A Thousand Nights. Doesn’t that sound like Scheherazade with the king who lets his wife live another night as long as she spins a tale he wants to hear? E. K. Johnson’s A Thousand Nights is closer in spirit to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted than to the original Arabian Nights.
As in Uprooted girls are seized and taken from their homes, but unlike Novik’s tale the women are to marry the king and die after one night. Our heroine – who is never named – knows that the king’s servants will choose her beautiful sister and instead puts herself forward to go in her place. The wife doesn’t know what will happen or why the king takes his wives. The other similarities lie in the grudging romance, the constant threat in the background of an otherwise placid country, fear, and sheer bloody mindedness that the heroine uses to keep her life and her wits.
I particularly liked the subtle magic and the nuances the wife must thread. For example, she decides to stay with the king because she can survive but realizes no other lady could. She gets a chance to kill her husband, but she knows a kingdom without an heir is a kingdom in chaos when contenders tear the country apart to grab the throne. She realizes the kingdom tolerates the king because he is a just ruler who brings prosperity and peace despite sacrificing a young lady every month or two, so decides to conquer the demon…somehow.
Be warned that the story is slow in the beginning. The wife does not know she will survive and she views everything she sees as the last time she sees it. We go along with her as she wanders her palace suite, as she remembers her family’s tales, as she lets her husband hold her hands to eat her life.
A Thousand Nights is not for action junkies. Don’t read this expecting fierce sword fights or blasts of magic. Our heroine develops her magic as her sister builds her a memory shrine, in effect making her a small god while alive. Her magic works from visions, where she is able to weave a fabric by imagining it, where she finds the metal that demons cannot tolerate by a waking dream.
Instead of action we have a bit of mystery, well-developed settings and emotion. A Thousand Nights delivers simple magic and understated romance, duty and emotional appeal. And like Uprooted this is listed as YA, older teens but adults will enjoy it too; in fact it is likely more appealing to adults than to teens.
Overall this is an excellent novel.