Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Review: Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale

I've been a loyal follower of Newbury Honor winner Shannon Hale ever since The Goose Girl, her first novel, came out in 2003. After all, she retells fairy tales, and does it beautifully. So when I found out about her newest book, Book of a Thousand Days, I read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. As usual, I was totally wowed.

I guess I'm preconditioned to like her books, because she is a fellow reteller; The Goose Girl is based on the Grimm fairy tale of the same name and Book of a Thousand Days is based on the little-known Grimm tale "Maid Maleen". Hale's retelling takes place on the steppes of Mongolia, where the Lady Saren has been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for refusing a marriage offer, and she takes her maid, Dashti, with her. Dashti resolves to record their days to keep herself busy. When Lady Saren's suitors--both desired and not--show up at their prison, she refuses to see either of them and makes Dashti deal with them. Dashti's duty to obey her mistress clashes with what she's always learned about her low place in society. Not only does she have to live in a tower for seven years with a miserable mistress, but she also must reevaluate everything she's ever learned as she starts to fall in love with Saren's betrothed, the Khan of a neighboring kingdom.

Dashti's simple, honest voice makes the hundreds of days spent in a tower anything but dull. Although there are many times when she crosses the rules of her society, I never stopped rooting for her. She's very innocent and very sincere, and this combined with the delicate beauty of Hale's prose makes for a highly readable, highly involving story.

Ancient Mongolia doesn't bear much similarity to...well, most modern places. And most readers will never be imprisoned in a tower for seven years because they refused a suitor. But anyone can sympathize with Dashti's plight--her conflicting loyalties to class, her mistress, and her new love, even if it's tough to see redeeming qualities in Saren.

What most sets Book of a Thousand Days apart is that Dashti is emphatically not ahead of her times. She wants to adhere to the proper bounds of society--but her circumstances require that she acts outside of them, and this causes her appropriate stress. I'm a little sick of stories with everything of the period in place...except the nonconforming, rebellious main character who doesn't give a damn what People Think. Shannon Hale has created another beautiful story in Book of a Thousand Days, and one well worth reading.


Jordan said...

Hey--this is a book I've been wanting to read for a while! Thanks for reviewing it.

And yea, I hate anachronistic feminism...sticks out like a sore thumb. Glad to hear a book about refusing to go along with an arranged marriage steers clear of that.

keri mikulski :) said...

Great review! Sounds like a good one.

Trish Doller said...

I have not read this, but based on your review, I will be soon!

Vanessa Concannon said...

Oh man, definitely read it. Shannon Hale is the greatest.

Little Willow said...

Please come join us at readergirlz! We're talking about this book all month long in May. Read the issue and discuss the book at the forum. Come on over, Yapping about YA folks!

Cloudscome said...

Great review. I linked you today in mine here. You are so right - that Dashti starts out a very good, submission maid and grows through the story is one of it's best strengths.

Sarah Miller said...


Great review of one of my favorites, but...

The cover art you're using in this post is a photo that's hosted in my personal photobucket account -- which means it's sapping my monthly bandwidth allowance every time someone views your review. Please, can you replace it with an image that's hosted elsewhere? (If you download the photo to your hard drive and then upload it directly to Blogger, it'll solve the problem in 2 minutes or less.)