Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale
Review by Colleen Cahill
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781599900513
Date: 18 September 2007 List Price $17.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Being able to retell a fairy tale and make it your own work is quite an achievement. Robin McKinley's Beauty is one such success and now I can add Shannon Hall's Book of a Thousand Days to that list. Like her earlier work, The Goose Girl, this tale is based on a Brothers Grimm story, but told in a way the gentlemen would never have imaged.
Book of a Thousand Days is actually the diary of Dashti, who becomes a maid to Lady Saren just as she is being locked in a tower for refusing to marry her father's choice of husband. Raised as a humble mucker, Dashti would normally never be a maid but her ability with healing songs –along with Saren's difficulty in keeping maids– helps her gain this opportunity. Since Saren cannot not read or write, Dashti is taught these skills and now is keeping an account of the seven years the two girls will share in the tower.
At first, the tower is almost luxurious to the Dashti, who was use to living a nomadic lifestyle and often suffering for want of food and warmth. Now she has plenty of food and firewood, a supply that is suppose to last for seven years. There are even spices to cook with, an extravagance Dashti never expected to see. Only two things distress the maid: the closed tower allows no view of the outside world and Saren is constantly low. Even a visit from Khan Tegus, the prince Saren wanted to marry, does not brighten her spirits; in fact, Saren insists that Dashti pretend to be her and talk to the suitor. Dashti charms the young prince and he leaves a love offering in the form of a small cat, a welcome gift as the tower is being infested with rats. Dashti thinks fondly of those days as darker ones soon appear, especially when the cruel Lord Khasar comes to the tower. This is the man Saren refused to marry and he is out for a bit of revenge. Even though he cannot enter, Khasar makes his presence felt as he menaces Saren and even tries to burn down the tower. It is a relief when he leaves but only for a short while: Khasar has killed the guards and now the two girls are truly alone and trapped in the tower. It is only after months of isolation that Dashti realizes if they have rats, the vermin must be getting in somewhere: she finds a way out, but will it lead to a safe haven?
Hall set this tale in the fictional Eight Realms, but it is clear that Dashti's background is much like the Mongols of the Tibetan highlands, with clans following herds of animals. This brings a different flavor to the story and is one of the elements that makes this retelling so special. Another delight is the beautiful black and white drawings by James Noel Smith that highlight may of the book's passages and give us a view of Dashti's world.
This book is being marketed for young teen girls, but if you love fairy tales like I do, Book of a Thousand Days should be on your reading list. You can tell others that it is a gift for someone else, but keep this gem for yourself.