Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale

The latest Shannon Hale’s book is also my first encounter with this author. It seems like the blogosphere can’t get enough of raving about her, and with reasons, I might add.
Hale’s favourite themes are fairy tales, retold and refreshened. This time she reworks a long-forgotten tale from the Brothers Grimm, Maid Maleen, and decides to set it in a world which resembles a lot the Medieval Mongolia.

The Book of a Thousand days
is the diary of a princess’s maid, during the days of their confinement in a tower. The princess’s father wants her to marry Lord Khasar, and when she refuses, he locks her and her new maid up, sure than seven years of solitude will be enough to cure her insolence.
The princess is sulky and spoiled, but her maid, Dashti, can’t believe her luck. Before arriving at court and be employed as the princess maid, she was a mucker from the steppes, where she used to live with her mother, in a felt tent called gher. They used to travel with the seasons, herding ships and yaks and horses. Until her mother died and left her alone. Now, locked in the tower, she has food for seven years and doesn’t have to worry about starving anymore.
But after a while Dashti realises that the princess is eating off all their food too fast and if they don’t find a way out, they won’t survive another year.

What makes this story so enjoyable, and original despite the fact that it’s a retelling, is the way Shannon Hale created a whole world, completed with religion, culture and songs, that makes it unique. It’s a very hierarchical society, where nobles are regarded as the closest relatives to the Ancestors, their gods. Our heroine, Dashti, is well aware of this and of her position. But I liked that, as the story goes on and Dashti experiences so much more than a normal mucker would ever do, her perspective changes.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this world was the power of the healing songs of the muckers, which Dashti uses to ease the suffering of her lady. They are songs whose lyrics don’t have much to do with the pain they’re easing, but manage to go through the heart of the person and help them, as long as they want to be helped.
Another feature that makes this one a book to treasure, is the drawings in Dashti’s diary. They are simple but they really enrich the story and help identify the setting as a Mongolian one.

If you add Shannon Hale’s humour, a tender romance, and a beautiful ending, you really have a must read of a book!

The author’s website has an extensive section for this book. She explains how she came to write this book, how she invented this world and how her trip to Mongolia affected the settings for it. You can even read the first few pages of the book.
She also says something about the new point of view in the story that explains why it was so much more engaging than a simple retelling.

I was attracted to this tale because I wanted to tell the story of the maid. She’s mentioned in “Maid Maleen” but nothing is ever said about how she feels about all this, where she came from, where she goes. More than a broad, sweeping story, I just wanted to hear her voice, get inside her, experience her life. The purpose of a third person narrator is to take a step back from the main character, let the reader see and hear a little more than the main character might, have a little perspective. But with much of the story taking place in a dark tower, there was no where to step back. The setting made intimacy paramount. The story is Dashti. First person seemed the best way to tell it.

It was a brilliant read which left me wanting for more. I’m glad I still have all her other books to read.

other blog reviews:

Darla at Books and Other Thoughts
A fondness for reading
Estella's revenge


Erin said...

Shannon Hale is my favorite living author. :)

Robin said...

I enjoyed this book, too, although I like The Goose Girl even more. Also, her web site is great and an enjoyable read in itself! Nice review!

Melody said...

OK, now you've made me want to read this book sooner!!! I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive though, hmph! LOL.

Ally Jay said...

Gosh I must have been hibernating under a rock. I haven't seen any of her stuff, but wait no I have seen blogs on The Goose girl. I may have to check out the library tomorrow. Man Booker challenge looks cool.

Bunny B said...

I LOVE Shannon Hale! I've only read The Goose Girl. This sure is on my list! :)

Ana S. said...

I've been waiting for your review of this one for weeks :P It's not out in paperback yet, is it? I normally wait, but I'm seriously considering opening an exception this time. It sounds like something I'll love!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link to the additional material for this book.

Shannon Hale does wonders with fairytales and I agree that she not only tells them beautifully, but adds a refreshing perspective and voice to her stories.

Nice review!

Anonymous said...

I love it when authors are clever and combine unusual things, like a Grimm Fairy tale and Mongolia. Who would have thought!?
This was a nice review; I will check this book out. Thanks.

valentina said...

erin, I think she will become one of my favourite too!

robin, thanks!I can't wait to read the Goose Girl, even though I've so many books to read before...

melody, I hope you'll get it soon!!

alison, I hope you can find her at your library:)
Man booker challenge is cool, but I've only read two so far.shame on me!

Bunny, you're not alone:D

nymeth, hi hi:P I didn't know you were waiting! I'm always behind my reviews and I read faster than I post. But I think I'm catching up.
I'd be happy to send you my copy but it's a proof copy and doesn't have the nice drawings...I hope you can mooch it.

rachael, you're welcome:)

qugrainne, it is indeed an unusual mix but it works out so well! it's perfect!

Carl V. Anderson said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. My wife recently received a copy for her birthday. I generally love all of the artwork on Shannon Hale's book covers (at least the original hardbacks) but wasn't impressed with Book's cover. However I do like yours, it is much nicer looking than the standard US version.

The Bookworm said...

I've heard great things about Shannon Hale, i'll have to read her books sometime.


Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I don't think I had ever heard of Shannon Hale before like a month ago--now I see her everywhere. I really need to check her out--this sounds like a beautiful story.

Kim said...

Hi! I have been visiting your blog as part of the weekly geeks challenge and have enjoyed myself immensely. I like the whimsical look to your blog, except on my small monitor it is hard to read your sidebar as the blue print blends in to the black background too much.
You write lovely reviews and The Book of a Thousand Days is one that I keep meaning to read.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I've now read two of Hale's books (The Goose Girl and her adult novel Austenland) and enjoyed them so much.

Melody said...

Hey Valentina! You've been tagged! ;)

valentina said...

Carl, honestly I do like both covers. The Us one is nice because it's a photo of Shannon Hale herself, and she's wearing a dress that Dashti wears at the end.

While the british cover is just pretty and really attractive!

Naida, you should definitely!

Trish, yeah she seems to be very very popular in the blogging community. Probably because she's a blogger herself? but mainly because she's really good.

Kim,that's great, I'm happy you enjoyed reading my reviews..I never thought of the look of my blog to be whimsical but I like the description!
I'll see what I can do about the side bar, might change the colour,maybe brighter?

stephanie, thank you!!

melody, yay! i like memes eh eh...