(summary from Goodreads)
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.
And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.
Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. 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.
This book has had a lot of hype surrounding it, and as one of the most anticipated releases of this year I was truly interested in reading it. I took me a little longer than I had hoped to finish it and I have to admit to some skipping/scanning of quite a bit of it due to the pacing being so slow and therefore very out of my comfort zone, but in no way let that put you off this book because there are so many incredible things about it to enjoy.
The book itself is beautifully written, like the embroidery work that is heavily featured within, the story has been stitched together so delicately with many thought-provoking questions that challenge the readers perceptions of religion and the power of belief. The descriptions are elaborate and the language chosen paints a vibrant world. It’s beautiful, but at the same time it just didn’t work for me.
“I do fear him,” I said, which was close to the truth. “I fear him as I fear the desert sun and poisonous snakes. They are all part of the life I live. But the sun gives light, and snakes will feed a caravan if they are caught and cooked.“
This book is slow paced, there is no more eloquent way to describe it. The only action happens right at the end of the book, and for me that was my favourite part of the book, after struggling through the first 80%. But then this book wasn’t about the action, it was about the emotion and the tension and so the pacing worked well for this and really helped to heighten the tension and the fear through the entire book.
“There is life, and there is living–and that is what she learned.”
One interesting thing about this book was the lack of names and in fact E.K.Johnston only named one character in the entire book: Lo-Melkhiin. Everyone else had either a title, for example “Fihr Stonetouched” or were referred to by their relationship to our MC, eg. “my sister”, “father of my heart”, “the henna mistress”. As the character with all the power in this story it feels quite fitting that Lo-Melkhiin is the only one who is named as the demon inside of him see’s everyone else as meaningless people. However these nameless characters are able to find power through their words and thoughts, through prayer and faith and through their talents and skills. It was a story about the overlooked, the unnamed, the anonymous. And in the end it is those who had the true power.
“As they did with their crafting, they simply accepted the deaths. The men stopped counting, as did I. No one paid any mind to the line of dark-haired, dark-skinned girls who came to the qasr, and met their end there. They were nameless and faceless under their veils. Sometimes I looked at them; sometimes I touched them. Sometimes I simply burned them, and then rode out for another.”
I can’t write a review for this book without mentioning our MC, “Lady Bliss” as she is known to many within her world. Her courage and bravery span far beyond what I would have had I been put into her situation. Her loyalty and love for those she cares for and the sacrifices she is willing to make, especially her actions that resulted in Lo-Melkhiin choosing her as a wife rather than her sister.
The relationship between her and Lo-Melkhiin was interesting to see. He was cruel and arrogant, but our heroine never let herself be beaten by him, never bowing down to him and never letting herself fear him. In short, she was kick ass, and I loved it.
“For one thousand nights, I lived a nightmare in the dark, but when the night numbered a thousand and one, the nightmare was ended.”
The world that Johnston has created for us is quite literally magical. I will admit to being a bit overwhelmed and lost at times with the visions, the demons and the magical abilities of some of our characters. There was a lot going on and I could never be sure what was real and if so exactly what was happening. But the world building was a totally different kind of magic and the massive effort that went into creating this world is evident as we experience every little piece of it. The detail that we are given about the histories and the religions and just the world itself was incredible, and I can honestly say I don’t think I have every read anything so beautifully written.
“If you listen long enough to the whispers, you will hear the truth. Until then, I will tell you this: the world is made safe by a woman.“
I don’t want to describe this book as a disappointment because I think I went into it with very high expectations. This is not my type of read, I am used to gritty books with action that I am able to read at a fast pace. The writing in this book felt so delicate that I couldn’t speed read it, and the slow pacing frustrated me. I went into it hoping that this book would turn me to this new genre and so when it didn’t I felt let down, but then I guess it wasn’t really fair for me to put so many expectations on just one book. I know for a fact that many people have really enjoyed this book and I cant deny the beauty of the writing and the world that Johnston has created and so would definitely recommend that people give it a go.
Re-Readability: Probably not
I would recommend this book to fans of: slow paced high tension reads, prose, beautiful worlds, emotion over action type books