When Lo-Melkhiin comes to her village looking for his next wife, she knows he will choose her beautiful sister. She knows, too, that her sister would then be next in the long line of girls who meet death soon after becoming his bride. She vows to take her sister’s place.
In the palace, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her every night. She spins stories for him, grand tales about her home. Each morning she wakes. Each night he comes again. Strange things begin to happen. Power flows through her hands at weaving. Rumors surface of the good, kind man Lo-Melkhiin once was. She vows to weave power strong enough to free him from whatever curse has made him cruel. But she must do it before he destroys the kingdom and her.
Because the story is told through a lilting first-person narrative, I was so captured by the tale I didn’t realize the main character isn’t named. Normally that would really bother me, but as I said, I was sucked right into the plight of this brave girl who expected every night to be murdered by her husband.
As the story went on, I had more of a love-hate experience regarding her relationship with Lo-Melkhiin. I wanted there to be flashes of his former self behind his eyes or something, and it really wasn’t that kind of story. She believes wholly on faith that a good man exists, imprisoned inside him. I think that worked, I just had to adjust my expectations a bit.
I also kept having to resist the urge to compare this story to a recent favorite, Book of a Thousand Days. The narrative flow is a little similar, in that it has this poetic feel. It’s not really the same, and I think the two can’t really be compared. Book of a Thousand Days felt denser (in a good way) to me. This story felt simpler, not necessarily in a bad way.
That said, I’m generally a huge fan of fairytale retellings, and this, based on the stories of Scheherazade, did not leave me feeling disappointed.
The one note I’ll add about content is that I grew up in a church which condemned watching or playing Pokemon because it bore too close a parallel to trying to control spiritual creatures (too much like demons), and from that perspective, I’m not sure I would have been allowed to read this book as a younger teen. Certainly my parents and spiritual leaders would have been concerned with the demon-possession aspect and with her own power coming from worship and prayer given to her by the people.
At this point for me personally, it’s not always easy to decide where to draw the line on spiritual matters emerging in books, movies, and video games. My daughter’s father and I don’t always share the same values on these issues. In fact, we don’t always even land on the same (conservative vs liberal) side of the scale depending on the issue. So co-parenting across those lines can also be challenging. Because it is important to both of us to foster respect for our decisions in our daughter, I think we tend to try to err on choosing the more conservative side of the spectrum. It’s often about waiting rather than forbidding. At ten, the answer is no, but at fourteen, it might be yes. I suspect this book might fall into that category in my own judgment.
She understands that she’ll be expected to have sex with her husband, and worries about it. No details given.
The people pray to smallgods. Each family has a shrine set up, often to a family member who who has died. Everyone prays to the person and leaves relics and offerings at the shrine. These give the smallgods power. When she leaves her family to become Lo-Melkhiin’s wife, her family sets up a shrine to her and her sister prays and keeps it. Over time, others pray to her as well, and her power grows.
Lo-Melkhiin returned from a hunting trip possessed by a demon. It controls him, keeps him caged within a small part of his brain. It also uses his power as king to control the people. It kills his wives to strengthen itself. It’s a pretty dark concept.
The demon’s power is pitted against her growing power as a smallgod. Each tries to destroy the other: she wants to free Lo-Melkhiin. He wants to kill her and take her power for his own.
Some spiritual power and authority also goes to the Skeptics, learned men who study the universe and its often unanswerable questions.
References to wives being murdered. He sort of draws out their life force and leaves them withered and dead husks. It’s briefly described.