reason this book was rated so much lower on Goodreads was because of A Thousand Nights isn’t what young adult readers expect, unlike The Wrath and the Dawn. From the general gist I have of The Wrath and the Dawn, it has more of an in-depth romance and a plot that makes the reader swoon. Therefore, going from The Wrath and the Dawn to reading this book can be unappealing for readers, especially if they’re expecting something more romantically immersive. Don’t get me wrong – A Thousand Nights is definitely an immersive read. It just isn’t focused on romance like a lot of young adult novels are.

 

I’d highly recommend this to people who love the classic One Thousand and One Nights, as well as people who enjoy reading retellings without the added whimsical romance. Although there’s a slower pace than typical in young adult novels, this story is still captivating and entertaining. I felt like I was reading a fairy tale for adults. There was that mysterious aspect of a lot of fairy tales, with the darker vibe of more serious and meaningful books. This book is a great example of how a retelling should be written.

If you’ve read this book, let me know your thoughts! I’d love to hear what you thought about it. If you haven’t picked this up yet, feel free to ask any questions you might have about it!

51 thoughts on “A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (Review)

  1. The Genre Minx

    “I found it refreshing because I’ve been recently reading so many young adult novels with insta-love, love triangles, and unrealistic relationships.” I love that you said this. I feel that a lot of books nowadays are becoming too formulaic. I will definitely consider reading this book and thanks for the heads up because I do take GR ratings into consideration and may have over looked it. Cheers!

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      I also place a lot on Goodreads ratings, so I almost didn’t read this book – I’m incredibly glad I did though! So many books recently can be predictable and repetitive, so this book was a great change of pace. I hope you enjoy it if you end up picking it up! 🙂

  2. Lauren @ Wonderless Reviews

    You totally convinced me to add this to my TBR! I really wasn’t sure if I’d wanted to read it or not because I’d heard lots of mixed reviews and I just presumed it was filled with annoying YA tropes, but it’s so good to hear that it’s not. Great review, Jorelene!

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thank you so much, Lauren! I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This book is actually fairly devoid of YA tropes, so that made me love it even more. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of it! 🙂

  3. booksblurbsandbeyond

    I’m so glad to hear there’s no insta love or love triangle in this. I’ve been meaning to read this for the longest time, but I could only find the UK cover and I really want the USA cover. I think I’ll read the original as well now.

  4. NoteablePad

    Amazing review, Jorelene! I think we started reading this at the same time, but you’ve finished it before me! 🙂 Every one of your points makes complete sense. I had the same thoughts as I’ve been reading. I read a few reviews that didn’t like how the narrator isn’t named, but I honestly think it works well. She might not have a name, but it allows readers to identify with her more. I just have a lot of respect for this girl. 🙂 Her nameless identity makes me feel that she could be any one of us, and that’s empowering.

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thank you so much, Fatima! I agree that the narrator remaining nameless works really well for this book. I think it actually makes the protagonist more relatable, and it gives the book more of a deeper meaning. I’m really looking forward to your review and hearing more of your in-depth thoughts on this book! 🙂 <3

  5. Beth (Reading Every Night)

    I loved your review Jorelene!
    I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad you did as well!
    I actually read A Thousand Nights before TWATD and while I loved both they are completely different books. I agree with you when you say is more like a literary work than a typical YA book but I thought it was beautifully written and I loved the story as well. I really have to re-read it soon after seeing your review for it 😀

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thank you so much, Beth! From what I’ve seen actually, people are either fans of A Thousand Nights or The Wrath and the Dawn – it’s very rarely both. I’m therefore so glad you loved both! Haha, I’ve been honestly scared that I won’t enjoy The Wrath and the Dawn, but now I’m looking forward to reading it more. 😀

      1. Beth (Reading Every Night)

        Ahh, I hadn’t realised that because I am fans of them both, I think because they’re such different stories, even though based on the same original tale, it was easy for me to take each on their own merits rather than compare the two.
        I hope you do enjoy it, I think as long as you don’t compare the two books it should be an enjoyable read 😀

  6. Ioana @ booksreenchanted

    Wonderful review, Jorelene! Love how you characterize this as a feminist retelling, sounds like my kind of book. I do love retellings of classic fairy-tales/stories when they are done well, so reading this was exciting – yet another for my endless tbr 🙂

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thank you so much, Ioana! I really hope you enjoy this book as much as I did! I thought this retelling was pretty on point for how retellings should be done, so I loved reading it. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of this once you get around to it! Haha, I totally understand if it’s not for a while though, because my TBR is also seemingly endless. 🙂

  7. Liam @ Hey Ashers!

    This is an amazing review; every point you listed just makes me that much more certain I need this book in my life ASAP. Now we’ll just have to see if I can muster the willpower to finish reading Throne of Glass before clawing my way to the library for A Thousand Nights. 😀

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Aww, thank you so much, Liam! Haha, you’re doing such a great job trudging through Throne of Glass! I absolutely love your read-along. I’m looking forward to reading your review on A Thousand Nights once you get around to it! 😀

  8. daniellethamasa

    I’ll probably add this to my TBR, but I won’t get around to it for a little while, because I don’t want The Wrath and the Dawn to heavily influence my feelings when I read A Thousand Nights. I want to be as fair as possible to each book I read.

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      That’s a really great idea! I actually made the conscious decision to read this before The Wrath and the Dawn because I knew a lot of people who said that The Wrath and the Dawn influenced their review for A Thousand Nights. I haven’t heard many people say the opposite, so I think I’m safe to read The Wrath and the Dawn relatively soon. I hope you end up enjoying A Thousand Nights once you get around to it! 🙂

  9. Life of a Female Bibliophile

    I am so excited to read this, and it’s actually next to read on my TBR. The fact that you said that it doesn’t read like a normal YA book really intrigues me since I’m always looking to read YA stories that are written different than the usual norm. This is a really great review!

  10. Zoe

    It’s interesting you brought up the Goodreads average and pinpointed that to people’s expectations. I think people go into this wanting another The Wrath & the Dawn and forget that they’re two different books. So glad you liked this so much! Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Aww, thank you so much, Zoe! Yeah, I think a lot of people who loved The Wrath and The Dawn started reading A Thousand Nights in hopes that it would be similar. A Thousand Nights is a really great book, but I don’t think it’s very similar to The Wrath and The Dawn, at least from what I know of the latter.

  11. Michelle @ Addictively Turning Pages

    After reading The Wrath & The Dawn, I immediately found this novel and put it on my TBR shelf. I do recommend reading TW&TD because yes, it does have the typical plot and romance that makes it a successful YA novel, but the writing, and the imagery is phenomenal. Based on your review, I think you might enjoy the writing of it more than the actual story. So give it a shot! It is actually your opinion about the writing that I really really hope I’ll like this book as much as I love TW&TD. I have no qualms over how it might not fit the “normal” YA novel and another female empowering novel?!? GIVE IT TO ME PLEASE!! As always, fantastic review! 🙂

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Haha, The Wrath and The Dawn is already waiting for me on my bookshelf! I’m planning on starting it sometime in June or July, depending on how fast I get through my TBR list. I’ve heard amazing things about The Wrath and the Dawn, and I think you’re right thinking that I’ll probably enjoy the writing more than the actual story. To me, a lot of young adult fantasy plots have been starting to look to similar. We’ll see though – maybe I’ll adore both the writing and the story! 🙂

      I really hope you enjoy A Thousand Nights as much as much as you loved The Wrath and The Dawn! I’m looking forward to reading your review on it once you get to it. Thank you so much, Michelle! 🙂 <3

  12. Hannah @ Book Freak-Out

    When I saw your header image I was like “OMG IS THAT THE COVER?” If I owned this I would totally be displaying the naked book. That is probably the most stunning naked cover I’ve ever seen (I have no idea what it’s technically called). I’m glad I read your review because I probably would’ve written it of as just another fairy tale retelling, since there are so many of them right now. I really like the idea of women not being named and how that contributes to the story. It reminds me a little of how there aren’t any quotation marks in Soundless by Richelle Mead because the protagonist is deaf. Little things that add intense detail!

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Isn’t it gorgeous?! It matches some scenes in the book perfectly as well! Haha, I’m actually considering leaving the dust jacket off permanently.

      Yeah, there are tons of retellings out now – it’s actually becoming hard to keep track of them all. I did love that detail of nameless women in A Thousand Nights! I thought it made the book more unique and meaningful. I hope you end up loving the book if you decide to pick it up! 🙂

  13. Eve Messenger

    A dark, literary fairy tale retelling–yep, works for me. Hurray for a YA fantasy that isn’t super focused on romance. I might read A Thousand Nights for that reason alone.

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more young adult fantasy books that aren’t mainly focused on romance! I think that would make a lot of stories more powerful. I hope you enjoy A Thousand Nights if you end up deciding to read it! 🙂

  14. Reg @ She Latitude

    Great review, Jorelene! It’s such a shame that this book is often compared to TWATD just because they’re based on the same story – they’re SO different, and I definitely agree that this one reads more literary than YA. That caught me off-guard too.

    I gave it three stars because it was SO SLOW but I actually quite liked it as well. It just wasn’t what I expected when I first picked it up. 🙂

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thanks, Reg! Yeah, I could totally see that. If I read The Wrath and The Dawn before I picked up A Thousand Nights, it’s totally possible that I’d rate this three stars. That’s actually why I consciously read A Thousand Nights before I started The Wrath and The Dawn. I went into A Thousand Nights with pretty low expectations because of Goodreads ratings and reviews, so I was pleasantly surprised with it. 🙂

      1. Reg @ She Latitude

        That’s a very good decision! I kind of went into this book expecting it to be like TWATD, and it just wasn’t. I still managed to enjoy it, but they are very different books. Glad you end up liking it! 🙂

  15. ljtreads

    It’s always good to see recommendations that don’t focus on romance; like you said, it’s so common in the genre that it’s easy to get tired of it. I may have to check this one out.

  16. Tracy @ Cornerfolds

    I’m currently reading The Wrath and the Dawn, but I have been really interested in this one also!! I’ve seen mixed reviews and I wasn’t really sure whether I would enjoy it, but I’m definitely going to give it a try. Great review! 😀

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

  17. GirlReading

    I loved reading your thoughts on this, it’s been on my tbr for a while now but I definitely want to get to it soon after reading this! I didn’t realise it was SO GORGEOUS without the dust jacket on aha. :’) Great review! 🙂

  18. Nicola

    I *loved* this book! I’ve been a fan of EK Johnston’s work since The Story of Owen, so I had pretty high hopes, but I was also sceptical about the cover proclaiming that it was ‘The most dangerous love story ever told’, because there’s no romance in The Story of Owen/Prairie Fire, either.

    I think the comparisons to TWATD are unfortunate, because although the two books share the same root story, they couldn’t be more different. Pretty much the only thing I can say about both of them is that I enjoyed them both. It’s like comparing Cinder with Throne of Glass because they both draw on Cinderella.

What are your thoughts?