Let me bestow upon this a book a term I rarely have opportunity to use – beautiful. Simply beautiful.
A Thousand Nights is one of those stories which can be considered a literary painting. You look at it, you immerse yourself in it, and though it doesn’t move, it still manages to move you in some way.
But before I properly get into this review, let me just gush over my hardcover copy:
It’s so pretty! My eyes, my eyes!
I’m not sure how eloquent this is going to be, so I will link some great reviews by other (more sensible) people at the end.
In short, this is the tale of a girl and her sister, and how their bond changes the world around them. Yes, my friends, sisterhood is a powerful thing. The Arabian Nights and the marriage to the frightening Lo Melkhiin are merely a frame for this.
I loved that the novel was in essence, a celebration of the bonds between women. It was an acknowledgement of their hidden powers, their combined strengths. The author has done some gorgeous world building, which is very effectively used to showcase these relationships. For instance, the heroine gets to know the women in the palace through weaving, an integral aspect of desert life.
She returned to her seat, and I took up the spindle again. Now the thread grew beneath my fingers, coiling into the basket between my feet in an even strand. I felt the eyes of my companions turn to their own work, and when they no longer looked at me, they forgot that I was there to hear their words.
This bond is most clear in the one between the protagonist and her sister, who are so deeply intertwined in each others’ lives that it is hard to tell apart cause and effect. Did our heroine become a smallgod because of her sister or did her sister create one from her sacrifice? Whatever it is, I think it’s wonderful that family was so important. It resonated with me because I’m very close to my family too.
Something else I really liked was the little details. One was all the females being unnamed, a subtle hint at the unacknowledged power of women. Another was that the narrator would often end up comparing an aspect of city life or marriage to what she knew about herding goats, sometimes to humorous effect. (I don’t know if it was intentional or not.) I could very clearly see what living in her world was like, from the clothes to telling the time. Her characterisation also included a pragmatic personality, calm yet passionate.
“You are not curious?” he asked. “You do not wish to know how the world works?” “I am, and I do,” I said to him. “But I would rather be patient and learn things in their own time, than force knowledge where it causes destruction.”
I will admit right now that there isn’t much of a plot; what there is of one is very slow moving. This didn’t bother me much, because I was deeply interested in the character development. Most of the book is spent on nothing because it is what the narrator is also doing and we can feel her frustration as well. I think the interspersed flashbacks of Lo Melkhiin’s past helped with this. And of course, all the magical elements helped.
That’s not to say the book isn’t without flaws. One of the reasons I’m not giving this a five star is Lo Melkhiin himself. I felt like we never really got to know him or fear him enough to understand the stakes. The relationship building came at the expense of the hero, and I’m not happy about it because I was really intrigued by him.
The other bone I have to pick is the epilogue. We really could have done without the emphatic morals of that one. I also thought that the implications of the magical creatures should have been left to the delightful speculation of the reader, but instead it was kind of forcibly moulded for us. That epilogue was a tacky end to an otherwise elegant book.
All in all, A Thousand Nights comes with my heartfelt recommendation but also the warning that it is an atmospheric novel intended to be slowly savoured. Definitely looking forward to more of this author’s work!