The original ‘ Arabian Nights’?
This Young Adult fantasy positions itself as a retelling of the classic Middle Eastern collection of tales, but it’s better read for it’s own sake.
“AN evocative tale of love, mystery and magic that would not feel out of place if Scheherazade herself were telling it. “And perhaps she is ... ” It was definitely that blurb, and the lovely cover, that drew me in to pick up this Young Adult ( YA) fantasy book.
It has been a while since I’ve read my copy of Arabian Nights, but the idea of a stories- within- stories novel is like candy to my reader’s soul.
But that is not the story I got. ( Yeah, yeah, I should know better than to judge a book by its cover ... and blurb.)
Oh, author E. K. Johnston does try to connect it all up in the epilogue – casting her own tale as the original story of Scheherazade that gets distorted over time through oral retellings ( like the game of Chinese Whispers or Telephone), but the connection is a tad too obscure for my comprehension.
So, it’s best to take this story for what it is, without the Arabian Nights connection hanging out in the back of your mind.
The obvious commonality that these two tales share is that there is a king, called Lo- Melkhiin here, who continually seeks out new brides and kills them soon after the wedding – their survival rate ranges from one day to 30.
But it is not a betrayal by his first wife that triggers this behaviour as in the original tale, but instead, something more insidious.
You see, one day, while he was gives both sides of the agency, including how the investigative journalist gets information from inside sources, private documents and declassified memos.
Altogether she interviewed 71 individuals affiliated with the agency.
This is her third book after Area 5 1: An Uncensored History Of America’s Top Secret Military Base and Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program still prince, Lo- Melkhiin had gone out hunting for lions in the desert. But instead of being the hunter, he become the prey of a being that took over his body and shut him away in a corner of his own mind.
This being is one of a race that comes from the sea, appears to be immortal ( but not invincible), and deeply covets mankind’s ability to create. Although they are eventually called demons, I assume they are more in the line of evil djinn.
Also, like Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter who volunteered to become the king’s next bride, our heroine pushes herself forward to catch the king’s eye when he arrives at her desert village to select his next bride.
And like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, this is done in order to save her beloved sister, the acknowledged beauty of the village, from being doomed to her death.
But on the wedding night, something strange happens; Lo- Melkhiin and our heroine exchange threads of fire through the touch of their hands – blue and gold from her to him, and copper fire from him to her. ( Nothing much else happens, by the way.)
Could it have something to do with our heroine’s sister’s vow to make her a smallgod as soon as she is taken by the king, instead of after her death as is normal? That Brought Nazi Scientists To America.
I have never read her previous two books, but I would definitely look out for them now.
Most importantly, reading this book makes me wonder why man chooses to use technology to destroy and kill, rather than make sure everyone has something to eat and be able to live in peace. It really does makes me wonder.
Soon, our heroine finds herself having visions of things that really come to pass, but are these visions premonitions, a far- seeing ability or something more?
Magic, it obviously is, but not the type most readers are probably accustomed to seeing.
Do note that this is not a book for those looking for a fast- paced, action- packed read.
This is a story of self- sacrifice and bravery that showcases the power of seemingly powerless people, with a subtle feminist ( in a good way) tone.
You might have also noticed I haven’t given any character names other than Lo- Melkhiin.
This was an intentional act by Johnston – not naming any other characters – and it’s a testament to her well- written and captivating prose that I didn’t even notice the lack of names until I started writing this review.
It is thoroughly character- driven, so if you don’t love the heroine, then leave this book alone. I recommend a speed read of the first chapter, which is a fairly accurate representation of the book, before you decide whether or not to commit.
And those who like their fictional facts properly laid out and explained will also do well to give this book a miss; most of the fantastical elements are neither named nor explained thoroughly – just enough for the immediate story’s sake.
Overall, a bit of a mixed read for me – I fall a little into the “need fictional facts explained” camp and don’t really get the Arabian Nights connection – but it is certainly well- written and well- imagined.
I say, it’s worth checking out, especially for girls out there. And do indulge in the hardcover version if you have the extra cash or are giving it as a gift.
Photo: http:// ekjohnston. ca/