A THOUSAND NIGHTS by E.K. Johnston 🌌
On the cover of my edition for A Thousand Nights, there’s a tagline that says this novel is “The most dangerous love story ever told…”
And it’s a very misleading tagline. 😶
Hi everyone! Finally, I’ve returned to writing book chats. The last book chat I posted on this blog was on May 30th for I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above — about three months ago. 😱
However, with the hecticness of summer and the beginning of school over now, I’m ready to get back into blogging consistently (yay!) and I am so happy to kickoff September with a book chat for E. K. Johnston’s wonderful novel, A Thousand Nights!!!
From now on, I’m starting all my book chats off with a nonspoilery section for those of you of haven’t read the book to get an idea of my overall thoughts on the novel. After that, I’ll jump right into the spoilery section. 😊
First, about my
📗 General Thoughts on the Novel! 📗
I got this book in Hong Kong about two years ago, and the first time I read it, I thought it was one of the most beautifully-written and empowering books I had ever encountered. Two years later, after my reread of this novel, and I found that the story wasn’t as amazing as I had remembered it to be — but nevertheless, A Thousand Nights is still is a thought-provoking and insightful novel that I feel like people can only appreciate when they read it in the right mood.
A Thousand Nights is a very slow and lyrical novel. Rather than hectic actions and fights and wars, it’s the eerie suspense of not knowing what will happen next in this seemingly hazy story that kept me turning the pages.
To get the most out of A Thousand Nights, I would recommend that you be in the mood for a slow but insightful story that requires quite a lot thinking and analysis for you to truly understand the story. There are certain kinds of books that I like to read occasionally because I don’t want to have to think thoroughly about the plot and characters and setting to comprehend what is happening in the novel — The Selection series would be a great example of this — but A Thousand Nights isn’t the kind of book you can skim through and say you’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and understood all its themes.
Now, back to that misleading tagline — it is so misleading, everyone. 😶 Before reading this novel two years ago, I had thought this would be a romance between the unnamed narrator and Lo-Melkhiin, the prince and the only named character in the story. In addition, the cover has both of them facing each other (if you take off the dust jacket off of the UK edition of A Thousand Nights you’ll see clearly what I’m talking about).
However, now that I’ve read the novel twice, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a love story between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin. Rather, my interpretation of A Thousand Nights is that it’s a love story about the love that exists between all women, or the sisterhood of women. This is a huge theme in the novel, as well as one of the reasons why I love this novel so much and why I view it as such an empowering story.
The first impression of the society that the narrator lives in is that it only views women as inferior items for trade and sacrifice and nothing else. As the story moves along, Johnston slowly weaves in the bond between the narrator and the women of this society into the story, allowing us as readers to realize that we have been viewing this society through the men’s eyes — we, like the demon that plays a large part in the direction of the story, slowly come to realize that the women in this story are more powerful than we thought. From the narrator’s own experiences and her interactions with other women in the story both in the desert lands and the qsar, she learns of a bond and magic that transcends the restrictive laws that men had unjustly placed upon the women and daughters of this society.
Overall, I really love this novel. 😊 If you’re a student who needs to find a deep and thoughtful novel for a book report or something of the sort, A Thousand Nights would be a great option if you’re in the mood for this kind of novel. Or, if you’re just looking for an empowering and thoughtful book to read, A Thousand Nights would be perfect.
(Also, the UK edition of this novel is absolutely gorgeous. 😍😍😍)
If you haven’t read A Thousand Nights, I really do hope you give this novel a chance and read it for yourself to experience all the lovely themes and quotes this book has to offer. If you’ve already read this novel, then let’s move onto the spoilery section together — because wow, there is a ton to analyze. 😁
📙 The Spoilery Section! 📙
The Roman Numeral Chapters
The first chapter of the novel is a roman numeral chapter. The text is italicized, and as you move onto the next chapter, Chapter One, you will probably gather that there are two narrators in this novel: the main narrator, the girl from the desert lands, and the other narrator, the demon who took control of Lo-Melkhiin’s body.
I loved how mysterious the demon’s narration was, but at the same time, I was always confused after reading the demon’s chapters. It did seem like the demon lacked character, though that might have been the point — the demon was less of a character and more of a random being that paid no heed to how its actions might affect mortal beings.
We coveted the things they made, for though we had nothing but time, we had little inclination to master handiwork ourselves. Always, it was easier to take. And so we took. (2)
The demon’s narration was certainly dramatic, but I also felt like it wasn’t consistent. There was a point in the story where the demon decides that it wants to make Lo-Melkhiin work towards making the female narrator fall in love with him, but I actually never got the impression that the demon made any effort to follow through with this “plan.”
The reason for the demon’s sudden desire to make the girl fall in love with Lo-Melkhiin was this:
All of this time, I had had access to more power than I had imagined, and I had missed it because I saw with men’s eyes. I had forgotten the girls who scrubbed the floors and spun the yarn, I had forgotten the women who dyed the cloth and worked with henna. I had married three hundred girls, and as much eaten them all before they were done cooking. (182)
Yet this didn’t make any sense to me, since the demon clearly didn’t need to have the girl’s love to drain women of their creative energy and power — he drained an entire workroom of weavers while the other narrator was still very much plotting against Lo-Melkhiin.
Before the end of the novel, yes, the demon did end up realizing how powerful the women in his qasr were because of their shared bond from a history of being viewed as secondary to men, but this never translated to love between Lo-Melkhiin or the narrator.
Instead, the strongest kind of love portrayed in this novel was the love between the unnamed female narrator and her sister. It was her love for her sister that motivated her to take her sister’s place as the bride of Lo-Melkhiin, which consequently kicked off the entire story. Was it a marketing strategy to make it seem like this novel is a love story between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin when it clearly isn’t? I’ll talk more about this later, but the ending off the novel led to no clear indication that the narrator ended up falling in love with the king who had nearly killed her under the influence of the demon.
Instead, throughout the story, the narrator seemed to fall more in love with the women in her society after she had strengthened her bond with them in her experience as a smallgod that the desert women worshiped and through receiving unexpected help from the women of the qsar.
A Thousand Nights is “the most dangerous love story ever told” indeed, but not because the demon succeeded in making the narrator fall in love with Lo-Melkhiin. It is the most dangerous love story because the bond between women has to remain a secret hidden from men lest the men decided to break the bond, and it is also dangerous in how powerful the love between the narrator and her mother, her sister, her sister’s mother, and the other women she encounters is.
The Sisterhood of Women
The way Johnston hints at the sisterhood of women that exists in the story is very subtle. For example, when the narrator decides that she’s going to take her sister’s place as the bride of Lo-Melkhiin, she justifies her decision by saying that her “mother has sons” (12), while her sister is the only child of her mother. (If you don’t remember, the narrator and her sister has different mothers but share the same father.)
However, the narrator’s sister’s mother is quick to remind her that “a son is not a daughter” (12).
Oooh, you see how the theme of the sisterhood between women just snuck into the story right there? I’ll give it my seal of approval 😊👍
The narrator experiences these revelations many, many times in the novel. After hearing her sister’s mother’s words, she realizes that
[She] had never thought that maybe, maybe, [her] mother would grieve for [her], for no reason other than her heart. (12)
There were a few instances where the narrator reveals the complexity of gender roles in her society. The best example I can think of would be during one of the conversations between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin. The narrator had asked a question, and Lo-Melkhiin had bluntly answered. After his answer, Lo-Melkhiin asks the narrator, “Does that answer suit you?”
“Yes, my lord,” I said to him, the picture of meekness. It was the way my mother spoke to our father when she had won, but wanted to let him preserve his dignity. (139)
I love the way Johnston reveals information like this — the women in this story appear beaten down and submissive, yet the narrator’s observations of the actions of the women around her are contradictory to that initial belief. It really brings the question of who has the real power in this society. At first glance, it seems like the men have all the power, but in instances such as the one depicted in the quote above, does Lo-Melkhiin or the narrator’s father really have control over the narrator or the narrator’s mother, respectively, or is it flipped around?
If we go into the more magical side of this story (or should it be called religious? Spiritual? For me, it seems like a mixture of magic and this society’s religion) we can also glimpse some of this secret power that women have.
Soon, they found that women came to trade with them instead of men. The women listened to the story of my wedding with an attentiveness the men had not shared. (280)
The women, sick of giving up their daughters to Lo-Melkhiin as a sacrifice to keep their caravan or village safe, listened the the narrator’s father and brothers as they traveled throughout the desert to spread news about the bravery and survival of the narrator. The women listened, and they ended up making the narrator into a smallgod who could turn her thoughts of the future into reality.
Combined with the determination of the women within the qsar to help the narrator stay alive —
“I will take the tea, lady-bless…. They may search your rooms, but they do not search mine. If you need it, send for me. You always have an excuse to, because you can say you want the henna” (187).
— it seems very clear that the “love” aspect of this supposed love story seems to be about the love between the women in the story, rather than the love between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin.
(Because there is no romantic love between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin AT ALL. I have NO IDEA WHERE THAT CAME FROM. 😦🤔)
Beauty Doesn’t Matter
Another aspect of this story that I really loved was the theme that beauty doesn’t matter, especially if the standards are created by men. This isn’t a huge theme in the story, and it was only touched upon during the beginning of the novel, but nevertheless, the theme exists.
Growing up, it appears that the narrator always felt behind her sister in beauty — but she never resented her sister for it. She “knew [her] sister’s face could take [her] breath away. [She] had not ever seen [her] own. [They] had little bronze or copper, and the only water was at the bottom of our well” (5). In addition, the narrator always had the idea that she would marry the brother of whomever her sister chose to marry. Thus, she never thought of herself as a beautiful person, and her beauty never mattered to her.
At least, until the day Lo-Melkhiin came.
It was that day that she realized she could be beautiful according to men’s standards if she willed it, and she managed to outshine her sister in beauty to tempt Lo-Melkhiin into picking her as his bride instead of her gorgeous sister.
As she walked through the crowds of people towards Lo-Melkhiin,
[She] could hear the men whisper. “Pity,” they hissed. “Pity we did not notice she was as beautiful as her sister” (14).
Here’s the significant thing about that line — the narrator drew the attention and sympathy of the men in her caravan only because she looked more beautiful than her sister. The men payed no attention to the fact that she was walking towards her own death, or that her sacrifice allowed the caravan to have a peaceful relationship with Lo-Melkhiin and his court. The men’s last thought before the narrator left the caravan forever was that they regretted they “did not notice she was as beautiful as her sister.” 😒
In the past, the narrator never desired to look beautiful or more beautiful than her sister because she was content with her life and love for her sister. She only dressed up to catch the attention of Lo-Melkhiin, who was a man. The men of her caravan only noticed her for her beauty.
What is beauty, then? It seems like this story is trying to teach me something that has been lying in the back of my mind for quite a while: that how beautiful a woman is, and the beauty standards of women, seem to be largely defined by men.
Despite the fact that the setting of this story may seem very different than where I’m from, and perhaps where you are from, too, there are, at the same time, many parallel themes I can pick out between this novel and the world I live in — especially in relation to who determines a woman’s beauty.
I’m actually super excited about this topic now. 😇 There’s a lot I could say about this idea of beauty, but I’ll stop here for now. Maybe I’ll expand upon this idea later in a separate blog post 😊
The Theme of Identity
Who are you?
Who am I?
Those are deceptively simply questions, but people spend their entire lives trying to understand themselves and the people around them. I’m doing that right now.
One admirable trait of the main character is that she is very clear about what her identity is, and her idea of where she belongs. Despite being taken away from her caravan, she makes it clear to her father that “[She is] a queen here, but [she is] as [she has] been taught…. [she is] as [she] learned to be in [her father’s] tents” (243).
“I am not from the city…. Lo-Melkhiin has decided I am his queen, but that does not make me belong here [the qsar]” (244).
I think it’s because I’ve been very lucky to have traveled to so many places around the world, but I’ve always wanted to study abroad, live abroad, work abroad… even though I love routine, I do know that I can’t stay in one place too long. The times that I’ve learned the most about myself and the world is during my travels outside of my home, but at the same time, all of those experiences traveling has resulted in me not being able to pick just one home.
I have two. And maybe three, if Death Valley National Park counts, seeing as it is my favorite place on this planet.
But identity doesn’t just concern your home — it concerns a multitude of factors that define your life. Your race, your family, your experiences, your favorite food, the weather you don’t like, your hobbies, everything. The narrator of A Thousand Nights ends up being the queen of Lo-Melkhiin’s qsar and surrounding lands, but she stands strong in her belief that though she may be a queen, the core of her is still a little girl who lives in the desert with her father’s caravan members. She’s the girl who knows how to carefully place her steps and walk on the sand so she doesn’t slip, and she’s also the girl who took turns carrying the water jug with her sister from the well back to her caravan.
People can change, but never in their core. Sometimes, we don’t even know what our core is made of, and that’s why I think it’s so important to spend time by yourself to find out what makes you who you are. Perhaps we can learn a little from the narrator in her certainty of who she is on the inside, and who she will forever be. She knows herself well, and that is one of her strongest traits as a character that I can both look up to and respect.
The Style of Writing
As I mentioned earlier, the style of writing is one that you really have to be in the mood for to appreciate. I noticed that narrator’s voice was a little contradictory in some sentences, where she would say something and then immediately contradict it:
“I love you,” I called out. The words were for everyone, for my mothers, and the words were only for my sister. (16)
They were nothing, and they were everything; they were my sister, and I would never tell him what he had missed. (50)
I also noticed, near the end of the story, that the narrator, in some situations, would confirm what she said after she states it. The quote below is one that illustrates this well:
“It’s beautiful,” I said to him, because it was.
After I read this quote, I realized that maybe I couldn’t have trusted everything that the narrator had said beforehand. After all, she only said “because it was” to confirm her dialogue; what if her dialogue from before didn’t reflect what she actually thought unless her inner narration confirmed it? It’s something I’m not going to go back and double-check now, but it could be a possibility — and it’s definitely something for me to keep in mind if I ever decide to reread this novel. 😋
And lastly, let’s talk about
The sun gleamed in the desert sky, and the stones of the walls reflected the golden light all around the garden, but there was no fire where our fingers met. (322)
I just cannot emphasize enough how there is NO ROMANCE between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin! NONE, I say, NONE! I’m going to also argue that even the last sentence of the novel (shown in the above quote) shows how there both is no romance between the two and will not be any romance in the future.
Everyone. “There was no fire where our fingers met.” Meaning there is not romance between them now, and probably will never be any romance between them. If I’m being honest here, the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin aren’t two people I would ever ship. They’re just not… shippable. A Thousand Nights isn’t that kind of story, and I’m not going to make it into one.
I’ll just say that I’m really happy no romance ever developed between the narrator and Lo-Melkhiin throughout this novel. Phew. 😇 And it seems like the ending wants to solidify that idea, too — at least, in my interpretation of it.
📚 In Conclusion…
I’m not going to talk about the most obvious part of this novel (every character being unnamed other than Lo-Melkhiin) because the meaning behind that is pretty obvious. I do try and point out things within novels that other reviews I’ve read don’t talk about, and the “unnamed” aspect of the characters in A Thousand Nights has already been decoded and talked about frequently by other book bloggers and reviewers.
I hope you enjoyed this extensive book chat on A Thousand Nights! I’m going to go ahead and rest my eyeballs for a bit now because I’ve spent several hours writing this book chat and my eyes are starting to hurt now 🙄, but this book chat was super fun for me to write. Hopefully I brought your attention to something you might not have noticed whilst reading this novel, and have a
fantastic rest of your day! 😋