Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. Desperate to save her sister from certain death, she makes the ultimate sacrifice - leaving home and family behind to live with a fearful man. But it seems that a strange magic flows between her and Lo-Melkhiin, and night after night, she survives. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong. Finding power in storytelling, the words she speaks are given strange life of their own. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
I received an advance review copy from publisher via NetGalley. A HUGE thank you to NetGalley & the publisher for this opportunity to read and review.
While putting together a brief summary of the plot, I finally realized that the main character has no name. In the book, the storyteller’s voice is so strong that I never noticed the lack of a given name. She is addressed by many titles but never by a birth name. Additionally, many members of her family are never named. They are referred to by their relationships. I found a lot of beauty to this type of plotting. It made the story feel like a lyrical tale told around campfires which eventually developed into legend. And the fact I never really noticed this before… well, I was floored. Talk about a difficult way to tell a story! Johnston is such a talented, poetic writer. I felt the main character was well defined by her voice and thoughts and in her relationships to others. I didn’t need a name for her. Somehow it worked and added to the magical quality of the story. This no-name device completely fits with the description I found of the book: “Finding power in storytelling, the words she speaks are given strange life of their own. Very true with this book.
I loved the thought lines of the main character. I liked how they rolled between reality and magic. There was a beautiful blend of these two elements throughout the book. The main character is always driven by love for her family and a desire to protect her sister. She is very observant and intelligent. She accepts the facts of her new life and chooses not to let her fears rule her. I think the main character demonstrates different examples of courage and strength. I really liked her. I also really liked how she was valued in her family. Her father loved her even though she was “just a girl.” Her brothers also loved her despite their teasing nature and higher status in the clan. Just like the rules of a nomadic tribe, they are stronger together - they know it and value each other.
This is a standalone novel and should remain so because it ends with so much hope. The ending leads me to believe in a romance and a bright future for the main character. Both she and Lo-Melkhiin become defined by each other instead of by fear that others give to them. The main character develops powers when her sister and other desert clans begin praying to her spirit as a “living small god” as they fear for her and her untimely death at the hands of her new husband. Lo-Melkhiin has been possessed by a magical being (I’m assuming a djinn) who feeds off people to make the djinn stronger (the more fearful and painful the better for him). When the story ends, you are left with two people who are driven by their desire for peace and prosperity for the kingdom. These two people have been possessed by magical elements, and while both were changed by it, neither desires such power again.
You are given small clues to the real Lo-Melkhiin as every now and then there were a few narrations by the djinn regarding his possession and torture of the Lo-Melkhiin, the man kept prisoner in his mind. This djinn spirit is a truly evil character, and while told in a matter-of-fact way, the spirit has done some horrible things that he recounts. As a reader, you see how the main character really should fear this demon, yet she never chooses fear – she chooses to live in the best way possible for each new dawn she sees.
I loved how the author was very descriptive in the setting details. The places and traditions of the people come alive in the story. However, the author also left plenty to the imagination. When the main character is fighting against the other djinn as they attack her family, she creates magical animals – regular animals that are given a part of her powers to enable them to fight the magical djinn. The author does not overly describe these new creations but gives the reader enough snippets to let the imagination soar. I found this novel to be a perfect balance of well-described settings with an atmosphere painted in visionary ambiguity.
Overall, this is a story about women. Women who love with an honest devotion to each other and who sacrifice and worship for the sake of each other. It is about sisters and sister-wives and mothers and daughters. It’s about the magic women possess in their everyday lives in acts of weaving and spinning and singing and dancing (I loved the marriage dance that the main character and her sister perform). The story centers around one woman who finds courage when all hope seems lost. She has very few women to guide her when she goes to live in Lo-Melkhiin’s palace, yet she discovers a power within herself, which is given to her by the love and prayers of others. She never compromises her beliefs. She becomes more than anyone could imagine, and she never loses sight of what drives her: her love for her family.
The story is based on the life of Queen Scheherazade, the legendary Arabic queen and the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, who was written to be “pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred” and used her knowledge to save herself and any other woman in the kingdom from death after 1 night with the king. With rich characters, beautiful traditions, and a very historically-authentic backdrop, Johnston spins a beautiful story that I very much enjoyed and would highly recommend to anyone who loves fantasy and fairytales.
Just released December 2016: "The Forgotten" volume 2 "Heir of the Heretic"
Reviewed and awarded the
2016 Indie Editor's Choice
by the Historical Novel Society.
Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.
Goodreads profile at: https://www.goodreads.com/JElse