Author: E.K Johnston
Date of Publication: 6th October 2015
I think there are a lot of things to love about A Thousand Nights. I was first convinced to read it by Emily May’s review, which you can find here – the main draw for me being the fact that she observed that no female character in this book bears a name. Our main antagonist, Lo-Melkhiin, has a name. A wise, almost fatherly scholar, Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered, has a name. A troubled solider turned stone carver, Firh Stonetouched, has a name (albeit one he did not seem to choose for himself, or bear with any form of pride). However the POV female protagonist, her sister, her mother, her sister’s mother, her serving girl, her Henna mistress…they are known by their place in the world of the people around them, rather than by names of their own.
This is an incredibly ambitious move from E.K Johnston. Anyone who has ever read anything between a short story and a full series of thousand page plus novels will know that names are important – and hard to avoid. To write three hundred plus pages without giving a single female character a name, and to do it so well, made me feel even more invested in this book. Because its commitment to helping to reader see the low standing of women in this time, and in this world, went beyond actions and went straight through to the very fabric of the language holding the work together. Despite this being a story of women oppressed by men, it also said a lot about the quiet strength of the women of the time – and of now – which is often overlooked.
The storytelling was told from the point of a young girl with an old soul. She tells her tale in a beautifully lyrical way and it is the perfect balance to the atrocity of what is happening around her. Lo-Melkhiin is balanced – he is almost always the viper and never the man, yet this feels right as opposed to overly villainous. Supporting characters, whether they be named or not, add to the story as opposed to padding it out. But most of all I loved the descriptive – the clothes, the desert, the stars…they’re all characters as much as the people in our protagonist’s life and their roles are beautifully interwoven to creative depth to the world we are exploring.
I would highly recommend this – a gentle retelling dealing with incredibly ungentle themes.