One Really Fantastic Night!
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked up this book. A retelling of the Scheherazade stories. What I got was something so new and fresh and surprising that I was literally gobsmacked. I love Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" because of its surprising take on myths you know, and reading E.K. Johnston's One Thousand Nights was a similar experience.
E.K. Johnston takes her inspiration, I think, from tales of the fertile crescent and the Levant. Her heroines are smart, gutsy and never what you expect. Johnston's ability to create realistic settings and draw the reader into the hot sands of the desert and cool gardens of the "qsar" is delightful.
One Thousand Nights tells the tale of a woman who chosen by the local ruler to be his "wife". The only downside to the arrangement is that he has killed every bride he has taken; some on the wedding night, others managed to survive a little longer. The new bride, however, is a sheep of a different wool altogether; she will not die. Her ability to survive is not so much about her own magic as it is about the power of those who believe in her.
One Thousand Nights is a subtle tale about the power of the people to overcome tyranny. It is also a metaphor for the transition from the bronze to the iron age. It is a fable about the the power of women to affect their patriarchal organised society. It is study in leadership styles and that a tyrannical leader can force compliance, but the costs are high; a true leader brings individuals willingly to a cause.
One Thousand Nights is such a wonderful book that can be read on so many different levels that even long after you close the back cover, you will find yourself thinking about the tale as whole and specific incidents and unravelling their meanings.
If I have a criticism of the book, it is only this, I wanted a "Further Reading" section so that I could delve more deeply into the background of the culture from which this story arose.