Lynn: I loved E. K. Johnston’s smart, original take on dragons in last year’s The Story of Owen: Dragonslayer of Trondheim (2014). I was just getting ready to treat myself to the sequel, Prairie Fire (2015), when I received a galley of yet another new book by Johnson. Oh boy, I remember thinking, a folklore twist. Unfortunately, it was several months before I got around to reading A Thousand Nights (2015), and after only a few sentences I was already furious with myself, both for not reading it sooner and for underestimating E. K. Johnston. Yes, this IS a story derived from The Arabian Nights, but like her Owen books, this is fresh, startling, original, and wonderfully crafted.
What is next for this gifted writer?
Whatever it is, count me in!
Set somewhere in the ancient Middle Eastern world, the story starts out with a familiar feel. A malevolent spirit possesses a young king, driving him to marry and then kill over 300 young women. The young narrator explains her decision to take her beautiful sister’s place when the king arrives seeking yet another wife. The king, Lo-Melkhiin, is intrigued by his new wife and lets her live through the first night and then the next one, and still another. We never learn the name of our narrator, or anyone else but the king, but we quickly come to know her. Smart, determined, and powered by a deep love of her home and family, her spirit and the magical fire that burns within her are revealed in her voice. The king underestimates his new wife just as he underestimates the power of the women’s creative magic that she gathers and turns against him.
Johnston’s writing here is lyrically beautiful, spinning the stories of the desert and its people into a mesmerizing, glittering cloth. Ultimately, it is the unnamed, unnoticed, and undervalued women and their domestic magic that defeat the powerful monster and heal the world. Science fiction, fantasy, folklore revisions—what is next for this gifted writer? Whatever it is, count me in!
Cindy: My middle-school students don’t know about Scheherazade, but they learn about the famous storyteller from me when I booktalk Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner (1998). They know Aladdin from Disney, which is how they know most folk and fairy tales, but my teens are intrigued by the story of this daring and talented storyteller. Fletcher’s story includes “Lessons for Life and Storytelling” at the opening of each chapter. Fabulous stuff. I am hoping to sink into Johnston’s book after I survive the next few busy days of the holiday season. Our teens have been racing through it after Lynn’s review at our book club. In my stack of holiday pleasure reading also is The Wrath & The Dawn (2015), by Renee Ahdieh, another new novel about this famous storyteller. Maggie Reagan highlighted both Fletcher’s and Ahdieh’s books in her summer post, “Stories Within Stories: 8 Intriguing Nested Narratives.” Stories save lives—you can count on it.