One Thousand and One Nights, Vol. 8 | By Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok | Published by Yen Press – At the end of volume seven, Sehara sacrificed himself to save his sultan by offering to accompany the crusaders out of Baghdad as Lord McCloud’s bard in exchange for the safety of Shahryar and company. This volume begins as the events are being relayed to Sehara’s sister, Dunya, revealing further details of the exchange including an unexpectedly touching (and unusually erotic) good-bye from Sehara in which he kisses the end of Shahryar’s sword. Devastated and filled with self-loathing over his inability to keep Sehara with him, Shahryar prepares to fulfill his promise to allow Ali to finally take his revenge. After hearing of Sehara’s departure, however, Ali’s desire for vengeance has been swallowed up by regret over his own inability to protect the woman he loved and he instead flees the palace, leaving Shahyar with these words: “Take him back if he is that precious to you.” This call to action shakes Shahyar out of his pitiful wallowing and he departs immediately to seek out the Caliph with the intention of raising an Islamic alliance to defeat the crusaders in Jerusalem. The rest of the volume follows Shahryar as he faces new treachery from his brother Shazaman, while also hearing, finally, the true story behind his wife’s betrayal.
Taking a step back from the previous volume’s political message, volume eight once again focuses on the story’s emotional center by reminding Shahryar what’s really important, and by that, of course, I mean Sehara. Sehara is the heart of this story both for Shahryar and for us, and though he barely appears in this volume after the first few pages, those pages are honestly luminous. The scene in which he kisses the end of Shahryar’s sword (yes, I really do mean his sword) is erotic–probably intentionally so–yet the purity of Sehara’s intentions keeps it from becoming at all lascivious. This quality of Sehara’s is actually the secret to the series’ real beauty as it washes over all of Shahrayr’s ragged anger and pointless cruelty, restoring what is best in everything it touches. The kiss is a perfect example of this–an act of love pacifying an instrument of violence. It is a powerful image, truly, besides being one of the most romantic things I have ever seen.
Though the volume as a whole suffers a bit from Lack of Sehara (a potentially deadly condition) the story of Shazaman and Fatima is important indeed, leaving Shahryar in an uncertain place on every level–something that seems necessary if he’s to ever become a man worthy of Sehara’s devotion. It’s difficult to feel the level of sympathy I think is intended for Shazaman and Fatima, even after their story has been told, since vengeance is rarely an attractive quality. But revenge is a staple of this story’s setting and of course Shahryar’s own hands are soaked in more blood than anyone’s.
This series’ art continues to capture my heart, with its elaborate costuming, lush backgrounds, and dreamy character designs. The characters’ potent beauty and expressive, thickly lined eyes are undeniably characteristic of Korean comics–a style clearly not to everyone’s taste, though I’ll never quite understand why.
Despite the fact that this volume’s greatest impact is made in its first few (glorious) pages, it is by no means uneven and remains thoroughly compelling to the end. With just three volumes yet to come, One Thousand and One Nights continues to be one of my greatest reading pleasures–intensely moving and gorgeous to look at. No fan of storytelling or dramatic romance should miss this series.
Volume eight of One Thousand and One Nights will be available on August 4th, 2009. Review copy provided by Yen Press.