Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
With Book of a Thousand Days (2007), Shannon Hale offers a delightful retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen.
Dashti is a mucker, a low-born girl who was born on the steppes. When her mother dies, she goes to the city to take a job as a maid to Lady Saren. Right away she is locked into a tower with her lady because, in defiance of her father’s wishes, Saren has refused to marry Lord Khasar. She says she plans to marry Lord Tegan instead. Dashti and Saren must stay in the tower until either Saren repents and agrees to marry Lord Khasar, or seven years have passed.
For Dashti, who narrates the story via diary entries, things aren’t so bad at first. There’s plenty of food, she gets to sleep by the fire, and she has parchment to write upon. But Lady Saren turns out to be useless, spending her days silent, moping, and eating too quickly through their store of food. When Lord Tegan, the young man Saren supposedly loves, comes to talk to her through the door, she refuses to meet with him and even sends Dashti to impersonate her.
It gradually becomes clear to Dashti that Saren’s mind is paralyzed by fear and, after a few visits from Lord Khasar, Dashti begins to suspect there’s some trauma involved and that Saren has a good reason for refusing to marry the intimidating man. It will be up to Dashti to figure out how to escape the tower and Lord Khasar, and how to make a new life for herself and her lady.
I listened to the audiobook version of Book of a Thousand Days with my daughter. We enjoyed this sweet and simple story of sacrifice, loyalty, perseverance, and love. Dashti is a pleasant storyteller with a sharp eye for detail and a good ear for the rhythm of the story.
Anyone who’s familiar with Shannon Hale’s work will almost immediately identify Book of a Thousand Days as one of hers and will be able to guess where it’s going. The scenes where Dashti and Lord Tegan are talking (and possibly falling in love with each other) are particularly recognizable. Their cute teasing banter (accompanied by occasional snorting laughter) as their friendship grows is a common occurrence in Hale’s stories. Also familiar is the way Dashti, who thought she was born to serve the gentry, gradually begins to realize that’s not how things should be. The similarity in tone, theme, and characterization to other Hale works was a slight disappointment to me but my daughter, who isn’t familiar with Hale’s oeuvre, didn’t feel this way at all, of course. We both appreciated learning about a Grimm fairy tale that we were unacquainted with.
Chelsea Mixon, the narrator of Blackstone Audio’s edition, was a nice choice for Dashti’s voice. We loved listening to her.