"How do all great stories begin? With 'Once Upon A Time...'"
Thus begins the story of Shahrazad, aptly named The Storyteller's Daughter. Seventeen-year-old Shahrazad is the daughter of the King's faithful vizier and the famed, mysterious, and blind storyteller woman, Maju. Maju taught her gifted daughter in the ways o master storytelling, showing Shahrazad her secret chest. In the magical chest, a person wishing for a story removes a length of fabric. Maju then feels the fabric with her hands, and begins the tale, unique to the listener's soul, mind, and heart.
King Shahrayar, king of all the lands where Shahrazad lives in, has become very unhappy. Shahrayar has discovered that his wife was having an affair with another man and had plotted a conspiracy with her beloved to assassinate Shahrayar. Overhearing the two lovers, Shahrayar sprang out from the bushes and killed his wife's lover, about to do the same to his scheming wife. But before he killed her, she presented a choice for Shahrayar: "Let me go and you shall die anyway, or kill me now and you will live a cursed life." Shahrayar chose the latter, stabbing his wife with his sword through the heart.
Shahrayar's wicked wife's dying curse came true. An inexplicable depression came over Shahrayar and his whole being, engulfing him in sadness. All day, for weeks and months on end, he just lay on the cold floor of an old locked tower. He studied the arts of dark magic, and allowed no one in to see him; not even his terribly worried younger brother. Shahrayar's heart had turned to stone, and it seemed as though nothing to could bring his dead soul back to life.
Then Shahrayar made a horrible decision. In an attempt to ease his desperate longing for true love since his wicked wife had betrayed him so cruelly, Shahrayar alerted the whole kingdom of his newfound plan. Every month, Shahrayar would take a wife. She would live for one night, and one night only, and the next morning she would be executed. Then the next month Shahrayar would take another wife, and then another, and then another... And if no women willingly volunteered, Shahrayar would choose for himself. No women volunteered.
Except for Shahrazad.
The whole kingdom was in complete horror and mass-turmoil at learning of Shahrayar's violent demand for a wife. Many were already leaving the kingdom to save their daughters. No women volunteered. But around this time, Shahrazad suddenly had a vision, a prophecy of sorts, a vision of her dead mother Maju telling her how to fulfill her bound destiny. In the vision, Shahrazad became blind, just like Maju had been. Maju told Shahrazad that she had to volunteer to become Shahrayar's wife. Or else, many innocent women would be murdered. Maju explained to Shahrazad how she would survive the night with Shahrayar and many other nights too. Everything was clear to Shahrazad now.
She told her father, the vizier, and her precious little half-sister, Dinarzad---whose evil mother had died when she was so angry that she had given birth to a girl, her heart exploded---of her plans, of which Dinarzad was a key part of. On their one night of marriage together, Shahrazad would bring her mother's magical chest of stories with her, and would begin to tell Shahrayar a seemingly endless story, a story that absolutely did not end before the night was up. Shahrazad was praying that Shahrayar would be pulled into the story enough to keep Shahrazad alive for just one more night, then another night, then another... Shahrazad hoped that with her stories, she could help Shahrayar's heart melt back to the warm way it was before, and could show him true love once again.
Cameron Dokey, a talented author with a knack for writing novels that make you think outside the box, has written an excellent debut to the new fairy tale retellings series, Once Upon A Time. In this first story, The Arabian Nights---or The Thousand and One Nights, as it is sometimes called---is beautifully narrated for the sheer enjoyment of teen readers. While the novel's quirky writig style could get on some readers' nerves, other readers will find that it makes the story much better. Romance, magic, conspiracy, assassinations, three full-length stories told by Shahrazad, court intrigue, are delightfully packed into the story, making it a good retelling of a story not often retold, though this is definitely not my favorite in this popular new series.