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E. K Johnston describes 1000 Nights as a work fashioned around the creation of beautiful crafts charged with magic. She confesses that her setting is not historically accurate, explaining, I cheated a bit, because the usual date for the stories ranges from Middle Persian literature to the Caliphate Era, and I set the book about two thousand years before that. Her locations are beautifully evoked and based on her sensory experiences as an archaeologist in Jordan. A Turkish bath in Amman, the Umayyad palace on top of the Amman Citadel and the swirling sands at Wadi Rum are just a few sources she has used to recreate the spirit of Lo Melkhiin's dangerous qasr (Middle Eastern palace) juxtaposed with the mercurial nature of his wife's desert home.

A Thousand Nights by E K Johnston

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Tanja Jennings
Reviewed by Tanja Jennings
Summary: Forensic archaeologist and storyteller EK Johnston has expertly crafted a love song to the enchanting kingdom of Jordan using the story of Scheherazade as a loose frame. It is not a retelling of 'The Arabian Nights' but rather a reimagining. The result is a feminist and mystical tale woven together with the threads of love, family, faith and ancestral heritage.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781447290377

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Johnston's tale uses the interesting device of alternating narratives, one written in italics denoting a malign desert demon who latches on to humans with parasitical spite and the other, the tale of her stoic heroine, told in the first person. What is particularly noteworthy is that her female protagonist is never named. Instead she assumes the honorary titles of queen, sister, daughter-of my-heart symbolising the love and respect others have for her. Conversely, Lo Melkhiin has no such affection bestowed upon him.

When we first meet our heroine she sacrifices herself for her sister in the manner of Katniss Everdeen, believing that she has the inner strength to defeat the merciless king who has been responsible for the slaughter of three hundred girls. This disregard for her own safety in taking on a seemingly impossible quest earns her the status of a small God among her people. Carried off to an exquisite palace, she discovers an underlying sense of dread among its captive craft workers. There are statues with tortured eyes and elaborately wrought embroidery. What sinister skulduggery is afoot?

As the king's new wife worries each day whether she will see the sun rise again, something extraordinary starts to happen. Deeper magic, imbued by the power of her tales is at work. The tyrannical Lo Melkhiin is transfixed by her, visiting her every night in an attempt to uncover her secret:

She was not of my kind, yet there was some power to her that was not human, not quite. She did not die, and I wondered if I might at last have found a queen for whom I could set the desert on fire.

Soon, the queen is faced with difficult choices. Can she discover the man Lo Melkhinn was before the killings? Is she aware a dark force contains him? Will she fall in love? Can she save her family from the rapacious hordes that threaten them? Will she see her sister again? What of this strange sculptor whose creations fascinate her?

Taking a sharp twist away from the original trajectory of 1001 Nights, which placed fantastical tales of djinnis, caliphs, charmed objects, quests and strange happenings inside each other like a set of Chinese boxes, Johnston's heroine follows a different path. Will she heal or harm? What is giving her the ability to craft miracles out of her visions? Can light overcome dark? What is the significance of the henna marks on her hands?

If you want to know more just open this inventive book. You will not find high octane action or explosive spells within its pages but rather a contemplative, quiet, lyrical observation of a woman driven by sisterly love and a sense of justice to right the wrongs perpetrated upon her people.

If you wish to explore more Arabian wonders start with a testament to the influence of memories and stories - the enlightening, autobiographical In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah then immerse yourself in Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights by Marina Warner for a rich, academic insight into the endless charms of fabulous, exotic tales of magical worlds. Alternatively, if you would prefer a socio-political look at the Middle East which unwraps the tales of diverse women try dipping into Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani.

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