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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Re­view by tAN SHIOW CHIN star2@ thes­tar. com. my

“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/

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