Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days
Children's book review by Sarah Denslow
A Lady's maid comes into her own
Newbery honor medalist Shannon Hale brings a little known Grimm’s fairytale to a fictitious Medieval Mongolian setting in Book of a Thousand Days.
Hale bases the book on little-known Grimm’s fairy tale, Maid Maleen. Though not well known, the story has a familiar opening: Lady Saren has refused to marry Lord Khasar, as her father wishes. She proposes instead to marry another prince, Khan Tegus. For reasons that are not entirely clear (but this is based on a fairytale so that’s only to be expected), Saren’s father decides to lock her and her maid in a tower for seven years or until she agrees to marry Khasar.
Book of a Thousand Days, however, is really the story of Lady Saren’s maid, Dashti, who keeps a diary of their life in the tower. At first, Dashti is in good spirits. Having led a difficult nomadic life before becoming a lady’s maid, she is quite happy to find herself in charge of enough food and spices to last seven years.
Dashti does, however, miss the outside world. There is only a small opening in the tower to communicate through, so Dashti and Saren cannot see out nor can anyone see in. This creates a certain anonymity to Saren’s and Dashti’s lives in the tower, and when Saren’s suitor, Khan Tegus, visits the tower, Lady Saren orders Dashti to pretend to be her.
Dashti has plenty of qualms about pretending to be Lady Saren, but she soon finds herself looking forward to her talks with Khan Tegus, though they are infrequent.
Saren’s other suitor, Lord Khasar visits only once, terrifying the women by throwing burning wood through the opening in the tower.
Eventually, Dashti and Saren manage to escape the tower, only to find another set of problems awaiting them. Lord Khasar’s army has destroyed the city they lived in, and the two are all but destitute.
Dashti convinces Saren to travel to Khan Tegus’ kingdom, but Lady Saren refuses to make her identity known. Instead, Dashti and Saren begin work as kitchen maids. Soon, however, it is clear that Dashti is destined for great things: when Lord Khasar’s army threatens Khan Tegus’ realm, Dashti finds herself confronted with not only securing her own future and Lady Saren’s, but also the future of a kingdom.
Book of a Thousand Days has plenty of adventure and plot twists, but at its core it is a novel of introspection and coming of age. As Dashti writes, she examines her values and place in the world, and in the end comes to better understand her own talents and deserving.
Hale spins a familiar tale in an unusual manner in Book of a Thousand Days, and Dashti makes a very likable narrator. Though the story’s end is somewhat simplistic, it seems unfair to criticize a novel based on a fairy tale for having a fairy tale ending.
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