A Rogue Librarian's Reading List











{March 5, 2012}   Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Plot: When Lady Saren refuses to marry a man she fears and despises, her father seals her in a tower for seven years. She is not, however, alone. She is locked up with her maid Dashti, an orphaned girl from the steppe. But long before the 7 years are up, food begins to run short and even the tower walls cannot protect them from the dangers outside. This book is Dashti’s account of their imprisonment and their adventures thereafter.

I can’t believe that this book sat on my bookshelf unread for almost 3 years! I think that with this book, Hale sets the standard for fairy tale reinterpretations.

The Book of a Thousand Days is an adaptation of a little known Grimm fairy tale: Maid Maleen. Hale sets her version in a fantastical world inspired by the Mongolian empire. Her world is rich and believable and brought to life by Dashti’s stories about life on the steppe. It is only surpassed by her wonderful characters.

Dashti is an intelligent, practical and strong girl. Her loyalty to her Lady, even at times when Saren can be difficult to like, is touching and admirable. She grows a great deal in her understanding of the world and of herself and in the end she becomes a real hero. Saren seems at first little more than a victim (and honestly a little dull). But though she will never possess the same kind of strength as Dashti, she truly comes into her own. Finally, Khan Tegus is a real prince charming. He is funny and kind and can appreciate an intelligent, skillful woman regardless of class or looks. I fell in love with him too.

Even the animals, most notably My Lord the cat and Mucker the yak, are wonderful and vividly real. Both are instrumental to the women’s survival, both in their functional purpose (chasing rats, carrying burdens) and in their therapeutic, emotional roles.

The novel is written as a diary: the language is lyrical and perfectly captures Dashti’s voice. The two women live a difficult life, tainted by fear and darkness, but Dashti always seems capable of seeing the beauty and the humour in any situation. More than once she surprised a laugh out of me, even when her situation seemed dire.

When I think of all the times I sinned against her khan’s nobility, I’m shocked I haven’t been struck dead. Perhaps in the morning I’ll wake as a pile of ash.

Day 104

Not ash yet.

The tale is punctuated by Dashti’s sketches of the people and places around her. The illustrations are quite lovely and they add a touch of realism to this fictional diary.

This is a stand-alone book. But though I loved it, that is fine. The ending is perfection and needs nothing more.

2012 (#26)

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